Fans who watch the NBA on TV on a regular basis — and in particular on TNT — are accustomed to hearing Charles Barkley speak his mind about players, politics, civil rights and the NBA. This month, Barkley will get a new forum as part of the Turner Broadcast team assigned to cover the NCAA Men's Division I basketball tournament. And as he offers in this Q&A, there will be — big surprise! — no holds barred.
By Barry Janoff, Executive Editor
(Posted March 9, 2011)
In 2011, the first year of a 14-year, $10.8 billion agreement among CBS, Time Warner division Turner Broadcasting and the NCAA will enable fans to watch every game during the Men's Division I basketball tournament, aka March Madness on four networks: CBS, TBS, TNT and truTV. That also means the usual cast of broadcasters and analysts from CBS — including Clark Kellogg, Jim Nantz and Bryant Gumbel — will be joined by the crew that has become synonymous with Turner's NBA coverage: Ernie Johnson, Kenny Smith, Marv Albert, Reggie Miller and Charles Barkley.
Barkley's basketball credentials include three years at the University of Auburn, where he later was named the SEC's 1980's Player of the Decade; 16 years in the NBA, where he was MVP in 1992-93, an 11-time all-star and later named to the 50th anniversary team; and a two-time Olympic gold medalist, including the 1992 Dream Team that won in Barcelona and the 1996 squad that won in Atlanta. For his efforts, Barkley was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame as a player in 2006, as a member of the Dream Team in 2010 and into the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame in 2009 also as a member of the Dream Team.
Equally impressive has been his post-NBA career, where he has used his public platform to speak out on such issues as race, politics and the NCAA, especially with regard to the way athletes are treated. He also has had to face in public personal issues — including pleading guilty to DUI relating to an incident on New Year's Eve 2008 and an on-going gambling problem.
Barkley, who has authored several best-selling books, recently launched his own Web site, CharlesBarlkey.com, where he pontificates on subjects ranging from civil rights and basketball to reviewing movies of past and present. ("Turrible" films include Salt, The American and Black Snake Moan; 'Not Turrible' films include The Wizard of Oz, The King's Speech and The Fighter.)
It was those issues — as well as Cam Newton. March Madness and NBA basketball — that Barkley addressed during a CBS-Turner-NCAA media session at Le Parker Meridien Hotel in New York. The event served as a jumping off point for the expanded 68-team NCAA tournament, which will begin with the First Four on March 15 and run through the Final Four, April 2-4 in Houston.
• What's your overview of the alliance between CBS and Turner and, personally, about being an analyst during March Madness?
Charles Barkley: I'm excited about the partnership because everybody watches March Madness. For $11 billion it should be a good partnership. This will be my first time [as a college analyst]. I'm looking forward to it. Turner has been great to me. I love my job. When we talked about doing the NCAA tournament, I said I would do whatever you want me to do. [But] one of the reasons I took this job was there are some things I want to say. This can't be a cash grab for everybody. At some point, we're going to have to talk about graduating these kids. We can't go three weeks and everyone gets paid and we got a bunch of dummies running around out there. That is my concern. I told them I'm not going to just jump on the bandwagon and let you all make all this money on these kids and not say anything.
• What is it that you will be looking to say?
CB: I'm not getting into a pissing contest about where the $11 billion [$10.8 billion] is going. That is a lot of money, and we have no idea where it's going. I'm not opposed to people making money. But we do have an obligation. We know it's not going to the kids. I'm not going to go on a rant about where the money goes, but they have an obligation to graduate these players. It has to be about education. When I gave $1 million each [in endowments] to my high school [Leeds, Alabama], to Auburn [where he played for three years] . . . it was about the kids. This has a real affect on the Black community. These kids can't all make it to the NBA. They all think about sports, not about being doctors, lawyers, firefighters, policemen. At the end of the year only about 50 of those kids will make it to the NBA, and that's being generous. The rest of them, they get put in the real world and we expect them to be fathers and members of the community without an education. And I'm on the NBA's [back], too. We need to keep these kids in school longer. I want two years.
• Is that the fault of coaches, the NCAA, the NBA?
CB: The system is what it is. I know great coaches with great graduation rates, and they're looking for jobs. It is having a negative affect on the Black community. I don't want to make it a racial thing but it is a fact. When I met with the NCAA, when I sat down with Turner to talk about my role during the NCAA tournament, I said we can't just talk about basketball. At some point we have to talk about graduation rates. We can't expect these kids to go out and be good fathers and take care of their families if they're uneducated. There is personal responsibility. But you've got to help these kids because, first of all, these kids think they're going to play on the next level. They're not getting educated. Then we expect them to raise their families uneducated.
"I'm not opposed to people making money, but we do have an obligation. We know it's not going to the kids."
• Is there a way to resolve the financial issues?
