Charles Barkley is explaining how the underground will be new ground for him.
"Hell, I'm from Alabama," Barkley says. "I've never taken the subway before."
Following in the proud tradition of athletes taking mass transportation, Barkley took the New York City subway Thursday from the SoHo neighborhood in Manhattan to Brooklyn's Barclays Center prior to working as a game analyst on the Knicks-Nets game for TNT. It was the first time Barkley had ever taken a New York subway, though he has visited the city many times.
Joining Barkley on the journey was an eight-person traveling pack -- a pair of New York City police officers, one VP of talent services for Turner, one public relations executive, a two-person Turner camera crew, a Turner Sports security person and one incredibly handsome reporter. Here's an abbreviated diary of the trip and some YouTube footage from Barkley's jovial journey to Barclays:
3:50 p.m. In the lobby of his hotel, Barkley cracks his first joke about the struggles of the Knicks and Nets. "I left two tickets for this game at the front desk last night," Barkley says, laughing. "This morning I checked on them and I had six."
3:54 p.m. Barkley greets a hotel worker on his way out the door. Time for another Knicks crack. "You are not going to Knicks game, are you?" he asks. "Sh--, they should pay you to go."
3:55 p.m. Barkley shakes hands with the New York City police helping us out. Immediately, people on the street start to recognize him and say hello.
3:59 p.m. We walk a couple of blocks to the Spring Street entrance for the downtown C and E lines. As Barkley heads down the subway steps, he yells out, "If they never see me again, tell my family I love them."
4:02 p.m. Barkley has made it through the MetroCard entry with the help of one of New York City's Finest. But the 6-foot-4 Barkley nearly his hits his head on a sign above when going through the entrance.
4:03 p.m. People in the subway start recognizing him. He poses for a couple of photos and shakes hands.
4:04 p.m. The E train comes by and passengers disembark into the station. A young guy walks off the E and his brain registers who is in front of him "Hey, you're Charles Barkley," says the man. This is true. Barkley responds, "How y'all doing?"
4:07 p.m. Kimberly Esteras, a 21-year-old from the Bronx, asks Barkley for a photo. I ask if she knows who Barkley is. She says her father, Miguel, is a big NBA fan. Barkley averaged 25.6 points for the Phoenix Suns the year she was born.
4:12 p.m. We hop on the C train. The camera phones come out. Someone asks Barkley if he is going to the Knicks-Nets game. Time for another crack. "I'm going to a pillow fight," he says.
4:20 p.m. Our small army gets off at Chambers Street and stays underground so we can transfer to the No. 2 train at the Park Place station. This is the train that will take us to the Barclays Center.
4:26 p.m. We're now on the 2. Barkley poses for photos with a pair of female friends from Brooklyn and one from Alabama. It always strikes me when I'm with Barkley how much he likes people. "Y'all born in New York?" he asks a women wearing USPS hat. She says yes and asks him the same. He says he's from Alabama but that his daughter lives in New York and that he loves the city. He talks about the Iron Bowl, which he watched from a suite at Jordan-Hare Stadium. "That was a heck of game for Auburn," he says.
4:27 p.m. Barkley hears a baby crying in the subway car. "I'm going to see the Knicks and Nets so I know exactly how that baby feels," Barkley says. The car erupts in laughter.
4:29 p.m. Someone asks Barkley who will win the Knicks-Nets game as a voice informs riders that the next stop on the train is Clark Street. "It don't matter, man," Barkley says. "Zero plus zero is still zero."
4:32 p.m. We exit at the Atlantic Avenue-Barclays Center stop. "Sh--, is that Charles Barkley?" asks a kid, about 20 years old, as Barkley blows by him walking. At the base of the escalator to the arena, Barkley poses with a group of New York City transit workers.
4:34 p.m. We go up the escalator and Barkley finally meets Barclays. There are not too many people lingering. "Hot ticket," Barkley says, laughing. Thirty seconds later people of all ages start heading toward him. He poses for more photos.
4:37 p.m. Barkley heads inside the arena via a private exit. Normally a studio force for TNT's Inside The NBA, he will work the TNT broadcast tonight with Marv Albert and Steve Kerr. About half an hour after he enters the building, while sitting in a green room, Tara August, VP of talent services for Turner Sports, tells him that Nelson Mandela has passed away. A couple of minutes earlier, Barkley had told me that while he doesn't feel compelled to be on television every day, he does like that sports affords him the opportunity to speak on issues that go beyond it. Here is what he said on Mandela.