Barkley on Kobe's career, LeBron as a Cav and falling out with M.J.
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 in history: TNT’s Inside the NBA.
Along with his usual wildcard role 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 1 of a two-part interview (Part 2 will run on Wednesday) that was conducted on Monday in New York City when SI was part of a handful of outlets to talk with Barkley. My questions are specifically indicated below for clarity.
When we talked last year you told me that Michael Jordan was upset with some of your criticisms of him as an owner and player evaluator. How would you evaluate your relationship right now?
Barkley: It is unfortunate. We’re not friendly, but I still love him. He’s doing a good job now. What is interesting about your question is Phil Jackson actually said the same thing I said and I wonder if he still speaks to Phil Jackson. I said Michael had to get rid of the people around him. You can’t have your friends working for you; you’ve got to surround yourself with good basketball people. He had not done that. I love what he did with Al Jefferson. I love him going out and getting Lance [Stephenson]. I love the kid Noah Vonleh from Indiana. He’s done a good job, but he had not done a good job up until then. It’s obviously put a strain on our relationship and we’re not together anymore.
Is it in Michael’s personality to pick up the phone and reach out to you?
Barkley: No (laughs). And it’s not in my personality either. (laughs). I’m not going to call up and apologize for saying what I said. They were setting the record for the worst team in NBA history and I said Michael just has to do a better job. He had to get rid of the flunkies around him and hire real basketball people. He does that now. They have been doing a great job since he got rid of his flunkies and hired basketball people. But he [Michael] can’t hear the good stuff.
Is the league a better place without Donald Sterling?
Barkley: The league is better. Being a black man, I am against any form of racism, sexism, anything like that. I have always said racism is the greatest cancer of my lifetime. I don’t stand for that in any of my friends. I don’t stand for anti-Semitism, we can’t have that. I live in Arizona and I don’t like the way they treat Hispanics there. Anytime I get a chance to stand up for that I am going to stand up for that. Sheriff Joe [Arpaio, of Maricopa County] is an ass----. Going to Arby’s or Red Lobster rounding up Hispanics don’t make you tough.
In 2012 you told me you were likely to leave Turner at the end of this contract. Has Turner Sports extending with the NBA through the 2024-25 season changed your thinking about leaving at the end of your contract?
Barkley: No, I love my job. I love the people I work with. I have two years left on my deal. That will be 17 years. That’s a long time to do a job and I’d rather leave too early than stay too long. Seventeen years is a long time. To be honest with you, I love my job but I am concerned with staying too long.
At what point will you make this decision?
Barkley: I’m leaning heavily towards finishing my next two years and leaving on a good note. The problem I’ve got is, let’s just say hypothetically I sign a contract extension. I’ve thought about staying and making it an even 20 years. So in five years, I’ll be saying ‘Should I stay longer too?’ Right now my contract is up in two years and I can say I gave a great 17 years, I love the people I work with, I love Ernie [Johnson], Kenny [Smith] and Shaq and the management team. But like I say, man, 17 years? I don’t want people to get sick of watching me. It’s fun and everything, but you don’t have to stay until they kick you out the door.
Could you see yourself ever working for another network?
Barkley: No, never.
So Turner or nothing?
Barkley: Turner or nothing.
Do you still have political aspirations?
Where do you see yourself after broadcasting?
Barkley: I don’t have a game plan. I just don’t want to stay here too long. I have to make the decision, how long do I stay in this job. That is the thing I am wrestling with now.
What about running a team?
Barkley: I would love to be a general manager, just for the challenge. But if that opportunity doesn’t come, I am content with where I am at.
What is a realistic year for Kobe Bryant?
Barkley: 20 points per game. Because he is going to shoot the ball, but the Lakers aren’t going to make the playoffs. They are not one of the elite teams in the West. Hopefully he can stay healthy for 82 games. He should try to play 25-30 minutes per night. Kobe’s problem is Kobe doesn’t want to accept he’s getting old. There’s nothing you can do about that. You can’t outwork age.
Kobe’s got two years left on his deal. I don’t want to see what happened to Steve Nash. They will keep rolling you out there. Sports are like boxing, they’ll keep putting you out there even when you can’t fight anymore. They did that with the great heavyweights of our time. People are making money on you, they’ll keep throwing you out there and I don’t want to see that for Kobe Bryant. If he can play pretty solid the next couple years, hopefully he’ll walk away one of the ten greatest players of all-time. Everybody has to walk away and you hope guys walk away when they still have something left.
Who is the next emerging player in the league?
Barkley: Let me tell you something. I got a chance to go to Spain this summer to watch the U.S. team play. We’re [TNT] not going to show New Orleans [they do once] but if you get a chance to see Anthony Davis play, he is the next big thing. Is he the best big man now? Well, it is a tossup between Dwight Howard and Marc Gasol. Blake Griffin is in there. LaMarcus [Aldridge] is in there. Kevin Love is in there. LeBron and Kevin Durant are the two best players in the NBA by far. The next guy to step in there is going to be Anthony Davis.
Why are you so high on him?
Barkley: Because he does everything -- offensively, defensively and he’s a great kid too. Probably the three best players in our league right now -- LeBron, Kevin and Anthony Davis -- are great people. They are three of the nicest guys you will ever meet. Because regardless of what you think about LeBron James, LeBron James is one of the nicest men you will ever meet. And Kevin Durant is like that and Anthony Davis is like that. Anthony has a unique skill set. He can shoot jumpers, he can post up, he is a great defender. It’s a very unique set.
