Moderating a panel featuring Charles Barkley is an easy assignment: Your job is to basically get the hell out of the way so the TNT NBA analyst can talk. Last month, as part of the South By Southwest Interactive festival in Austin, I moderated a panel Barkley was on titled “How to Remain Relevant in Today’s Digital Age.” The intentional irony of the panel, of course, is that Barkley does not participate much (at least on his own accord) in the digital age. He does not have a Twitter or Facebook account and you won’t be seeing him post photos to Instagram anytime soon. As is often the case with Barkley, the conversation extended well beyond the existing topic. Below, are excerpts from our talk, published for the first time, which I think you’ll enjoy
On being famous
Being famous is like being the homecoming queen: All the ugly girls hate you. That’s what’s it’s like. It’s also like being smart. All the dumb kids hate you. Before I grew up and matured, at least according to some people, we didn’t like the smart kids in school. Like it was their fault we were dumb. It’s a built-in jealously that we all have. It’s not always mean-spirited but there is bias. We want kids to be smart. We want them to be articulate. We want them to do well. Don’t be jealous of other people. I think that’s one of the reasons I don’t do social media. There’s this notion that I’m not supposed to be successful because you are not successful and if you are taking shots at me, why should I sit around reading what you say about me?
On what he would tell a young athlete about Twitter
I would say stay away but there is a never a right or wrong answer. No matter what you say half the people are going to agree with you and half the people are going to disagree with you. That’s the one thing that sucks about being in the limelight. I remember when I was with the Sixers I would get on television and thank God. The Sixers would call me later and say we are getting some phone calls from atheists who would wish you would stop talking about God all the time. Now I’m not a religious fanatic, I might add, but I thank God for my life. They were like, “Charles, don’t say God anymore. The atheists and agnostics are unhappy with you.” First of all I don’t even know what an agnostic is. They had to explain it to me. But it’s interesting that no matter what you say half the people are going to dislike it. So any young guy has to be careful with social media.
On meeting John F. Kennedy Jr.
I’m playing for the Suns at the time and this is around 1992 and when I was thinking seriously about politics in the future. I get a call from George Magazine for an interview. It’s John F. Kennedy Jr. I said no to his interview request. But then all the girls from the Suns said, “Hey, we need to talk to you?” I said, “About what?” They said, “You are doing this interview no matter what!” It was so funny. And when he came to the office, every girl had their Sunday best on. They had big-ass makeup on. They had great-looking lipstick. It was hilarious. God rest his soul, he was a really nice guy and I really enjoyed spending five hours with him. We did the interview and went out for a couple of drinks.
On trying to avoid being drafted by the Sixers in 1984 by gaining 20 pounds in 48 hours prior to a pre-draft workout in Philadelphia
Back in my day we had a hard salary cap so you could not go over the salary cap like you can today and the Sixers had the No. 5 pick in the draft. I left college after three years and in fairness, I was fat in college. I played at 300 pounds. The Sixers called me a month before the draft and said, “We want you to get down to 285 pounds and come in before the draft.” So I get down to 283 and the night before we fly into Philly my agent said, “You do know if the Sixers draft you they are going to give you $75,000, right?” I said, “Dude, I didn’t leave college for $75,000. We have a problem.” He said, “You weigh about 283 now. What do you want to do? You beat their weight limit.” I said, “Let’s go out.”
So we went to Dennys and I had like two Grand Slam breakfasts. We went to lunch and I had like two big barbeque sandwiches. That night we went to a big steakhouse. The next morning I had two more Grand Slam breakfasts and when we flew to Philly, I weighed 302. I was like, Thank goodness, the Sixers are not going to draft me. So when you look at my face when commissioner [David] Stern says 'With the fifth pick in the draft, the Philadelphia 76ers select Charles Barkley,' I was like, 'Oh, sh--.' When people go back and look at me walking, and they see that awful burgundy suit, everybody else is happy and Charles isn’t happy. But it worked out great. The most important person in my basketball career was Moses Malone and he got me down to under 250 pounds and the rest is history.
On golf and sex being the only two things you can be bad at and still have a good time
I love walking out there in the middle of these big, beautiful old trees. You go out there for four or five hours and you are away from the world. You have no problems. So I tell people golf and sex, you can suck at them, but you can still have a good time.
On life’s most important jobs
I think there are five important jobs in the world: Teacher, fireman, policeman, doctor and someone in the armed services. I have great admiration for those five jobs. I think everyone else should just shut the hell up and enjoy life.
