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Charles Barkley gets 'Inside the NBA' contract extension, and wine and tequila, too

From left, Shaquille O'Neal, Ernie Johnson, Kenny Smith

From left, Shaquille O'Neal, Ernie Johnson, Kenny Smith and Charles Barkley appear on stage during the Turner Upfront 2015 at Madison Square Garden on May 13, 2015. Credit: Getty Images / Theo Wargo

Charles Barkley has said on more than one occasion in recent years that he was considering leaving TNT's popular "Inside the NBA" studio show when his contract expires in 2016.

He said he was leaning heavily in that direction as recently as October.

Never mind.

Turner said during its "upfront" presentation to advertisers Wednesday at The Theater at Madison Square Garden that it has signed the entire cast - Barkley, Ernie Johnson, Kenny Smith and Shaquille O'Neal - to multi-year contract extensions.

Later in the day, Turner Broadcasting president David Levy said the extensions run eight-to-10 years and are designed to line up with the new NBA rights contract that runs through 2024-25.

Barkley said he reconsidered retiring from the show in part because he never got the chance to be a general manager that he long has sought, and also to keep from breaking up a successful television team.

"They wanted to keep the band together," he said after the upfront, which was hosted by the "Inside the NBA" crew, whose three appearances on stage were the highlights of a show that also featured the company's entertainment and news programming.

"I said, 'Hey, it's not like I have another job.' And I've always said I have a great job. I didn't get the GM job and they said, 'Hey, man, let's stick together.' I said, 'OK.'"

Barkley said the goal was to do everyone's deals around the same time.

"I didn't want to leave them hanging in the wind, to be honest with you," he said. "They didn't want it hanging over everyone's heads next year. Because these guys had re-signed, it really, really wouldn't be fair for me to put them in that situation."

Barkley said no agent was involved in the transaction. Levy and a handful of other Turner executives visited him and his wife at their Phoenix home bearing adult beverages, and the deal soon was done.

"I'm not worried about money at this stage of my life, so a couple of bottles of wine, a couple of bottles of tequila and it was awesome," he said. "I told my agent, 'We got a deal.'"

Said Levy: "We all went down as a team and presented to Chuck what he means to our company, really to this industry. We didn't want to break up the magic in the bottle. We were trying to figure out a way to show how important he is to our company, and he kind of felt it."

Smith said he never took Barkley's retirement threats seriously, joking that "he fooled David Levy and he got a bottle of wine and tequila out of it, too."

Smith said of the show, "I think we all have great opportunities individually, but collectively our unit is so much bigger. You look at all these superstars here in the building and they elected for us to bring the momentum [as emcees]. Collectively our unit is something that I'm not sure I've ever seen in television."

Barkley said that regardless of the length of his contract, he now plans to leave after 20 total years, which would be in 2020. To keep himself fresh, he intends to leave the studio to work more games in person. He also said his deal includes appearances on Turner's CNN to discuss non-sports social issues.

"That was probably a big factor in [re-signing] also," he said. "I've done a little bit in the past but now in my contract I get to do a little bit more, which is important to me."

Said Levy, "Charles is very vocal about certain issues: race, education, health. So we told him if he would like a platform to have his voice be heard, we would provide a platform on CNN, when he wants to."

Barkley pronounced himself "very happy" with his work situation.

"Let's get one thing straight: I've always said that I love my job and the people I work for," he said. "But we all want challenges. I get to criticize GMs on television. It would have been fun being one. The job opportunity never came . . . I've been talking about it for five or six years and nothing ever came up."

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