A Charles Barkley Appreciation

“Sometimes that light at the end of a tunnel is a train.”

                                                                —Charles Barkley

When I was in college in DC, my housemates and I played trivia at a local bar every week. We finished second an absurd number of times, but we never missed the last question of the regular round. This was because that question never changed, and it was always a ridiculous quote preceded by the line “Which former NBA player and current basketball announcer said this?” The answer, of course, was always Charles Barkley.

“You got to believe in yourself. Hell, I believe I’m the best-looking guy in the world and I might be right.”

A lot of people like Sir Charles for his entertainment value, which is considerable. This shouldn’t hide the fact that he is also one of the best studio analysts out there. I haven’t watched a ton of this year’s NCAA Tournament, but every time I have, he’s picked the winner correctly, and concisely given the reason. (He’s pretty much the only reason I’m bothering to watch tonight’s championship game between two programs for which I have little respect.) He knows his basketball as well as anyone. He is blunt, arrogant, and pushes the limits of what’s allowed on television. He’s brilliant.

“I don’t hate anyone, at least not for more than 48 minutes, barring overtime.”

I understand why some people don’t like him. His act would probably get tiresome after a while, and he’s offended plenty of people over the years. He’s gotten into some fights, and wastes a ton of money gambling. He is anything but politically correct. He’s not quiet about his political views, and seriously considered a run for Governor of Alabama this year. (He once identified as a Republican, but no longer, and would have run as an independent.) It’s hard to know how deep his political knowledge goes, and he would probably alienate a lot of allies pretty quickly. But at the same time, he certainly wouldn’t take any crap from anyone, and whether one agrees with him or not, he had some clear views on where government should direct its focus. People have been elected to political office with less.

“My initial response was to sue her for defamation of character, but then I realized that I had no character.”

One of Chuck’s more famous moments was a Nike shoe commercial in which he said quite bluntly, “I am not a role model.” A cynic might see this as an effort by a controversial man to avoid any responsibility, but—with a handful of exceptions—I think he’s right about athletes not being role models. Too often, they are put on pedestals they don’t deserve, and there’s a tendency to hype up good players as perfect until they do something wrong, when suddenly they become villains; it’s a rather bipolar outlook, and seems to forget that they’re humans like the rest of us. (And they’re usually males just out of adolescence at that.) His candor makes him much more relatable than the players who mount vast PR campaigns in an effort to enhance their status.

“These are my new shoes. They’re good shoes. They won’t make you rich like me, they won’t make you rebound like me, they definitely won’t make you handsome like me. They’ll only make you have shoes like me. That’s it.”

No, Sir Charles is no role model. But he does have a few admirable qualities that people can learn from. In a field overwhelmed by canned clichés, his honesty is a breath of fresh air, and while he can be pointed, he still has fun with it all. His approach is crisp and direct, and no one ever comes away not knowing what he thinks. He knows to draw a line between what happens on the court and everything else, and keeps it all in perspective. A world full of Charles Barkleys would not be a very fun place, but one of him adds some much-needed life and cuts through all of the other noise one hears. He’s one of a kind, he leaves his mark, and sometimes he teaches us things that are well worth learning; things that can be relevant far beyond basketball. Keep it up, Chuck.

“I know I’m never as good or bad as one single performance. I’ve never believed in my critics or my worshippers, and I’ve always been able to leave the game at the arena.”


One thought on “A Charles Barkley Appreciation

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s