I just spent a couple of hours sitting at a bar and sharing a few beers with Charles Barkley, former NBA superstar, original US Olympic Dream Team member and NBA Hall of Famer. You will feel the same way while you read this book. Editor Michael Wilborn has made this autobiographical offering a 245 page conversation with Sir Charles, who holds back nothing at all.
I was anything but a Barkley fan during his NBA careers, so it was puzzling that I enjoy him so on TNT’s “Inside the NBA.” He recalled for me the incident that had informed my opinion of him. While playing for the Houston Rockets, a courtside heckler had finally tested Barkley’s limits. While running down the court, Sir Charles spit at him, but missed, and hit a 6 year old girl instead. Outright Barkley told me, “That was WRONG.” He apologized sincerely and profusely to the girl and her family, eventually becoming friends with them. The incident changed his responses to hecklers and detractors , and his on court attitude forever. At the same time it provided fuel for reporters determined to indelibly burn a bad boy image of Barkley into basketball fans’ minds.
Certainly I had no idea of his concern for youth and family in the US. I had missed the Nike commercials that he had written, “I Am Not a Role Model,” wherein he admonished parents ,teachers , and communities to raise their kids themselves instead of handing the job over to him and other famous faces with whom they and their kids have absolutely no contact . Charles asked me, “A million guys can dunk a basketball in jail – should they be role models?” He told me that he blames the press for a significant contribution to the misplaced hero worship attitude:
I think the media demands that athletes be role models because there’s some jealousy involved. It’s as if they say, this is a young black kid playing a game for a living and making all this money, so we’re going to make it tough on him. And what they’re really doing is telling kids to look up to someone they can’t become, because not many people can be like we are. Kids can’t be like Michael Jordan.
Charles clearly let me know that even though he is regarded as a controversial personality, that he doesn’t create controversies. He merely points out what is already in existence. I agree with him on that one. When friend Magic Johnson announced that he was HIV positive, the press speculated as to the dangers of playing on the same court with him, and which NBA players might opt out of that situation. Barkley remarked that they were there to play basketball, not to have unprotected sex with Johnson. He’s not wrong.
Charles says that he is criticized for bringing up controversial topics when there is no controversy at hand. He feels that such time is the right time for controversial discussions, when minds are clear of high emotion. In Nov, 2012 he replied in an interview about sideline sports announcers, “–I will tell you one kind of discrimination no one ever talks about regarding side line reporters. If you are an ugly woman, you have no chance of getting a TV job.” Many call the remark offensive, while others call it dead-on truth.
I can’t wait for another chance to chat with Charles, now that I am a true fan. Pick up the book, have a seat at the bar, and listen. You will be glad that you did. I may be wrong about that, but I doubt it.
RCW -neighborhood reader