On being honest
The interesting thing about being honest is people love my honesty unless they disagree with me. It’s a double-edged sword. It’s like, 'Man, that guy is honest, we love his honesty, we love him being frank.' But they only mean that if they agree with me. We have to respect other’s people’s opinion. I’m a big pro-gay marriage guy because as a black person I am against any form of discrimination. I think gay people should be allowed to get married. But on the other hand, you have seen some jocks say they don’t like it and I think they should have the right to say that without getting crucified. I disagree with them but I think they should have the right to say that…I defended Adrian Peterson for spanking kids. I said every black parent I know would be in jail if spanking your kids was bad. The thing that was funny was my white friends called and said they wished I would stop saying that because they got spanked too. We can debate if Adrian Peterson went overboard but I think you should be able to spank your kid. So when the headlines were 'Barkley Says It's Okay To Beat Your Kids,' I started laughing. Thing that was funny was the Pope came out a couple of months ago and said he believes in spanking kids. I would joke with my friends, “See, the Pope says you can beat your kids. Nobody jumped on the Pope like they did me!”
On not fearing saying something crazy on TV
I have my basketball money so I’m not worried about my TV money. I golf and fish in the summer so I tell them, "If ya’all fire me, I just get to go golf and fish more. It ain’t going to suck. I can always find a golf course and a great place to fish."
On whether he’ll ever join Twitter
Probably not. I saw Kevin Durant arguing with people not too long ago. Kevin Durant is a great, great player and great guy. So some kid he played against in high school made a thing that he kicked all of these NBA guys’s butts in high school and he put KD in there. Meanwhile, this guy is like a plumber. So Kevin Durant and this guy are arguing with each other and I am reading this in a newspaper thinking, 'Dude, you are Kevin Durant. Why are you arguing with a plumber? (There’s nothing wrong with being a plumber, I might add) but you are Kevin Durant!' Same thing with RGIII and Colin Kaepernick. I’m like, 'Dudes, why are you arguing with someone on the Internet?' I always use this analogy when it comes to sports fans: Just because you watch Grey’s Anatomy doesn’t mean you can perform an operation.
On whether he will accept the invitation to next year’s MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference
It depends on when it is but probably not. First of all, they are just stats. They just charge you more calling them analytics but they are just stats. It’s kind of like, if you are black, you are a cook and if you are white, you are a chef. The chef gets paid a lot more than the cook (laughs). But my big rule is if people should be able to take a joke … Everyone knows Muhammad Ali is a hero of mine. So is Dr, Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela. I did some research on Abe Lincoln when that movie came out. There are a lot of great men. But when they asked me for some great Americans, I said Colonel Sanders. They said, “How did he get on the list?” I said, “Any white man who can cook chicken like that, you gotta love him.” I was like, dudes relax, it’s a joke. If you can’t take a joke, you should probably never watch our show or talk to me.
On the Dream Team practices
They were the most intense thing I ever did in my life. Me and Karl Malone tried to kill each other to prove who the best power forward was. Patrick Ewing and David Robinson were trying to kill each other to prove who was the best center. Clyde Drexler was trying to kill Michael Jordan to prove he was the best two guard. Magic Johnson was pissed because the Bulls had just beat him in the finals and Scottie Pippen did a great job on him. So he wanted to prove it was a fluke. For two hours a day, it was amazing. Then we would go back to the pool where the naked girls were hanging out. That was one thing about being in foreign countries like Monaco, we’d rumble down the court for two hours and then make like a bee-line to the pool. All these women were topless. They don’t do that in the States.
On Lance Armstrong
Lance is my friend and A-Rod is my friend. I don’t judge other people. We all have done things wrong. Lance was wrong. A-Rod was wrong. But they are my friends. I’m not going to turn on my friends. I’ve screwed up many times but I hope my friends stick with me when I screw up. The baseball thing really bugs me. Clearly a lot of guys were doing PEDs. But I think it is really unfair to penalize five guys and say you are never going in the Hall of Fame. If you want to put an asterisk there, that is fair. But to only penalize only five or six Hall of Famers when clearly a large percentage were doing it, I think that is unfair. If I had a Hall of Fame vote, A-Rod, Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro are all in the Hall of Fame.
On retiring at 60
Anyone who works past 60 is an idiot (laughs). I want to travel the world. Listen, man, if people want to keep working that’s fine. But there is going to come an age when you can’t do stuff and have fun. So why would I want to keep working until the day I die. You should save your money. Learn to tell your family and friends no. One of the great travesties in sports is 70 percent of professional athletes go broke. It’s a joke and it pisses me off. But I tell all my friends who don’t play sports, 'Who wants to work when you are 65 or 70?' Sixty is my magic number. I just turned 52 and I’m not working past 60.
