The iconic analyst lineup on Inside the NBA — Kenny Smith, Charles Barkley, Shaquille O’Neal, and Ernie Johnson — may suck up most of the attention for Turner Sports, but in-game color announcer Reggie Miller and studio utility man Chris Webber, the legendary all-star former players have never been known to keep their opinions to themselves. They had quite a few of them when they sat down to talk about the current state of the league before this Sunday’s 68th NBA All-Star Game (8pm ET on TNT).
Below is an excerpt of their conversation. Click here or listen below their entire conversation ranging on everything from the New York Knicks and free agency to the evolution of trash talking in the NBA.
It seems like in today’s game, whether it’s trash talking or secrets, a lot of players are covering up their mouths with their jerseys. What do you guys chalk that up to?
Reggie Miller: Camera phones. Big Brother is always watching. The technology wasn’t quite there like it is today [when we played]. You’ve got microphones and everyone is an amateur sleuth now, being able to record and rewind. These games are being watched by millions of people as well as the league office. So, if you are trash talking, I think that’s probably why guys are covering up. People sitting in the front row pulling out their phone and start recording [and it shows up online]. Everyone works for TMZ now and if you are trash talking or doing something that you aren’t supposed to be doing, it gets caught by these little devices that are in our hands now.
Chris Webber: I agree. I would also say the world is smaller and guys know each other from different times. So they are talking junk or making their little funny side bets in different ways. But maybe it’s just more noticeable. I remember Reg and Michael Jordan talking trash with their jersey over it. Whether it was Gary Payton being more demonstrative or covering his mouth when he had one technical.
What do you think about athletes use of social media today and the impact it’s had on the sport?
RM: I’m not into “just an athlete” or “shut up and dribble.” That’s enough said. LeBron James, who is probably the king of social media in our sport and probably all sports, he has a vast reach: How he uses it for social injustice, for social change, for his school, to uplift the rest of the league or to highlight some of his flaws. I talked about people covering their mouth and being a sleuth, with social media you get a chance for fans to be up close and personal with athletes and this is a chance for them to be a part of it.
LeBron James gets it. Paul George gets it, he understands. At times it can be a double-edged sword. We’ve all slipped up on emotions getting the best of us and then we go straight to Twitter to vent without thinking. I think it’s a good place if you’re coming at it from the right place I think it can be a good tool to reach out and tell your story first hand. As opposed to when I played, you’d have to get a beat writer to sit down and talk to you. Now 140 characters, you can say ‘I sucked tonight.’ You can give a first-hand account of how the game went. I think players like that, they understand that, and they get it. LeBron gets how to work social media.
CW: I agree as well. From a fan perspective, if I would have got a chance to watch athletes and see what they did in the summer and their regimens or see what hobbies they had. So just from a fan perspective — I was a big Dominique [Wilkins] fan. The only thing I had to keep me close to him was a VHS tape showing the same dunks and maybe a poster in my room. I love the fact that the NBA, even how the arenas are set up, is all about access. The NBA embraces it more than any other league because they know the fans want so much. It doesn’t always have to be salacious or fighting. Russ Westbrook posting a picture of his son, those types of things have been really cool as a fan of basketball. Just the extra access when the season ends. It’s great for the fans.
RM: You can’t tell me that there isn’t a little boy or girl wherever following the Golden State Warriors or Steph Curry’s feed and his workout regimen before games. These kids wouldn’t have access to all of that without social media. That’s the beauty of it.
I love players who aren’t afraid to push the envelope, right or wrong. We’ve all stepped in some on Twitter. We’ve all said things we wish we could pull back. But I’d rather have honesty from my athletes as opposed to someone who is fake. I hope the media would feel the same way. You might not like my message. You might not like the way I said my message. But is it correct and factual? I want my athletes being true and being themselves, as opposed to built and manufactured and being manufactured in a lab somewhere. Tell me the truth.
CW: I think therefore we hold account for guys who don’t have the personality or don’t care to have their personal life broadcast all over the air. So, if Kawhi Leonard’s page is a little boring (I don’t follow him, so I don’t know) and he just posts pictures of his dog hanging out than that’s what I’d expect from him. This is not the WWF. But one great thing about the WWF was that you could like a bad guy and a good guy and they would have nothing to do with either one of them but something that you liked. If they fought, you didn’t care who won.
So that’s what I love about the NBA. We’ve always been able to embrace the best, the quiet, the loudest, the trash talkers, the funny guys like Shaq and Barkley, trash talkers like Reg. That’s what makes the league so great is those personalities. And hopefully those personalities continue to follow through on their Instagram page. I don’t have to repeat what [Reggie] said about LeBron because in the history of the game, even though he’s had the biggest platform, he’s spoken out like very few athletes. Everybody is going to mess up but if most of it is for the good, hopefully everybody is showing us their best life.
