Charles Barkley knows Brendan Haywood is a shot blocker. A week ago, he didn’t. Today, he does.
Last weekend during CBS and Turner Sports’ NCAA tournament coverage, Barkley joked about the former UNC center’s defense. Haywood, a relative newcomer to the broadcasting scene, didn’t hesitate coming back at Barkley, reminding him of his status as the all-time block leader at North Carolina.
On TV, it was the new guy going back at the hall of famer. In reality, it wasn’t that serious. Working for NBA TV, which films in the same building as Turner, Haywood and Barkley have spent time the past two years talking hoops behind the scenes.
“It was just some fun banter, to go back and forth,” Haywood says. “That’s who I am off camera. So, I’m going to laugh, joke and if you come at me, I’m going to go back at you but we’re going to do it in a playful way.”
Since retiring from a long NBA career in 2015, Haywood has hit the ground running in broadcasting: covering college and NBA games on TV and radio, doing studio work for CBS, Turner, and ESPN. He’s been smart, energetic, and comfortable on screen.
“What you see on TV, that’s me when I’m watching the game,” Haywood says. “If someone makes a highlight-worthy dunk, I’m going to be excited if I’m home. I’m going to be excited if I’m on the air.” He was a communication major at Carolina, but didn’t take many journalism classes. He started covering WNBA games during the off-season a few years ago and says broadcasting has just come naturally to him.
“I just let my personality shine through,” he says.
One of the best parts of the gig is learning from and sparring with all-time greats.
“Sometimes I’m behind the scenes and I’m like ‘Wow, I’m having a true life basketball debate with Charles Barkley, Kevin McHale and Steve Smith,’” Haywood says. “This is awesome.”
But that respect doesn’t keep him from voicing his opinion.
“You don’t want to come out cocky and arrogant like you know it all,” Haywood says. “But at the same time, if you’re talking to an NBA legend or a great like Steve Smith or Kevin McHale, you still have to be able to show them that you have your own ideas.”
This year technically isn’t Haywood’s first time working the tournament. He covered Carolina’s Final Four games last year as part of the Turner Sports Team Stream, which resulted in an interesting response online. Fans who didn’t understand the purpose of the multi-channel approach -- giving each team their own fan-friendly announcers -- criticized Haywood and others for being biased. “I’d go on Twitter and Instagram and there’d be people just lighting me up. ‘You’re the most unprofessional announcer I’ve ever listened to. You’re such a homer,’” Haywood recalls. “I’m thinking to myself, dude, that’s what I’m supposed to be. You were watching the UNC team stream.”
This year, Haywood says he’s loved watching guys like Sindarius Thornwell, Bam Adebayo, Derrick Walton Jr. and D.J. Wilson emerge during the tournament. “That Michigan ball club has had several guys that jumped out at me when I watched them play,” Haywood says. “I might’ve been sleeping on them.”
He calls South Carolina’s upset over Duke as the best moment so far.
Announcing is just the latest stage of Haywood’s career where he’s quietly excelled. He was a second team All-American as a Tar Heel and, as he mentioned to Barkley, his jersey is in the rafters at the Smith Center. He also played 14 years in the NBA and has a championship ring. Now, he’s involved in some of the best NCAA games in his second year behind the mic.
“You know what, I’m blessed man,” Haywood says. “If I’m blessed long enough to do it 30 years, I’ll definitely do it because I still want to be involved with the game of basketball and this gives me the chance to do that.”