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Stanley Cup Final

Charles Barkley attends Game 4 of Stanley Cup Final in Nashville

Former NBA star raves about NHL playoffs, says 'I just love the sport'

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / NHL.com Senior Writer

NASHVILLE -- A surprise stage crasher joined Wayne Gretzky and Paul Coffey at the podium 16 minutes into the press conference to announce the 1984-85 Edmonton Oilers as the winner of the Greatest NHL Team fan vote.

Charles Barkley, who played for the Philadelphia 76ers, Phoenix Suns and Houston Rockets during his 16-year career and a member of The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, has been touting his love for the Stanley Cup Playoffs on Turner Sports' broadcasts throughout the NBA playoffs.

Barkley slowly and quietly walked onto the stage with a microphone in his hands while Gretzky was answering a question. Standing behind Gretzky and Coffey, over their right shoulders, Barkley's booming voice startled the two Hockey Hall of Fame members on stage when he asked Gretzky a question.

"Wayne, I've just always wondered, who is your favorite black athlete of all time?" Barkley asked.

Gretzky turned around, saw Barkley, and without hesitation gave his answer.

"Grant Fuhr," he said.

"That was quick," Barkley said, laughing.

Video: Charles Barkley speaks about greatest teams in sports

Barkley sat down at the podium to Coffey's left with Gretzky on the opposite side. Gretzky and Coffey fielded a few more questions, but Barkley stole the show, professing his love for hockey and the NHL playoffs.

"Biggest hockey fan on the planet here," Gretzky said, pointing at Barkley.

"Literally," Barkley said.

Why?

"I started following hockey actually in Birmingham, Alabama," Barkley said. "They had a team called the Bulls back in the day. That was my first recollection of hockey. Then when I got to Philadelphia, my favorite hockey player of all time is Ron Hextall. I got to know him and Eric Lindros going to a bunch of Flyers games. Then Mike Wilbon, one of my mentors, takes me to the Stanley Cup Playoffs with the Blackhawks the last few years.

"I was in Alabama and I'm here, I'm talking to J.R. (Jeremy Roenick), who I talk to quite a bit, he's my neighbor in Arizona, and he's like, 'Man, you've got to come to Nashville for a game.' He said, 'It's the craziest thing I've ever seen.' Then I get a really nice call from Commissioner Bettman and he says, 'Hey, for all the nice things you've been saying about hockey, come to a game.' So I said, 'Hey, I got nothing to do.' "

Video: Charles Barkley on his excitement for Game 4

Barkley is broadcasting the NBA Finals for Turner Sports, but Monday is an off night in that series, so he was able to get to Nashville for Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final between the Nashville Predators and Pittsburgh Penguins.

"I'm really looking forward to tonight," Barkley said. "They say it's crazy. The playoffs in hockey have been amazing. Obviously I'm not breaking Earth-shattering news, the NBA playoffs have not been very good. 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 and I watched pretty much every single hockey game."

Barkley said Hextall is his favorite NHL player of all-time.

"I want to know if my guy really cares," Barkley said, "and if you watch Ron Hextall play, you knew he really wanted to win."

Barkley said he also roots for Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Seth Jones because his father, Popeye Jones, played in the NBA.

"We probably should pay more attention to the regular season, but there is nothing more nerve-wracking than Stanley Cup overtime hockey," Barkley said. "It's the craziest thing you ever going to see. That's one of the reasons why I just love the sport."

Video: Charles Barkley joins broadcast and pokes fun at J.R.

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