Charles Barkley — yes, that Charles Barkley, the Hall of Fame basketball player and TV commentator — stole the show Monday at a news conference conducted by the NHL announce the result of fans' balloting for the 10 best NHL teams over the decades.
Barkley has made no secret that he has sneaked off the TNT broadcast set to keep up on the Stanley Cup playoffs to stay entertained because there were so many lopsided matchups in the NBA playoffs this spring. "Thank God for the NHL playoffs," he said after the Golden State Warriors swept the Utah Jazz.
Instead of watching hockey's playoffs from afar he took advantage of a day off in the NBA Finals to detour to Nashville and catch Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final at Bridgestone Arena. Before the game he crashed a news conference that featured Wayne Gretzky and Paul Coffey representing the 1984-85 Edmonton Oilers, the team voted the best of all time.
Barkley's first question for Gretzky had the audience laughing. "Who's your favorite black athlete of all time?" he asked, drawing smiles and handshakes from Gretzky and Coffey. Gretzky, without missing a beat, replied, "Grant Fuhr," the former Edmonton goalie. Even Barkley couldn't dispute that choice, and he doubled over in laughter.
Barkley, who said he literally was the biggest hockey fan but had recently lost some weight, said he became a hockey fan while living in Birmingham, Ala. He continued to follow the game when he played for the Philadelphia 76ers and during his time there he became friendly with feisty Flyers goaltender Ron Hextall. Now the Flyers' general manager, Hextall is still Barkley's all-time favorite player.
"I want to know if my guy really cares," he said, alluding to Hextall's combative manner as a player. "You watch him, you know he cared."
But Barkley hasn't cared for the lack of competitiveness in the NBA's postseason tournament this spring. "The NBA playoffs have not been very good," he said. "It has not been a lot of fun broadcasting games this year."
He added that one of the best parts of his job as a commentator is that "I work in a room with 20 TVs," which allowed him to watch hockey. "There's nothing more nerve-wracking than Stanley Cup playoff overtime hockey," he said. "It's the craziest thing."
He also said among basketball players, "A lot of the brothers root for Seth Jones because his father [Popeye] played in the NBA." Jones played for the Predators but was traded to Columbus for center Ryan Johansen, who is injured and out of the Cup Final.
The top 10 NHL teams as voted by fans:
1. 1984-85 Edmonton Oilers
2. 1991-92 Pittsburgh Penguins
3. 1976-77 Montreal Canadiens
4. 1987-88 Oilers
5. 1986-87 Oilers
6. 1997-98 Detroit Red Wings
7. 1982-83 New York Islanders
8. 1977-79 Canadiens
9. 1983-84 Oilers
10. 2001-02 Red Wings