On traveling the world
One of the great tragedies of my life is I did not go to South Africa to meet Nelson Mandela. Growing up in Alabama my mother and grandmother talked about Nelson Mandela and Dr. Martin Luther King constantly. That was a mistake on my part. So I need to spend some time in South Africa. I love going to Germany. I love Spain. It’s cool over there.
On how he wants to be remembered:
He did good while he was here. I’ve said this a lot and I mean it too: There are some people when they die you say, “I’m glad that son of a bitch is gone.” I really mean that. There are some people when they go, it’s like “I’m glad his ass is gone.” I have made some mistakes like everyone but I know I have done some good things in my life. I’m trying to continue to do good things. I’m happy where I am right now. I made it to 50. Fifty was my magic number. Two of my brothers died at a young age, I have one left. It’s always sad when young people die. So I truly believe if you have not done good stuff by 50 or been successful in your life, you are not going to be successful after 50. It’s not like a light bulb is going to kick in at 52. It should have kicked in. So I feel I have lived full life. If I die tomorrow, I would just need a couple of minutes to say, “Thank you for the amazing journey.”
THE NOISE REPORT
SI.com examines the week’s biggest stories in sports media
1. SI.com learned over the weekend that ESPN has parted ways with Lou Holtz, who had been a college football studio analyst with the network since 2004 and worked most notably with host Rece Davis and analyst Mark May on ESPN’s Saturday College Football Final pregame, halftime and postgame studio coverage. Holtz was also a regular contributor to SportsCenter and ESPN Radio. The decision, according to sources, was closer to a mutual agreement between the parties than Holtz getting forced out. The 78-year-old said last May that he would retire from broadcasting after the 2014 season though at the time the network said Holtz had not informed them of such thinking.
Asked why it parted with Holtz, an ESPN spokesperson said via email: "Lou brought a champion's perspective and a legacy of accomplishment to our coverage along with his distinctive style and humor. We appreciate his contributions and wish him all the best in the future."
With Davis moving to GameDay and Holtz no longer in an analyst chair, I’d expect ESPN to significantly retool its college football afternoon studio setup. There are plenty in Bristol who knew the Holtz-Mark May shtick was long past its shelf life and this is a good time to change things up. No doubt part of the thinking on Holtz’s part was to move on without Davis in the host chair.
Said Sandy Montag, the agent for Holtz: “Lou enjoyed his time and friendships made at ESPN and looks forward to other opportunities in college football.”
1a. One of ESPN’s best producers, Jose Morales, is behind Draft Academy, which follows six NFL prospects (Jameis Winston, Todd Gurley, Melvin Gordon, Shane Ray, Devin Smith, and John Crockett) through the NFL draft process. The four-week documentary series debuts April 14 at 7:00 p.m. on ESPN.
1b. The UConn-Notre Dame women’s final drew 3.081 million viewers, down from 4.27 million for 2014 final when both teams were undefeated.
2. The viewership numbers for the final round Masters are expected Monday night and it will interesting to see the audience that tuned in for Jordan Spieth’s record-breaking first major victory. The leaderboard on the final day was filled with boldfaced names (Rory McIlroy, Phil Mickelson, and at least early, Tiger Woods) but Spieth’s lead never felt in jeopardy. Last year’s final round (won by Bubba Watson) drew 11.0 million viewers (without Woods). The 2013 final round (won by Adam Scott) drew 14.7 million. The 2012 final round (won by Bubba Watson) drew 13.5 million. If the number is closer to 2013, it bodes well for future events where Spieth is running with the leaders.
2a. ESPN’s telecast of the Masters Par 3 Contest was the most-viewed telecast of the event since ESPN began televising it in 2008. The two-hour telecast averaged 1,084,871 viewers, surpassing the previous record of 1,007,274 in 2010.
2b. Masters bonus: The Golf Channel was the most-watched sports network last Thursday from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. (508,000 average viewers).
3. John Moore, the coordinating director of New York Yankees baseball for the YES Network, has directed more than 1,000 Yankee games over his four-decade career in sports television. But last Friday’s game—a 19-inning Red Sox win that began just after 7 p.m. on Friday night and finished Saturday at 2:13 a.m.—was unlike anything he’s ever experienced.
