By Brandon ‘Scoop B’ Robinson
Charles Barkley has the coolest job in the world.
If all we credited him for was of the title of studio analyst on TNT’s Inside the NBA, we’d sell the brother short. Three point shootouts in OKC on an off day against Inside the NBA host Ernie Johnson? EJ won, by the way! Wrestling in the Turner green room with Shaquille O’Neal? Debating Kenny ‘The Jet’ Smith on issues of race as well as Barkley’s personal belief that the San Antonio Spurs’ Kawhi Leonard is a superstar in the NBA? Yup, homeboy is living The Life of Riley and Jackie Gleason would be impressed. That’s not a bad thing! He’s living his calling and is paid handsomely to do what he loves…and that’s being himself.
How many people can say that they’ve tapped into their gifting and wholeheartedly walked into their calling? Steve Jobs, the late Apple CEO who lived his calling, pegged it best when he once stated: Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it.
During Barkley’s sixteen year NBA career with the Philadelphia 76ers, Phoenix Suns and Houston Rockets that included 11 NBA All Star appearances, a league MVP award and an NBA Finals appearance, his personality screamed ‘I’m made for TV.’
As a child watching the Dream Team in the 90s, his media presser in Barcelona about Team USA’s upcoming matchup with Angola when he told reporters that he knew nothing about Angola and that ‘Angola was in trouble,’ was what drew me instantaneously to the Round Mound of Rebound.
“He’s unbiased and truly stands behind his comments no matter how popular or unpopular they may be,” said retired NBA player Mo Taylor.
Barkley speaks his mind in a candor that is more suitable for a family cookout. You know that one uncle who says whatever he wants to say however he wants to say it, whenever he wants to say it? We all have those in our family. Barkley reminds me a lot of my grandmother; she’s kind, loving, opinionated and some would say that she doesn’t give a damn and she’ll tell you why. Barkley is the same way.
“It took me a while to realize that I couldn’t make everybody happy,” Barkley told me. “I think I was 24 or 25 when I took over the Sixers team and I wanted everybody to like me and then I realized: ‘I can’t make everybody happy.’ No matter what you say, you can’t make everybody happy. I feel an obligation to try and be honest. That was difficult for me in the beginning.”
Folks who make up their mind on a particular topic usually come to it after a defining moment. Barkley put that ‘not caring’ or tunnel vision, if you will, into perspective while in the City of Brotherly Love as a member of the Philadelphia 76ers. After observing Philadelphia Phillies stars Lenny Dykstra and Darren Daulton discuss openly to the media what the Phillies needed to do to develop a winning culture, he decided he wanted to do the same. “I said that’s what I want to be I want to be that kind of leader,” Barkley told me.
Only it didn’t have the same Liberty Bell-like ring to it as it did for both Dykstra and Daulton. “The next day, the headline read, “Barkley Blasts Teammates,” laughed Barkley. “I’m like ‘wait, what?’ So it was a learning process that I couldn’t make everybody happy.”
“He keeps it real,” said retired NBA vet and one time Philadelphia 76er Tim Thomas. “If you wanna know the truth, ask Chuck because he’ll keep it all the way 100. I used to live in the same housing complex as him in the Philly area and he always made himself available to me and other young guys who sought out his advice.”
“He’s always been outspoken and controversial,” says producer, Jonathan Hay, who is currently in the studio finishing up the two Deluxe Edition releases of When Music Worlds Collide and The Urban Hitchcock LP, coming in June. “He was the 48 Laws of Power before Robert Greene wrote the book. Most people wanted to be like Mike, I always wanted to be like Chuck.”
“Charles has created a persona where he has positioned himself as outside the mainstream, where he is seen as a rebel who says what he wants, who challenges the status quo, yet when you look beyond the surface, he really is in line with mainstream values,” said Dr. David J. Leonard, professor in the Department of Critical Culture, Gender, and Race Studies at Washington State University, Pullman.
