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Watching Charles Barkley banter on late-night television

On the trail of basketball analyst and former NBA star Charles Barkley, who is in his element as he guests on 'Conan' and 'Lopez Tonight.'

December 01, 2010|By Diane Pucin
  • Barkley talks basketball with Bill Cosby as they wait to make guest appearances on an episode of George Lopez's talk show.
Barkley talks basketball with Bill Cosby as they wait to make guest appearances… (Luis Sinco, Los Angeles…)

Charles Barkley would throw an elbow at President Obama's lip but wouldn't like it.

"I'm serious now, what do you do?" Barkley asks. "Do you become the guy they'll make jokes about for three weeks or three years? Do you really want to hurt the leader of the free world? But whaddaya do? You play basketball like me. You're in or you're out."

Barkley is a big, ole whirlwind of glad-handing, backslapping, hors d'oeuvres scrounging, storytelling genius for almost five hours Tuesday in Los Angeles.

The 6-foot-6 former NBA superstar, once known as the Round Mound of Rebound for his weight, riffs on Obama playing basketball, the Lakers (they will finish off a three-peat, he says) and WikiLeaks (if Barkley were publisher of the New York Times, there would be no printing of WikiLeaks).

Barkley --along with his boomingly honest voice -- is here to play salesman for the highly rated studio show "Inside the NBA" on TNT. His first appearance is on Tuesday's "Conan," hosted by Conan O'Brien, and then across the Burbank studio lot to tape a Wednesday segment of "Lopez Tonight," the TBS talk show hosted by comedian George Lopez.

This quick late-afternoon trip is just part of the job for Barkley.

"Gotta promote the happening," he says, referring to TNT's coverage Thursday as LeBron James (with the rest of the Miami Heat) returns to the hometown he abandoned, Cleveland, to play the team he abandoned, the Cavaliers.

"I am Miami-ed out," Barkley says as he settles down in the green room at Stage 15 on the Warner Brothers lot where O'Brien's nightly TBS show is taped. "Every day, Miami-ed out."

That's why Barkley has such a huge fan base. He's not going to lie and everyone knows it.

He came to town to up the hype of an already over-hyped event but says, "Enough."

Even Brett Favre hasn't been as overdone as LeBron, he complains, adding, "Technically at least Brett Favre has accomplished something." Zing to LeBron.

Barkley says this while putting ChapStick on his lips and waiting for the makeup people to arrive.

As he talks nearly nonstop, Barkley's patter embraces everyone. A set assistant puts a microphone on Barkley. "Hey, my man," Barkley says to him. "What's up?" Things are busy, things are good, Barkley is told. He joyfully slaps the set assistant's back.

Soon after, Barkley's face explodes into his signature smile when he finds out celebrity rehab doctor Drew Pinsky is in the dressing room next door. Within 30 seconds Barkley is in Pinsky's room, door closed. What could they be talking about? Maybe Barkley's diet.

He's lost 47 pounds since last NBA season ended. He weighed 350 pounds, 100 more than when he played basketball.

"Doc told me I was going to die, that was it," Barkley says. "I'm having too much fun. I don't want to die."

Barkley watches Conan's monologue and when there is a joke about WikiLeaks, Barkley turns serious.

"Anything that endangers the troops is not good," Barkley says. "There are ramifications."

When he opens the mini-fridge in the "Conan" green room, he pulls out a bottle of Honest Tea.

"Hey," Barkley says, " CNBC just had a special on that stuff. Those two guys made, like, $20 million. They could not find something to drink that didn't have a bunch of sugar on it. My grandmother was a bootlegger so it's interesting to me. And, heck, yeah, I watch CNBC. I'm a businessman."

Without his eyes' leaving the television monitor, Barkley casually mentions how Twitter is for losers and that he's never taken a peek at anyone's Facebook page, much less created one for himself.

"You went to high school with me 30 years ago and I haven't found you? I don't want to find you," Barkley says.

When a "Conan" staffer asks Barkley if he wants to prep for his segment, Barkley says no, doesn't need to. And then he goes onstage and talks. And talks. Gets laughs. Lots of them. And then talks some more. Easy.

After the "Conan" taping, he hops on a golf cart on the studio lot and gets dropped at the "Lopez" waiting room. He changes clothes because the "Lopez" segment is set to air a night after "Conan" and Barkley wants to make sure the illusion is preserved: two shows, two nights, two outfits.

"It's Hollywood," Barkley says with a wink.

He hugs fellow guest Bill Cosby and talks Philadelphia sports for 10 minutes with barely a breath. He banters with Angela Kinsey, a star of the NBC sitcom "The Office," and lets Lopez, a personal friend, offer him golf tips. Barkley loves golf, but of his golf swing admits, "It's no better even after I had the Hank Haney treatment," referring to "The Haney Project" show on the Golf Channel. One thing Barkley did do on the advice of Haney was to switch to playing left-handed "because I was so bad on the right side."

He engages the members of the band Atomic Tom, a group that became famous partly for using iPhones and viral videos, two things Barkley claims he doesn't know much about.

He does know about diets, though. As he explains how his diet isn't impossibly strict, Barkley fixes a plate with crab cakes and fried jalapeno pepper and cheese. He skips the grilled veggies. There would be dinner later. Then Barkley jogs onto the stage and makes jokes about his weight, his golf swing, Obama's basketball game, fried turkey and, oh, by the way, catch me in Cleveland on Thursday night.

Lights out again, no prep but lots of laughs. Easy.

diane.pucin@latimes.com

twitter.com/mepucin

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