Charles Barkley takes up Bettman’s invitation to Cup Final

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 Monday, June 5, 2017, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Charles Barkley has not been shy sharing that he is far more excited about the Stanley Cup playoffs than the NBA playoffs.

Thanks to a night off in the NBA Finals, Barkley took up NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman on his invitation to come watch the pucks in person.

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

Barkley didn’t get overtime on Monday night, but he did get to see the Predators win 4-1 at home in front of their raucous fans to even the series against Pittsburgh at 2-2.

A few hours earlier, Barkley interrupted Wayne Gretzky and Paul Coffey talking about the 1984-85 Oilers being voted by NHL fans as the greatest team in league history. With Bettman watching from the side, Barkley broke in by asking Gretzky who his favorite black athlete of all-time was. Gretzky immediately answered Grant Fuhr, his goalie with the Oilers.

The former NBA star said he’s been following hockey since watching the World Hockey Association’s Birmingham Bulls in Alabama. When he joined the Philadelphia 76ers, Ron Hextall became Barkley’s favorite NHL player. Barkley also became friends with Eric Lindros of the Flyers, too.

Barkley says Mike Wilbon has been taking him to the Stanley Cup Final with Chicago the past few years. But Jeremy Roenick, his neighbor in Arizona, has been urging Barkley to come to Nashville for a game and called the Music City scene “the craziest thing” he’d ever seen.

With the NBA Finals switching from Golden State to Cleveland for Game 3 on Wednesday night, Barkley had a free day. The Naismith Hall of Famer said he was looking forward to a little time in “Smashville.”

“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.”

Barkley noted that while at work he’s in a room with 20 TVs, so he has watched almost every hockey game this spring.

“I think we showed a stat we’ve only had four basketball games in the playoffs that were less than double digits,” Barkley said. “So it’s not been a lot of fun broadcasting games this year.”

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