“He often laments ‘today’s players,’ he waxes nostalgically about his era and he condemns the destructiveness ‘political correctness.’ In part because he has long been positioned as anti-Michael Jordan and in part because of his ‘I am not a role model’ commercials, but he has successfully constructed himself as oppositional and a man who marches to his own drum with respect to race, social issue and cultural debates.”
Barkley has also been pretty outspoken about the upcoming Presidential election, so much so that he gave his anecdote on the disparity between rich and poor and how if a group of people stick together, they could actually build something.
“I talk about this political process,” he said. “Everybody talks about white and black. But what America should really be talking about is economics. There’s racism, there always has been, there always will be, but one of the things we fall for is rich people do a really good job of making poor people hate each other. If the poor people would get together; white, black and hispanic and realize they’re all in the same (expletive) schools, they’re all in the same shitty neighborhoods and stop fighting with each other, they could make a difference. But the people who got all the money, do a really good job of making poor people fight with each other.”
Barkley is old school. Millennials know the drill: pull your pants up, wear your hat straight and ‘don’t be a knucklehead.’ It would be easy to assume that he listened to Anita Baker, Stephanie Mills and Sade during his career. To the contrary, Chuck is an avid fan of hip hop.
“I always listened to rap music on the way to a game because I wanted to start getting excited, get my juices flowing,” reflected Barkley. “Tupac most of the time, Biggie, Kool Moe D. I always rode to the game by myself because I didn’t want to be bothered. I’d have the music blaring because you kind of start the day off in practice. Then you want to start relaxing, so you sit in the sauna and think about the game and my gameplan and the team I’m going to play against and how they’re going to play me. I always sat in the steam room for about 45 minutes, stretching, go have lunch, take a nap, just let my body calm down. Then you want to wake it up! So I’d always go to the game by myself. You want to be ready when you get there. I think the most underrated group is Public Enemy. Their stuff is still relevant.”
While the musical acts that Chuck mentioned still hold weight today, you’d be surprised at what track is blasting in Barkley’s car and on his earbuds. Wait for it…
“I’m in my Nas phase.” said Barkley. “I listen to Nas every morning when I wake up and I listen to Hate Me Now. To be successful, you develop a lot of enemies and you can never let the enemies weigh you down. It’s interesting, no matter how hard you work, or how successful you are, the more success that you have, people don’t like you. But they’re haters and I always think about that every morning. I say: ‘I’m going to be successful just to stick it up your ass!’ You can hate on me. That’s interesting though. That was probably one of the weirdest things I learned when I became successful. How many people dislike the fact that you are successful. A lot of them are your friends and your family. A lot of them are. And I’ve said this before, there’s a lot of animosity in the back community toward other successful blacks. We tell black kids to go to school. If you do good in school, then you try to ‘act white’ and if you speak correctly, then you try to ‘act white.’ We should tell more black kids that you should do good in school, you should speak correctly and I’m not afraid to say it, I’ve said it many times. One of the biggest problems with black people is other black people hating on them.”
With the NBA’s Western Conference Finals series coming to an end soon, we’ll be without our weekly fill of the Inside The NBA cast of Ernie Johnson, Shaq, Kenny “The Jet” Smith and Charles Barkley. They live in our living room, almost like family. Coincidentally, as big a fan as Barkley is of Nas’ Hate Me Now track, coincidentally, Nas also made a song with Lauryn Hill called, If I Ruled The World. In it, the Queens lyricist discussed freeing wrongly incarcerated young men, having infinite amounts of jewelry and riding up to the sun hand in hand. So what would Sir Charles do if he ruled the world? “First of all, I would give everybody common sense because common sense isn’t so common,” said Barkley.
“I want everyone to treat everyone with respect.”
Brandon Robinson is a sports and entertainment writer and TV personality. You can catch him daily on CBS Radio’s Play.it Brown And Scoop Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @SCOOPB and visit http://www.ScoopB.com.