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Ernie Johnson downplays recent Charles Barkley-Shaq spat (vid)

A recent on-air spat between Shaquille O’Neal and Charles Barkley led to speculation that all might not be well between the two NBA icons-turned analysts. But Ernie Johnson, longtime host of TNT’s “Inside the NBA,” disputes that any feud exists between the larger-than-life personalities.

Johnson insists the notion of a feud couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, Johnson, during a discussion of the issue with Dan Patrick, said studio morale has “never been higher.”

The most recent on-air cat fight between Barkley and O’Neal came during TNT’s coverage of Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals on Tuesday. The source of the animosity was a debate between the two over NBA Finals appearances and championships.

It was a somewhat awkward scene. Obviously.

Johnson blew off the notion the terse exchange is anything more than standard operating procedure for O’Neal and Barkley.

“I’m so amused at the response to that thing on social media,” Johnson said Thursday on “The Dan Patrick Show,” as transcribed by Dime Mag. “I’m traveling yesterday and looking at twitter and seeing people responding to this saying and I’m like ‘Have you not been watching the show?’ I’ve heard that exact same exchange 50 times this year.”

Johnson continued to insist that the notion of Shaq and Barkley nearing a point of no return is silly.

“I bailed on the whole exchange,” Johnson said of how he sampling crab cakes during the argument. “I just started eating the food that they brought out. That’s a tired back and forth. There’s nothing there, that’s just guys doing what they do.”

Johnson, one of the most respected figures in sports broadcasting, of course is presented with the unenviable task of playing ringleader to the three-ring circus that is “Inside the NBA” — arguably the best studio show in all of sport. If anyone knows exactly what’s going on behind the scenes, it’s E.J.