Chuck has been saying whatever he damn well wants to say on television for some time now, and he has a special talent for always getting away with it. He's generally loved, and TNT has a different policy for its commentators than, say, ESPN, which would have suspended him approximately 74 times by now. But we'd underestimated the power of an external influence in restraining Barkley, and of course that external influence is Nike.
Chuck told the Miami Herald this week that Nike had contacted him about his on-air comments regarding their King, James:
These athletes today are all wussified. I've been saying LeBron's been the best player in the league for three years. And I say one thing criticizing The Decision, and I get a phone call from Nike saying why don't I like LeBron? It's interesting how this [expletive] works. These groups today, if you don't say 100 percent positive about their guy or their team, they overreact.
Barkley, of course, has his own past relationship with the brand (and in this instance, Nike might take his famous message to heart). And the Corporation, of course, has a history of punishing anyone who embarrasses LeBron — but just as Barkley not talking down James doesn't change the fact that most people will continue to talk down James, there is always a place for embarrassing LeBron.
That's probably why Barkley took so much delight in hearing Joakim Noah do the dirty work for him last night. "I love that guy," he said. But a restrained Chuck is not really a Chuck at all. We hope he bounces back.