CB: It can't just be a cash grab. Colleges have to be there to educate people. My bosses are in it to make money. But I'm not in it just for the money. I said to them, 'I have to talk about education. About the affect on the Black community.' The system has to help. Kids can't just take BS classes to remain eligible. The problem with paying the kids is who do you pay? Do you pay the football team? The men's basketball team but not the women's team? Do you pay the lacrosse team? Players should be able to borrow money from agents. There's no competitive advantage from agents paying players. I'm not talking about players borrowing a million or even $100,000. [And] instead of leaving early, they might stay.
• What about the financial controversies surrounding fellow Auburn athlete Cam Newton?
CB: I got the chance to meet him at the NBA All-Star Game. I hope he gets the opportunity to play [in the NFL]. [At Auburn games] I saw 23.000 Cam Newton jerseys. [There was a controversy because stories said his father asked for $200,000 for him to attend the university.] If he got $200,000, he was grossly underpaid. I'm not worried about Cam Newton. I'm worried about the other kids. We're all making a lot of money. But what we are doing is a disservice to these kids.
• What are your views regarding kids who leave college after their freshman year to try to join the NBA?
CB: One-and-done has hurt the NBA. These kids who leave after one year aren't ready for the NBA. The last few NBA drafts are the worst I've ever seen. John Wall [is having] a decent year [with the Washington Wizards, who selected him as the overall No. 1 pick in the 2010 draft] but it wouldn't have killed him to stay in college another year [instead of leaving Kentucky after his freshman season]. These kids' bodies aren't ready for the NBA.
• Speaking of Wall, what do you think about this season's NBA rookie class?
CB: I don't count Blake Griffin, but he'll probably win the Rookie of the Year, honor. [I see him as] a red shirt rookie [because he missed season of what would have been his true rookie year in 2009-10 with a broken left kneecap]. That kid on the New York Knicks, Landry Fields [a second-round pick in 2010 out of Stanford] is the best rookie. But he won't win.
• What about the draft class of 2011?
CB: There's not one [college] player I've seen this year who if he goes to the NBA would make his team a lot better. The system was supposed to be that [teams at the bottom] got the top draft pick and that would help them. But it's not working that way.
• Do you plan to criticize players during the NCAA tournament like you do to players when you analyze the NBA?
CB: We who quote-unquote 'have the power' have to speak up on the issues. [But] I'm not going to criticize these kids like I do NBA players. That wouldn't be fair. If you're making $10 million and you suck, I'll say that. But these kids work their asses off, they're not getting paid $10 million a year. I'm not going to criticize college kids and treat them like they are NBA players. That's not fair.
• Do you see a lot of NBA games in person?
CB: Unless I'm there for Turner, I don't go to NBA games. It's not my time. I don't want to take any [of the spotlight] away from the players. It's for the players. When TNT covered the NBA All-Star Game, I stayed away from events. It was not my time. It was for the players in the All-Star Game.
"If you're making $10 million and you suck, I'll say that. But these kids work their asses off, they're not getting paid $10 million a year. I'm not going to criticize them."
• Other analysts working the NCAA tournament said they plan to watch every team, even if once, to get a better idea of how they might play. How do you plan to prepare?
CB: I watch a lot of college basketball [during the season] because, unfortunately, a lot of these kids come to the NBA after one year. That's not a lot of time. So you have to watch college basketball. Most NBA players watch college basketball because there's very few [NBA games] on cable when you're on the road. [But] I'm not going to watch 100 college games [to prepare for the tournament] I'll watch 20, 30 teams. I'll get the rest from friends, coaches, analysts who cover college games [full time]. You can't watch a team one time and then say you know them. I'm not going to know everything about all these teams. That's unrealistic. But the [guys on CBS], they cover these teams all year. They have a lot more knowledge [about the college teams] than I do. So I'll talk to [CBS analysts] Dan Bonner, Clark Kellogg, Greg Anthony. They are going to be beneficial to me. I'm going to use them."
• What will you be looking for?
CB: I know the game of basketball. That's what I bring to the table. There are three things I will look for: Style — are they a team that relies on fast-breaks or walking the ball up the court? Stats — do they have a good defense, do they get a lot of rebounds? Turnovers — are they a team that doesn't turn the ball over.
• Which team wins it all this year?
CB: I don't think anybody knows that. But I like Kansas to win the whole thing. Ohio State, Pittsburgh, they have terrific teams. Duke is solid. Texas is solid. It's a crap shoot this year [to predict the Final Four]. I don't think anybody will get it right.
• What is your opinion of the NBA in 2011?
CB: I'm very disappointed with the NBA right now. Very disappointed. They are doing a disservice to the game and the fans. With all of these guys who make millions of dollars, we should have [many more] good teams. Maybe there are six good teams in the West, four in the East. When you look at the NBA right now it's not a very good product.
Q&A: What Would Happen To The NBA With Charles Barkley In Charge?
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