With the NBA tipping off this week, Sports Illustrated had its annual season-opening check-in with Turner Sports NBA analyst Charles Barkley, who stars on what many consider the best sports studio show on television: TNT’s Inside the NBA.
Along with his usual role as the wildcard on Inside The NBA, Barkley will be a game analyst for LeBron James’s regular season debut in Cleveland when the Cavaliers host the Knicks on Thursday at 8:00 p.m. ET. (Marv Albert, analyst Reggie Miller and reporter Rachel Nichols will also be on the call.)
Below, is Part 2 of a two-part interview that was conducted on Monday when SI was part of a handful of outlets. My questions are specifically indicated below for clarity. For Part 1, click here.
When you look at today’s NBA contracts, do you wish you were playing again?
Yes and no. I still made more money than Bill Russell and Oscar Robertson and they are two of the five greatest players ever. God bless these guys, but one disturbing stat that always bothered me is 70 percent of professional athletes go broke. I try to spend a lot of time with young guys telling them to save their money, become better businessman, and don’t have a bunch of clowns around you on the payroll. You look at MC Hammer, you look at Mike Tyson, you look Evander Holyfield, these were guys who lost $300, $400 million.
Can the NBA ever challenge the NFL on popularity?
Barkley: Listen, the NFL is a juggernaut. But we’ve got an opportunity with the concussion thing. All the sports are now going to start getting better players. No disrespect. I’m a big football fan. Boxing and football are my two favorite sports because I think it takes courage to play those sports. But as a parent, I’m not letting my kid play football. In that aspect, I think we can make ground in that I’m pushing my kids towards basketball, baseball, things like that. It’s a great opportunity for us but we play 82 games.
You were very public regarding the anonymous comments about Russell Wilson, where some black teammates alleged he was not black enough. Why?
Barkley: What I said was it is a dirty secret in the black community. Unless you are a thug or have a criminal record or you are just a jackass, some black people don’t think you are black enough. It’s a dirty little secret in our community. I want black kids to be strong and intelligent. We’re telling kids if you are doing good in schools, you are acting white. If you speak intelligently, then you are acting white. That is bulls---. It’s one of the reasons we as a group struggle. We don’t have great respect for each other. I talked about this in my last book. It just happened to come up again because the Russell Wilson thing just broke. But it is not something I haven’t said before.
I don’t know why people took it national last week. Listen, man, you don’t have to be a thug or unintelligent. You are supposed to do great academically. You are supposed to speak correctly. You don’t have to have street cred. I tell people we are the only group where if you have a criminal record it makes you more black. That’s ridiculous ... Russell Wilson was black enough last year when they were winning. Now they are losing and Russell Wilson is not black enough. I don’t think he changed in the last six months.
What do you think of the impact of Phil Jackson’s triangle offense?
Barkley: I totally agree with Jeff Van Gundy. Phil Jackson is a great coach but the key are the players. Realistically, Shaq and Kobe (Bryant) are two of the 10 greatest players ever and he had Michael (Jordan) who is the best ever and Scottie Pippen who was terrific. I thought Horace Grant was underrated. That to me was the best team I’ve ever played against personally. No disrespect to Dennis Rodman; I just thought Horace Grant was terrific. But it’s about the players.
Do you root for small market team success?
Barkley: I think it is great, man. We have been saying or the last three years that one of the reasons us old guys were disappointed at LeBron was we want small markets to be relevant. We don’t want five good teams and the rest of the small markets stink. Hopefully the LeBron thing is a signal like. “Hey, Kevin Durant, stay in Oklahoma City.” Jabari Parker, it’s okay, Milwaukee has a storied past. We want those guys to stay in small markets. We don’t want five superpowers and the rest of the NBA stinks. It was a negative turning point when LeBron went to Miami because it was like, “You can’t be great in Cleveland? You have to go to a major market?" Now I think he realized he should not have left. I hope this is a turning point for guys like Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker and Anthony Davis.
