By Barry Janoff
March 11, 2014: Charles Barkley was in New York on Tuesday (March 11) as part of a CBS-Turner Sports media conference to talk about his role in the upcoming coverage of the NCAA Div. I Men's Basketball Tournament.
Barkley will again be part of the on-air talent in the fourth year of a $10.8 billion, 14-year deal with the NCAA for March Madness joint broadcasting coverage between CBS and Turner Sports, which will air games on TBS, TNT and truTV. This year's Big Dance begins March 18 and runs through the Final Four in AT&T Stadium in North Texas, April 5 and April 7
This comes even as he works as a commentator and analyst for the NBA on TNT as part of the Emmy Award-winning crew of Ernie Johnson, Kenny Smith and Shaquille O'Neal; and about a month after what Barkley called one of the "greatest moments of my life": Interviewing President Barack Obama in the White House as part of TNT's NBA All-Star Game coverage.
Before joining Turner, Barkley played 16 seasons in the NBA (Philadelphia 76ers, Phoenix Suns, Houston Rockets), was the league's MVP in 1992-93, was a ten-time All-Star and won two gold medals with the U.S. Men's National Team (1992 in Barcelona, 1996 in Atlanta). He was elected to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame as a player in 2006 and as a member of the 1992 Olympic Dream Team in 2010.
Beyond sports, Barkley is a staunch supporter of human rights and is active, both in pubic and behind the scenes, in enhancing the quality of life for students in need of financial aid and tools to support their education.
In addition to the NCAA tournament, the conversation with the always verbose Barkley turned to such topics as the New York Knicks pursuit of Phil Jackson, the state of the NBA, one-and-done college players going to the pros, upcoming commercials he'll appear in for Capital One and CDW that will air during March Madness, a conflict that existed between CBS and Turner analysts and commentators during the early days of the CBS-Turner NCAA alliance and working with Shaquille O'Neal.
Q: What do you think about the kids who leave for the NBA after one year of college or those kids who want to go to the NBA right from high school?
Charles Barkley: You should have to play in college for two years. You'll get a lot better in two years than you will playing 30 games. Clearly, the NBA sucks right now. The NBA is the worst it's ever been. I feel bad for the fans because they are not getting a quality product. All the players are making a lot of money but these fans are not getting quality basketball.
Q: What do you tell kids who say LeBron James went right from high school to the NBA, as did Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard and Kevin Garnett, so why can't we do it?
CB: There's only one LeBron. Let's be honest here: You look at Kevin Garnett or Kobe Bryant, they are Hall of Fame players. But LeBron is the only player who I would say in the last 30 years who was good enough to go out of high school. And these other guys are not LeBron James and are never gonna be . . . I worry about these kids getting an education. These colleges, they're only concerned about making money. I'm not a hater. I don't care how much money Turner and CBS make. But you've got to educate these kids and the less time they're missing school . . . that's what I concern myself with.
Q: What has it been like working with talent from CBS during March Madness?
CB: Some of these guys [when we first came in] didn’t treat us very well. They thought we were trying to take their jobs. You could just tell there was some tension in the beginning. [But I told them] I’m not trying to take your job. I’m not even sure we want to do this. But [analyst and commentator] Dan Bonner was great to me and said, 'Anytime you want to talk about players or teams.' He was a great resource. . . . They were a little distant. They looked at it like a competition. We’re not trying to take your job. Relax. It’s gotten a lot better, because I think they realize, number one, they didn’t lose their job. We are in this together . . . I think the tension has eased and we’ve done a lot better, but the first time we got together they weren’t very friendly.
Q: When do you start to watch college basketball to prepare for the tournament?
CB: The way I do it is, November and December I watch the NBA. After two months of the NBA, you can tell the good teams, the bad teams and the pretty good teams. I start watching college on Jan. 1 watching the games. And I start calling a bunch of my college coaching friends and [people] who I know really know college ball, who watch the game all year: Dan Bonner, Greg Anthony, Mike Gminski, Clark Kellogg. They know the teams, the players, the coaches. And they always say, Whatever you need, reach out to us.
