A lot of teams came to play this NBA Playoffs—the trio of Ernie Johnson, GMPM friend Kenny Smith, and Charles Barkley being one of them. All sports shows try to kick it into high gear for their marquee season with a bigger budget. Jon Stewart has parodied it and Bill Simmons has written about how the influx of cash leads to an overabundance of big name experts who, more often than not, are about as good at sharing time on the ball as Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire without Chauncey Billups. I have no way to know, but I’m assuming that Inside the NBA got a similar jump in budget for these playoffs, and they raised the bar this weekend for what a show like this should do with it.
First, they revamped their set. It looks like it’s big enough to run full-court five-on-five, but it’s not a basketball court. It’s a fiber-optic basketball information stock exchange epicenter from the future.
Instead of using the rest of their extra money to bring Rasheed Wallace and Dikembe Mutombo on for a segment called “the Starting Five,” they used it to take the Photoshop jokes to a new level and bring back the always-amusing “Ask Charles” segment. As spectacular as “the Starting Five” sounds on paper, Inside the NBA didn’t fall into that trap. Like any good team, they didn’t break the formula. They used the resources to blow “Kenny’s Pictures,” typically the most analytic segment of the show, to epic, playoff worthy proportions.
The “Kenny’s Pictures Theatre,” with its majestic arches and glowing white steps, feels like it’s inspired by a Mel Brooks take on old Hollywood. One of my friends says that Kenny takes too long getting to and back from it, but that misses the point. Kenny, Charles, and Ernie all know how ridiculous it is; they’re in on the joke and that’s what makes it great.
Could Kenny make the same observations from his seat? Sure, but it’s so much more entertaining to watch Kenny strut over to his comically oversized prop, then up its steps before dropping into a defensive stance in his suit to front a life-size Kevin Garnett the right way, not the way the Knicks’ big men did on Sunday.
The Kenny’s Pictures Theatre is a success precisely due to how Kenny has embraced it. Kenny’s the best analyst in the game, in large part because his earnest love of basketball is infectious, and it comes through as much as his basketball knowledge. Charles and Ernie make the joke that Kenny’s in love with his new toy, and he might be, because he’s raised his energy to another level for the Playoffs. Moving among players as big as he is, he narrates the action with dramatic flair worthy of Masterpiece Theatre.
Is it a gimmick? Maybe, and while I imagine it would get tedious over an 82-game season—what doesn’t?—I don’t see myself getting sick of it by June.
—Photo AP/Erik S. Lesser