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Charles Barkley, the NHL’s ‘biggest fan,’ crashes Stanley Cup party

Hockey great Wayne Gretzky, right, greets former NBA player Charles Barkley, left, during a news conference before Game 4 of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup Finals between the Nashville Predators and the Pittsburgh Penguins on Monday.
Hockey great Wayne Gretzky, right, greets former NBA player Charles Barkley, left, during a news conference before Game 4 of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup Finals between the Nashville Predators and the Pittsburgh Penguins on Monday. AP

With so many blowouts in the NBA this postseason, Charles Barkley readily admits he has had more fun watching the drama of the NHL playoffs unfold.

So, when NHL commissioner Gary Bettman invited the NBA Hall of Famer and outspoken TNT basketball analyst to the Stanley Cup Finals, Sir Charles made sure to make his way to Nashville.

With the NBA Finals having a night off as the series moves to Cleveland after a pair of lopsided Golden State victories in the opening two games, Barkley took in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Finals in Nashville — but not before crashing a press conference featuring hockey greats Wayne Gretzky and Paul Coffey talking about an NHL promotion for the top championship teams in the league’s 100 year celebration.

Barkley made numerous references to the NHL postseason during his NBA coverage.

“The best thing about my job is when I'm in work for two straight months, like the NHL Playoffs, I'm in a room with 20 televisions,” Barkley said Monday. “I watch pretty much every single hockey game.”

That led to a call from Bettman.

“Hey, with all the nice things you've been saying about hockey, come to a game,” Barkley recalls the conversation going. “I got nothing to do, so...”

Barkley got off a question during the scrum with Gretzky and Coffey, seemingly catching Gretzky by surprise.

“Wayne,” Barkley said, “who is your favorite black athlete of all time?”

Gretzky was quick to reply, naming his Edmonton goalie Grant Fuhr to laughs from the media and from Barkley.

“That was quick,” Barkley said.

“Biggest hockey fan in North America, right here,” Gretzky added.

“Literally,” said Barkley. “But I'm going on a diet.”

Barkley is a friend to a number of hockey players — including Florida’s ageless Jaromir Jagr — and isn’t a stranger to hockey arenas. Barkley said he has attended a number of Stanley Cup playoff games over the years in Chicago.

Stanley Cup Penguins Predators Hockey
Former NBA player and current television analyst Charles Barkley, left, jokes with hockey greats Wayne Gretzky, right, and Paul Coffey, center, during a news conference before Game 4 of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup Finals between the Nashville Predators and the Pittsburgh Penguins. Chuck Burton AP

Gretzky, who became pals with Barkley while both were living in Arizona, said Barkley texted him about how great the playoffs were.

“There’s nothing more nerve-wracking than Stanley Cup overtime hockey,” Barkley said. “It’s the craziest thing you’re ever going to see. That’s one reason I just love the sport.”

Barkley said his passion for hockey dates back to his college days in Alabama when he became a fan of the minor league Birmingham Bulls.

When he got to Philadelphia, the Sixers shared the Spectrum with the Flyers and Barkley took up a friendship with Ron Hextall and Eric Lindros which lasts to this day.

“They say it’s crazy, and the playoffs have been amazing,” Barkley said. “I’m not breaking earth-shattering news. The NBA playoffs have not been very good. ... I think we showed a stat we’ve only had four basketball games in the playoffs that were less than double digits.

“So it’s not been a lot of fun broadcasting games this year.”

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