Is this the end for Steve Nash?
It is the end for Steve Nash. He has had a monster career and I am looking forward to the night they retire his jersey in Phoenix and I am looking forward to the night he goes into the Hall of Fame.
•Do you see him entering broadcasting?
Listen, he is a great kid but you have to go on TV before if you know you are good on television. I have friends who are great people who suck on television. You can’t assume someone will be good. Some guys can’t relax on TV. I tell people, Dude, stop thinking you are on television.
You are a big NFL fan. What are your thoughts on Rex Ryan?
I love Rex Ryan, but I am biased. His Dad was probably my favorite coach ever. His players loved him, and that’s all you really want as a player, to have total faith in your coach win or lose. In our business you have people who are full of sh--. When you have someone who has your back no matter what you love them to death. The tough thing about the Jets is the season is over.
Did Carmelo Anthony make a good decision coming back to New York?
I thought he made a good decision. Regardless of what you think about New York, this place is an amazing city. And there was no guarantee he would win in Chicago or anywhere else. If he could win in New York, it would be special ... I have been to a lot of places and there is nothing like the energy here.
What do you make of Blake Griffin saying he’s had it was the hard fouls?
Barkley: It’s on him and it’s been on him. He don’t watch the show? Let me tell you something: I have been saying for two years he has to stop that. First of all, his teammates should [have his back] but sometimes you have to defend yourself. Blake Griffin is a terrific player but he should have knocked the hell out of somebody a long time ago. You can’t be saying you’re sick of it. He has to stop to that, man. At some point it is a mano a mano thing.
Do you agree that the point guard position is the toughest in the league?
Barkley: This is the greatest time ever for NBA point guards, in my opinion. In my day it was the power forward position. Every day you would play against somebody and it would be like, “Oh, my God.” Now every night in the NBA if you play at point guard, it is crazy out there. I think Tony Parker is the best point guard. But you have Russell Westbrook, Derrick Rose, Rajon Rondo, Chris Paul, Kyle Lowry, John Wall, you have Steph Curry. I mean it is unbelievable, every single night … It used to be playing power forwards was playing a Hall of Famer. Now, it’s the point guard. If you don’t bring it every night, you will get your lunch handed to you.
What do you think of the Sixers’ plans?
I actually like what the Sixers are doing. I think they have a bright future. Listen. They have the rookie of the year [Michael Carter-Williams]. [Nerlens] Noel I think is going to be a good player. I’m not playing [Joel] Embid this year. They get a lottery pick next year and I got four studs going forward.
How do you feel about your “I Am Not a Role Model” Nike spot 20 years later?
Barkley: I feel great. I think it was the greatest thing I ever did because what I was talking about was, as you see with the North Carolina thing, they are not educating these kids. And unfortunately with black kids, they are not getting their education. They are playing in a system that flows them through college. I just wanted to start that debate and it comes up all the time. I do know that we are somewhat role models but you can’t have your kid trying to grow up to be Michael Jordan or Karl Malone. Most people have to get a real job. When I made that commercial I knew it was going be controversial, but I wanted to start a debate. I was about telling young black kids to get your education because you are not going to be me.
Is that the favorite commercial spot you ever did?
Barkley: Yes. And it comes up all the time. I just want these kids to listen to their parents and get an education.
You are not a fan of shortening an NBA game right?
Barkley: That is stupid. What I think the NBA should do is they should shorten the season to 70 games. Don’t start until Christmas. If you go back and look at our ratings the last 20 years, the highest ratings we have had were the strike-shortened NBA season. We can’t compete with pro football and college football. We should move the season back and play 70 games and don’t start until Christmas. I think it would be beneficial for everybody. I know everybody’s greedy and we want money. But if we started at Christmas, we’d have a period without any competition. College and pro football are pretty much off the radar then, except on the weekends. We’d have a very nice window where we’d control the sports market.