The fact that there were no games to discuss was hardly the only aspect of TNT’s popular NBA show Thursday that was unusual. While analysts Shaquille O’Neal and Kenny Smith and host Ernie Johnson were seated in their normal positions, there was a glaring vacancy where Charles Barkley normally sits.
If that sight caused viewers some consternation, given that the NBA had just suspended its season the night before over coronavirus concerns, what they learned about Barkley wasn’t much more comforting.
Speaking on TNT from a phone, Barkley revealed that he was in self-quarantine upon advice of doctors after describing that he “wasn’t feeling well” the day before. He said he was administered a test for coronavirus Thursday afternoon, and was still awaiting results.
“I haven’t been feeling great, and they didn’t want me to take any chances, so they told me to quarantine myself for 48 hours,” said the 57-year-old Hall of Famer. “So I’m just kind of in limbo right now.”
Barkley noted that earlier in the week he had been in New York, which he called a “hotspot,” in this case presumably referring to a recent spike in coronavirus cases in that city’s metropolitan area.
While in New York, Barkley appeared on “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert.” As he took the stage, he shook hands with the host and then accepted some hand sanitizer, which each used.
Asked by Colbert how coronavirus was affecting his life, Barkley replied, “Not at all.”
— The Late Show (@colbertlateshow) March 11, 2020
“Unfortunately, some people have passed away, and some people are sick, but you can’t stop living your life,” he added to some applause.
Barkley also lamented on the show, which aired Tuesday, that the NBA was planning at the time to play games without fans in attendance, as was the NCAA in regard to its men’s basketball tournament. “It would be a travesty if the fans were not there,” he said.
“I’m going to say this and I’m probably going to get in trouble because I work for Turner and March Madness and CBS, but I think the NCAA, Turner Sports and CBS got to close down March Madness, man,” Barkley said in an interview on ESPN. “You can’t have these players, even if there’s no fans in the stadium – you can’t have these players breathing on each other for two weeks.”
Various powers that be evidently agreed with Barkley, because the NCAA tournament was canceled later that day.
“This decision is based on the evolving COVID-19 public health threat, our ability to ensure the events do not contribute to the spread of the pandemic, and the impracticality of hosting such events at any time during the academic year given ongoing decisions by other entities,” the NCAA said in a statement.
Later on Thursday, while speaking by phone on TNT, Barkley asked CNN chief medical correspondent Sanjay Gupta, “Do you think this thing is going to get worse before it gets better?” He added, “I hate to ask that question, but it’s a fair question.”
“It is a fair question, and the answer is yes,” Gupta replied. He said “sudden increases in numbers” were likely over the next week or so, although that might simply reflect that “the testing is finally going to catch up in this country.”
“We’ve been really behind,” Gupta said. “As the tests get out there, a lot of people are going to find out that they in fact have this, and they’ll be surprised that they have it.”
Elsewhere in the program, Barkley said of his own condition, “I’m really hoping it was just a bug.”