“The biggest challenge—and it’s impossible to do this—is to not let your mind drift to the next day, which was a day game at one o’clock,” said Moore, in a phone interview on Sunday. “We have a great crew [there are about 50 people overall including broadcasters Michael Kay, David Cone, and Ken Singleton] and the best way we handled that was using gallows humor. We said a lot of, 'Well, thank God there is not a day game tomorrow.’ I talked to our producer (Bill Boland) the next day and asked him what he thought of the game. We both agreed everybody stayed with it. The camera crew and tape crew were phenomenal and I think part of that is in the truck we try to maintain a degree of fun.”
Moore has directed Yankees broadcasts since 1988. He had a six-year stint directing the Mets during the 1990s and then joined the YES Network in 2002. In terms of other late nights, he recalled one delayed Yankee game in Detroit a couple of years ago where the broadcast went off air at 3:30 a.m. and he ended up at his hotel at 4 a.m. The next day he had to take a flight to Chicago to direct an MLB for Fox so he worked that game on 20 minutes sleep.
“You start to recognize you are part of something special,” Moore said. “But I think everyone was a little disappointed that we didn’t get to say we part of the longest game in Yankee history (A seven-hour, 22-inning game against the Tigers in 1962.) It didn’t count because they pulled out the light delay [a 16-minute delay after a bank of lights blew at Yankee Stadium] from the official time.”
After the game, Moore’s immediate thought was that he had to get home ASAP because he and his wife, Robin, the manager of remote operations for the YES Network who was also working the game, have an 18-month old who was being watched by a babysitter. Moore got home around 3:30 a.m. His wife got home 15 minutes later. The night turned out to be a very good deal for the babysitter. “I think she was expecting to go home at midnight she got four hours extra, plus we gave her a little bonus,” Moore said.
4. Sports pieces of note:
• ESPN’s Wright Thompson on the life and death of Jason Rabedeaux. A remarkable read.
• The Dallas Morning News profiled 10-time DWI convict and prolific sports writer Jim Dent
• WKRC-TV (Cincinnati) paid tribute to Lauren Hill, the 19-year-old college basketball player for Mount St. Joseph, who died from a rare form of brain cancer called Diffused Intrinsic Pontine Glioma (DIPG), with this 7-minute piece
• This is what domestic abuse looks like: SI’s Jon Wertheim and Mike McKnight on Milton Bradley
• Really enjoyed this Jon Wertheim interview of WWE wrestler-turned-UFC-fighter hopeful CMPunk
• The New Orleans Advocate and Pro Publica did a co-investigation on the missteps to catch Darren Sharper
• NYT’s Karen Crouse on golf writer Herbert Warren Wind
• This was very cool: Michael Beschloss on the Presidents who knew Babe Ruth
Non-sports pieces of note:
• Why a Harvard economics professor has mixed feelings when his students take jobs in finance
• Vanity Fair on the Brian Williams scandal at NBC News
• The Hollywood Reporter interviewed 92-year old gossip columnist Liz Smith
•Via Macleans Magazine: The story of how a diplomat's sons wound up in a deadly drug deal in Miami
• After 73 years of marriage, a Kentucky couple died within minutes of each other
5. Boston Globe media writer Chad Finn highlighted John Buccigross’ excellent work at raising hockey awareness at ESPN
5a.The Philadelphia Daily Newsobit on longtime sports columnist Stan Hochman, who passed away last week at age 86
5b.Tampa Bay Times writer Greg Auman profiled NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock
5c. Andrew Bucholtz of Awful Announcing on mainstream sports outlets doing WWE content
5d. Via SportsTVratings.com: NBC’s second airing of PBC Boxing in primetime drew a 1.94 overnight household rating and peaked from 10:30-11p wit a 2.38 rating. That’s down 23 percent from the inaugural primetime NBC coverage on March 7 that drew a 2.53 overnight and peaked with a 3.01
5e. Via The BBC: Richie Benaud, the Australian voice of cricket, passed away at age 84
5f. ESPN released numbers (keep in mind the numbers are proprietary) about how many people streamed its coverage of the 2015 ICC Cricket World Cup
5g. The UW Madison Center for Journalism Ethics hosted a conference on Ethics and Sports Journalism
5h. Al Jazeera America’s, America Tonight, launches a special series this week called “Sex Crimes in Sports,” and focuses on the intersection of sexual assault and sports. According to digital producer Tim Bella, the series (from Tuesday to Thursday at 10 p.m. ET) will examine the victims of sexual assault in college athletics; the hazing culture in sports, and whether the sexual assault cases involving football players at the University of Montana is a national blueprint for prevention and awareness on college campuses.