There has been growth and change around the shooting guard position, do you think a championship team can be built around a shooting guard?
RM: I think Michael Jordan and the Bulls proved that it can. Steph Curry and Klay Thompson proved that it can. Teams that are jump shooting and led by their guards can win championships. Growing up, the prototypical shooting guard used to be anywhere between 6’ 5” to 6’ 6’ 7”, maybe 6’ 8”. At 6’ 8” you were bordering a small forward. Back in the late 80s and 90s that was your prototypical shooting guard. You needed to have size, length and long arms to guard that position. But we’ve seen things kind of shift. I know Klay is listed as a point guard, but he’s more of a shooting guard. Because he’s off the ball a lot and running off screens. You look at James Harden. He came in as a shooting guard, but he’s morphed into a hybrid. Mike D’Antoni was playing him at point guard. He was calling himself a point guard.
It’s been ball dominant, whereas before, shooting guards would play underneath the basket coming off single doubles. They weren’t in a lot of pick and rolls. Ray [Allen] was a little bit. I think you could put Ray in that category as well. It’s positionless basketball, that’s what the NBA has evolved into. Not only in the shooting guard position. C-Webb was ahead of his time at the power forward position being able to face up, shoot threes, handle the basketball, go coast-to-coast and have behind the back passes. Chris Webber is a $40 million player in today’s game. He was ahead of what it is today. You see big guys, the Joker [Nikola Jokic], Mr. triple-double, the second-best center in our game, being able to knock down threes. The game has morphed from the shooting guard position. You don’t have to be 6’ 5” or 6’ 6” anymore. You can be like Joe Dumars, he would be another guy that would be fabulous in today’s game. He was only 6’ 2”. Now it’s acceptable to have a 6’ 2” shooting guard.
From a player’s perspective, how do you feel like this weekend will be for Dwayne Wade emotionally going through the ceremonial aspect of the whole thing?
RM: I think as an athlete who played 18 years, I think this being his last swan song, I think he’s been experiencing it in every arena he goes to. I don’t think this weekend will be overly emotional because he’s been dealing with it every place he’s gone on the road. The love that he has shown, the way that players have responded to him, the jersey switch that he’s been doing with about just about every player in every arena he’s gone to. I do think it will be special for him and LeBron to reconnect on this level. To play in our glorified pick-up game that is seen by millions across the world. I think that’s probably what he’s looking forward to the most. Maybe not so much the hoopla that is going to surround him and Dirk [Nowitzki] but I think how he is approaching playing with LeBron, having won one championship and then two when LeBron joined him in Miami. I think that will be a little more sentimental towards him than opposed to everyone patting him on the back and saying what a great career you’ve had. I think playing with LeBron will be more special.
CW: I think he’s going to be sharing this moment with his family. I think this will be more of enjoying the moment and soaking it all in as opposed to thinking about what he is losing or what he can’t do anymore. I think he’s going to be there making new memories and I think we will see him laughing a lot. It’s funny, I remember my first All-Star game and the only thing I wanted to do was throw an alley-oop. He says that’s all he wants to do, and so to me that just says that he’s back to the essence of where everything started. He just wants to get out there, have some fun and sit down and watch the rest of the game. It’s going to be fun as a fan to watch one of the best two-guards ever enjoying himself. Selfishly for me, not knowing how he’ll enjoy it, but I know as a fan that in his last moments it will be really cool to watch.
Is it surprising that he is still this effective at 37 years old?
RM: It’s not surprising, but it shows you how hard work pays off. Because he’s developed an outside shot and a three-point shot at that. Because the game has evolved to the three-point line. We all remember the commercial about falling seven times and getting up eight. That was his game. He was ruthless and he was reckless. He’d try to go through you. He’d try to go over you. I think over time those falls took a toll on his body. But during all of that he was developing that jump shot, which has allowed him to survive this long. In the turn of how the game is played now behind the three-point line, he keeps teams honest with that three-point shot.
CW: It doesn’t surprise me, [I agree with] everything Reggie said. Also, the fact that mentally, he’s willing himself to this type of season. Whether it’s practicing his jump shot or still attacking the ball and using his energy judiciously. Making sure he’s using it at the right time, so he doesn’t waste any. It doesn’t surprise me because you know he’s a mentally strong athlete. I know he wouldn’t have it any other way.
Watch the 68th NBA All-Star Game in Charlotte on Sunday, Feb. 17 at 8:00 PM ET on TNT.