Shaquille O’Neal waited until the very end of Inside the NBA to drop the bomb, when only die-hard NBA and TNT crew fans were still watching.
Barkley, O’Neal said, was “auditioning” for the Phoenix Suns general manager job.
The Big Spoiler managed to sneak in the words amid his sometimes unintelligible voice, a few words about his “sources,” and why Barkley wasn’t acting like himself that night — a semi-frequent observation by the Round Mound’s other TNT teammates throughout Thursday night’s show.
O’Neal is known to joke. To kid. To mess around. Barkley has not been mentioned among those reported as the Suns’ top candidates for the position, though his name has been tossed around by the public and media just the same.
Barkley’s response to the sincere-sounding Shaq, however, showed his co-worker may have just dropped a hard shell of truth on the NBA world. What was the response from the man who loves to talk, especially about himself?
Silence. Awkward, yes-it-might-be-true silence.
If Shaq’s news is legit, the Suns’ search for a new general manager would become a lot more interesting in the public eye. Barkley has made no secret of his desire to steer the Suns in a better direction since spiraling from Western Conference contender to cellar-dweller.
Yet the idea of the free-spirited Hall-of-Famer working for tight-fisted owner Robert Sarver has long seemed a mismatch made in … well, not heaven. Barkley has made a wealthy living of criticizing even wealthier owners who care more about their own checkbooks than their respective teams’ success, often citing what he would do were he in their shoes.
Now, maybe, possibly, he’s vying for a position that would allow him to call the shots from an NBA office rather than a TV studio desk.
Former players have earned coaching and management roles in the NBA, but there are few — if any — who are as highly recognized by for their playing days with the team they worked for. Larry Bird, the former Pacers’ president of basketball operations, may be the closest thing to such a combination, but his time in Indiana came from college, not the pros. Ditto for Isiah Thomas and Kevin McHale.
No, Barkley as the general manager of the Suns would mark new territory on multiple fronts. Perhaps the most significant is what endears the public to him in the first place: his personality.
Most former players who take on coaching/management roles are solid, respectful …”professional” for lack of a better word.
Barkley is not — at least not in the way billionaire owners would normally like him to be. He speaks his mind when others would keep quiet. He throws, no, hurls verbal stones when others are either too terrified to do so … or simply don’t have the reputation and way with words that allow them to.
When Barkley speaks, ESPN makes it a story. That’s how well-heard — and respected — he has become as a former player and current analyst. But will it be enough for him to be a future general manager?
According to a Shaq, we’re going to find out.