How has the NFL handled the domestic violence in your opinion?
Barkley: They dropped the ball on this domestic violence thing. I am very disappointed in Roger Goodell and [NFL Players Association Executive Director] DeMaurice Smith. What they should have done is very simple: The first time you hit a woman, you get suspended. You let the legal process play out but you get suspended. The second time you hit a woman you are banned for life. That’s it, period. I don’t understand why DeMaurice Smith and Roger Goodell are having such a tough time here.
They should have gotten in a room and in five minutes handled this domestic violence thing. It is a joke what these two guys have not been able to accomplish. Don’t put a bulls--- panel together at the end of the season. They are bringing in all these women [as senior advisors to the league]. You don’t have to bring in women. A man should know you don’t hit a woman. Two months ago they should have said, “Okay, the first time you hit a woman, you will suspended and we can argue over the number of games -- four games, six games, eight games -- whatever. But the second time you put your hands on a woman, your ass is never playing in the NFL again. And in the NBA, too.
Why have they been so lax, in your opinion?
Barkley: I don’t know. It’s a joke, to be honest with you. I am sensitive to the subject because I have a daughter but you cannot go around beating on women. You let the legal process play out but if you are convicted of hitting a woman, you get suspended, and then the second time you do something that stupid, your ass is never playing in the NFL or NBA again. I think Adam Silver should also come out right now and say once you are convicted of hitting a woman, you will get say 10 games suspended, but the second time you do that, your ass ain’t never playing in the NBA again. I always give everyone a pass. We all do stupid things. But this is something real serious … We should not be sitting here three months later saying, 'Wow, what is the NFL going to do?' I can’t believe these guys are screwing this thing up like this. And I really think Adam Silver should come out and say that we are not going to have this problem in the NBA.
How has Adam Silver done as commissioner so far?
Barkley: He has done amazing. Can you imagine handling the Donald Sterling situation and he handled it perfectly. The one thing about Adam Silver is there is nowhere to go but down (laughs). Obviously, that [Sterling] was a hot-button issue and in my 30 years in the NBA I have never been more proud of a person. I’m a big David Stern fan and when Adam had his first press conference, we were all debating what Adam was going to do with Donald Sterling. We thought it would be a big fine, suspended for a short period of time. When he came out and said, Donald Sterling is banned for life, we looked at each other and said, Are you sh---- me? That was amazing. You know how I can tell that was cool? He caught all the reporters off guard. The reporters were ready to jump on him and when he said for life, the reporters started going back in their seats. But I do think he needs to come out on domestic violence. We should not be idiots like the NFL. You can’t wait. You have to get ahead of it.
What do you make of the Spurs hiring Becky Hammon as an assistant coach?
Barkley: Yeah, that’s cool. The Spurs prove again they are the best organization in the NBA. It’s cool for her. The Spurs never cease to amaze me. They are just a class organization. You have a guy who is the best coach in the NBA who has the wherewithal and confidence and the chutzpah to do that. That’s cool. Hopefully someone else will follow suit. We had the first female officials and that was cool. I was lucky enough to be part of that. Now, you don’t even notice. They suck just like the men do. The NBA man, we have always been progressive. I give David Stern a lot of credit.
Will the players respond to her?
Barkley: Well, I think they will listen to him (coach Gregg Popovich) first. (laughs). But I think players are going to listen to her.
Could you have played for a female coach if the coach had the credentials.
Barkley: Yes, but you have to have the credentials. And hopefully, she is good-looking too. When you are tired in the huddle, you don’t want to look at an ugly person.
How do you feel LeBron handled this move back to Cleveland?
Barkley: One of the coolest things in my NBA career. I was in LA shooting a commercial and I was watching [ESPN’s] Colin Cowherd radio show and he read the essay and I got emotional hearing LeBron’s words. A lot of guys got mad at me and the older guys, because we were disappointed that LeBron left Cleveland. But it seems like what he said in the essay was what we were saying from the beginning: It’s not just about winning championships. It’s about where you win it at.
To win in Cleveland will not be the same as Miami. I thought his essay was one of the coolest things I have seen in sports. Whether he wrote it or not, it was from his heart. …I was just so excited he went to back Cleveland. We don’t like all our stars not wanting to play in small markets. We want competitive balance. I wanted to beat Michael Jordan. I didn’t want to play with Michael Jordan. I wanted to beat Patrick Ewing. I didn’t want to play with him. So when these guys started teaming up together, we didn’t like that. He has always been a good guy, but he didn’t handle that Decision thing correctly. I think the way he handled this thing everyone is like, Yeah, he really is a good guy.
Think LeBron will own part of the Cavs one day?
Barkley: The one thing I have talked to LeBron’s people about is he is giving Cleveland a golden ticket. He has to go to the Mayor, the owner of the Cavs, the Governor of Ohio, and they have to pump some money into Akron. That is something I have to get on LeBron about. He just gave Cleveland a golden ticket -- every bar, every restaurant is going to be printing money. So they have to help find a way to get some into Akron because I know Akron is a depressed city. That money has to get to Akron.
You love television and film. What are you watching these days?
Barkley: I love Scandal. I am watching Gotham right now too. That’s a good show. I am still with Person of Interest. Blackish is fun. I tell you what is a funny-ass show -- The Goldbergs. That is hilarious. You have to see it. Also, The Good Wife. I’ll tell you another good show: Madam Secretary.
So what do you think of Drake’s basketball game?
Barkley: As a basketball player, he is a great musician.