A Love Letter to ‘Inside the NBA,’ Hip-Hop’s Favorite Sports Show  
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A Love Letter to ‘Inside the NBA,’ Hip-Hop’s Favorite Sports Show  

We very well may be nearing the end of basketball’s most legendary studio show, Inside the NBA — and what a ride it’s been.

The 2024-2025 NBA season will likely be the last for hosts Ernie Johnson, Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith and Shaquille O’Neal together on TNT, with all signs pointing to NBC replacing Turner Sports as the league’s primary TV partner starting with the 2025-26 season. Barkley was on The Dan Patrick Show and revealed that “morale sucks, plain and simple,” when asked how the vibe was on the set.

And after last night’s series-clinching win by the Dallas Mavericks, eliminating the Minnesota Timberwolves and punching Dallas’ ticket to the NBA Finals, Mavs guard Luka Dončić brought the drama up — telling the guys they have to figure something out, to which Ernie confirmed they don’t know their fate past the next season.

The winner of 19 Emmys, Inside the NBA is like family to most basketball-obsessed households; especially for those who came of age during the late ‘90s and early ‘00s. This was a time when rap, basketball and sneakers were exploding. We watched and played whenever we could. We read SLAM magazine, tried to buy the latest basketball sneakers, listened to rap music, and stayed up late on Thursday nights during the NBA season to watch Inside the NBA

To keep it a buck, to us basketball is just as much a part of hip-hop as rapping and graffiti. So, when we got a show starring an NYC basketball great like Smith and NBA and sneaker legend like Barkley, we had to tune in. And while shaky at first, Shaq’s addition at the start of the 2011-2012 season further ingratiated the crew to a generation that grew up buying his rap albums and signature Reeboks, watching his movies, and playing Shaq Fu on Sega Genesis. Inside the NBA is so hip-hop, its hosts were known to kick a few flows. Kenny Smith kicked a freestyle on BET’s Rap City back in 2001.

And Shaq was recently featured on a Rick Ross and Meek Mill song with Damian Lillard, and had arguably the best verse in the whole song.

I have to also acknowledge the show’s music selection. They’ve always seemed to be tapped into rap music, new and old. I remember hearing A Tribe Called Quest’s “Electric Relaxation” instrumental during breaks — and there’s this medley of rap songs Street Cred EJ knew off top. 

Shaq, Kenny and Chuck come from the hip-hop generation and helped take the culture mainstream. Even Kenny would sometimes find himself impressed and surprised with a producer’s music picks. When they first played Kendrick’s recent Drake diss tracks, he was saying they shouldn’t pick sides, that they should play Drake’s songs too. They may be older, but the three former players are tapped in. They took what the late, great Stuart Scott was doing at ESPN in the early ‘90s and perfected it, carrying on his legacy of bringing hip-hop culture into households across the country. 

During these playoffs. The producers have been in their bag playing the hits. “Like That” and “Not Like Us” have been TNT favorites during the Kendrick and Drake beef. They also played the “No Vaseline” instrumental — an absolutely insane thing to hear during a national sports broadcast. And just last night they played Don Toliver’s “Attitude” featuring Cash Cobain and Uncle Charlie Wilson faintly in the background. It doesn’t get more tapped-in than that. 

A friend and I had a routine back in the early 2000s. We were fresh out of high school, and worked the same part-time job while taking classes at local colleges in North Jersey. After we got off work, we would cop some trees on the way home and link up later that night to watch the NBA on TNT. We did this every Thursday night during the NBA season. Sometimes we would catch both the 8 p.m. game and the 10:30 p.m. game — but we always made sure to watch Inside the NBA afterwards, even if it meant staying up until 1:00 or 2:00 in the morning. 

Now that I’m older, whenever I’m able to stay up to watch the best sports show on TV, I think about those days. Appointment television is a rarity in the age of streaming, and for 24 years, the guys over at Inside the NBA have made you regret falling asleep and missing not only their veteran basketball analysis and arguments with one another, but also all the jokes and shenanigans. “Elevator” Ernie Johnson deserves some love as well. He brings it all together by controlling the chaos while also letting Kenny, Chuck, and Shaq be themselves.

If next season really is their last, they deserve to have a legit farewell tour. Bringing back John Tesh’s “Roundball Rock” isn’t worth losing these four family members. Prime Bob Costas isn’t walking through that door. The only way NBC can get back into our good graces after forcing Inside the NBA to hang it up early, is to bring back NBA Inside Stuff without making it corny. 

Inside the NBA had one of the greatest runs in sports TV history these past 24 years. I’m looking forward to having one last NBA season with my guys. Now that I think about it, ending things at 25 just sounds right. 

Now I leave you with some Yo Momma jokes from the crew. 


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