As is often the case with TNT’s Inside the NBA, basketball took a backseat after Charles Barkley went off script, this time about the controversy surrounding Empire actor Jussie Smollett.
During halftime of TNT’s coverage of the Houston Rockets’ match-up with the Los Angeles Lakers, Barkley and his Inside the NBA colleagues were discussing predictions they’ve made throughout the season, which are catalogued on post-it notes hanging on the wall of show’s expansive set.
But when Kenny Smith asked Ernie Johnson which prediction has no chance of happening, Barkley surprised the crew by wildly swerving away from basketball to bring up the arrest of Smollett, who is accused of hiring two men to stage an attack on himself that he would later blame on MAGA-hat-wearing supporters of President Donald Trump.
“Two black guys beating a black guy up,” Barkley replied, sending co-host Shaquille O’Neal and several members of the crew into laughing fits.
“I can’t believe you, Chuck,” Johnson dryly replied.
Barkley, egged on by O’Neal, went on for several minutes, roasting Smollett for allegedly writing a $3,500 check to the Osundario brothers, who were originally considered suspects but ultimately release after telling police they were paid to fake an attack on the actor.
“Get cash, man!” Barkley exclaimed. “America, do not write checks when you’re committing illegal activities.”
The clip of Barkley quickly went viral on social media early Friday, becoming the top trending topic on Twitter overnight, reaching millions of viewers. Later in the program, the show mocked Smollett further by showing a fake check made out to “Muggers” to purchase “mugging supplies,” giving Barkley one final chance to troll Smollett’s claim he was out at 2 a.m. that night to grab a bite to eat.
“I tell you what though, man. There must be some good damn sandwiches at Subway if you’ve got to go out there at three, four in the morning to get them,” Barkley said, sending O’Neal into another laughing fit. “Shaq, what they got on them sandwiches?!?”
Smollett, who was released by police in Chicago on Thursday on $100,000 bond, and faces a felony charge for disorderly conduct for allegedly filing a false police report. FOX confirmed Smollett returned to work on Thursday.
Smollett has yet to speak publicly since his arrest, but his legal team released a statement Wednesday, saying they intended to mount “an aggressive defense” and Smollett “enjoys the presumption of innocence.”