During Thursday night’s edition of TNT’s “Halftime Report,” NBA legend Charles Barkley unleashed biting mockery of beleaguered “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett that led his fellow commentators – Shaquille O’Neal, Ernie Johnson, and Kenny Smith – to erupt in laughter.
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A conversation, which had been centered around basketball predictions and the ongoing Houston Rockets-Los Angeles Lakers game, turned to the subject of Smollett when Smith asked, “Ernie, what’s the most ridiculous one over there that’s still living that you would say has no chance of happening?”
“Two black guys beating a black guy up,” Barkley interjected, referencing the Smollett case, in which the actor claimed to have been assaulted by President Donald Trump-supporting racists. New evidence strongly points to the television star having orchestrated the entire incident by paying two Nigerian brothers to fake the attack.
“America, let me just tell you something,” Barkley said later on in the segment. “Do not commit crimes with checks. If you’re gonna break the law, do not write a check. … Get cash, man. I never use the ATM. Now, I heard you can only get 200 dollars … Gonna make a lot of stops at the ATM. … Do not write checks when you commit illegal activity.”
This elicited more laughter from his co-hosts, particularly O’Neal, who had been egging Barkley on throughout the segment.
Executive producers of “Empire,” including Lee Daniels, issued a statement Friday morning saying they have decided to remove Smollett’s character, Jamal, from the last two episodes of the season.
While the producers claimed to “care deeply” about Smollett, they called the allegations against him “very disturbing and said they wanted to avoid “further disruption” on set.
The Smollett incident has divided onlookers among ideological lines. Many of the progressive actors, pundits, and politicians who initially rushed to condemn Trump and his supporters in the immediate aftermath of the alleged attack, have been curiously silent on the matter since further investigation suggested the actor is likely not telling the truth.
Conservatives, meanwhile, have argued that the Smollett case is an example of how a slanted media ecosystem elevates liberal narratives, even if the evidence doesn’t reflect their veracity.
Pluralist’s Andrew Tobin contributed to this report.