Q: Any changes you would make in covering the NCAA Tournament?
CB: I would love for me and Dick Vitale to do the First Four. I have always wanted to work with Dick Vitale. It would be great. When I brought it up a couple of years ago, they thought I wanted to go to ESPN to work with Dick. It was the total opposite. We would get great exposure for the First Four. It's really stupid that this hasn't happened.
Q: Will you be making any marketing appearances during NCAA broadcasts, in particular with CDW and Capital One as you did last season?
CB: I have done some new commercials that will run during the tournament. We did some new CDW spots. (See the new "Grow Smart" spots here.) I get to play the computer nerd [again] in those commercials. [Laughs.] CDW has been a very gracious company. i don't like to talk about this, I do this behind the scenes: I gave a million dollars to my high school in Alabama [Leeds]. I donated a million dollars to my college (Auburn) and another school in Birmingham (Corningstone) to send poor kids to college. I don't do the CDW commercials for money. But I don't do it for free. When I partnered with CDW, one of the things I asked them was to donate computers to [schools in] poor neighborhoods and to poor students. My relationship with Capital One is different because they are an [official] NCAA sponsor. I enjoy working with them. I appeared with Alex Baldwin for Capital One last year, this year I'll be with Greg Anthony. No Samuel L. Jackson. [Laughs.]
Q: What are your thoughts about Phil Jackson joining the New York Knicks to head up basketball operations?
CB: I like Phil Jackson and respect Phil Jackson, but coaching is not the problem with the Knicks, Making bad decisions is the problem. He won't be able to fix this thing for a few years.
"I don't care how much money Turner and CBS make. But you've got to educate these kids and the less time they're missing school . . . that's what I concern myself with."
Q: If he decides to join them, what would he be facing in terms of challenges?
CB: The Knicks are not a good team. I told you that four months ago. Nothing has changed. What I would tell [team owner James] Dolan is break this thing down and start over. That's what they have to do. You guys (in New York) are not patient. How has the other way been working for you? Not well, right? Now you have a bunch of bad contracts and you are screwed for years. Sometimes you have to take a step back. Listen, what is Phil going do? Carmelo [Anthony] might leave. But even if he don't leave, he's going to put a big number on your cap. And you still stuck with Amaré's [Stoudemire] contract, J.R. Smith's contract. Raymond Felton . . . What are they gonna do? It's a mess.
Q: Do you like what they did in Boston, with president of basketball operations Danny Ainge trading popular players such as Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett and rebuilding, much as they did several seasons back when they brought in Garnett and Ray Allen?
CB: That's what you gotta do. You don't take any heat for doing it if you know what you're doing. That's the way to do it. Let me ask you a question: What exactly did the Miami Heat do a few years ago [when they brought in LeBron James and Chris Bosh to join Dwyane Wade]? The Knicks did it. In some cases it was just a bunch of bad decisions . . . I love what the Celtics are doing. I love what the [Philadelphia] 76ers are doing. They are building. Of course, you have to draft wisely. Have cap space for free agents. But you can't have a bunch of bad contracts. You can't just have a bunch of old players who make a lot of money.
Q: What is it like to work with Shaquille O'Neal?
CB: [Laughs.] When he first came, he tried to fit in. We don't want you to fit in. We want you to be true to who you are. It's not like it's Charles' turn to go, it's Kenny's turn, it's Ernie's turn. You have something to say, [we want you to] say it. It's not like we don't want you to step on anybody's toes. We want you to stomp on their feet. We want you to be who you are. And he's a funny guy. He's got so much going on. He's doing commercials. He's got like five commercials running. He's making appearances. He's working on a movie. I'm the total opposite. He's always trying to get me to do things. I'm like, Dude, I want to go golfing and fishing.
Photos: Courtesy Turner Sports
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