Sunday, October 26, 2014

C'mon Charles Barkley, don't be the pot calling the kettle black

 "My wallet's fat and so is my head. Hit and run and then I'll hit you again. I'm a smart ass but I'm playin' dumb. "

Lyric from: Walking Contradiction from the album Insomniac 
Written By: Billie Joe Armstrong and Green Day
Performed By: Green Day

Photo of Charles Barkley courtesy of

I love Charles Barkley.

I really do.

I had the opportunity to hear him speak at a youth benefit several years back and, he offered one of the most profound warnings to today’s youth that I’ve ever heard in my life about them relying on sports as their singular opportunity for success and financial freedom. 

Sir Charles offered, “Just think about this from a numbers standpoint, you guys have a better opportunity of becoming a doctor or lawyer than you do of making an NBA or NFL roster.”

 He continued, “There are only 500 or so guys that are going to play in the NBA each year. No one’s putting a cap on the number of practicing attorneys in this country every year.”

That quote stuck with me. Years later I still remember looking around the room at the “aha” moment registered on the faces of those kids, a few who might have even had their hoop dreams completely shattered that very instant. Brutal honestly has a way about doing that and more than anything, we know that we can always count on Barkley for brutal honesty.

The absolute truth-as he sees it.

And, in the wake of this “Russell Wilson isn’t black enough” foolishness, the truth of the matter as Charles Barkley sees it is that “unintelligent blacks rely too much on street credibility.”

Man-o-man, I love Charles Barkley. I just don’t love him offering grand, sweeping declarations about “unintelligent blacks” as fodder for media heads to trot out in their ongoing analysis of the complexity of black folks. 

It’s hypocritical, really, for him to say.

Charles Barkley is a member of an Emmy-Winning NBA studio show that touts such groundbreaking segments as “Who He Play For” and “Shaqtin’ A Fool”, the former of which I believe was named for the grammatically incorrect question that Barkley himself frequently asked on the show when confronted with the name of a player with which he had little familiarity.

My point here is not that Barkley isn’t one to talk because he must be unintelligent as is evidenced by the fact that he says “who he play for” on TV for all the world to see instead of the properly phrased “whom does he play for”. I think Barkley is very intelligent. It is worth noting, however, that a former player with a lesser resume would not likely be given the opportunity to make that mistake on national TV. But, I digress.

My point is that Barkley isn’t one to talk because those segments on his show represent a dumbing down of sorts, one that would not likely be allowed or tolerated by network executives were it not for the NBA’s loyal and demographically skewed black audience.

I hope that Barkley knows this. After all, there is exactly zero horsing around happening on MLB studio shows and even the more lenient NFL studio shows keep their happenings fairly buttoned up. 

For more perspective on the matter, consider the role that Barkley plays in the show’s format. Ernie Johnson is the straight man who keeps it all together. We count on Kenny Smith and the often visiting Chris Webber for pure game analysis. Shaquille O’Neal is part analysis, part jester. While Charles Barkley’s ramblings run in extremes-insightful and ridiculous, well-formed and clumsy, indecipherable and lucid-but always with a strong implication of inanity. 

In short, as Inside the NBA’s formula for success goes, Barkley is to exist on the end of the spectrum opposite Ernie’s journalistic integrity.

And so the man who is most responsible for absurdity on a show that is compromising its intelligence for what they believe is the approval of its mostly black audience is the last person I want to hear from on the issue of the psyche of unintelligent black folks.

My guess is that for someone who purportedly feels as strongly about black Americans’ ability to thrive in this society as Barkley does, the only way that he can possibly defend his function within his show’s larger agenda is to convince all who are willing to be convinced-including himself-that Inside the NBA’s award-winning charm is less about dumbing itself down but more about its proliferation of cool.

The funny thing is that the forsaking of the formal and conventional in the name of cool is exactly the type of reckless logic that has earned Barkley’s criticism here.

For black people the street life, the struggle to make something out of nothing while never forgetting where you came from is the new cool-at least that’s what the media is selling. It’s a central theme in today’s black music and there are certainly more shows on television that feature blacks in roles flaunting criminalized rises to power as opposed to traditional ones. As that path gains popularity so does the accompanying mentality. Soonafter, what’s popular becomes cool.

From all indications Russell Wilson is the product of a solid upbringing. The son of a lawyer and a legal nurse consultant, his grandfather, Harrison B. Wilson Jr. is a former president of Norfolk State University and his father played both football and baseball for Dartmouth. His story seems to present little evidence of struggle. 

If the recent story on comments made by some of Wilson’s unnamed teammates is true-Richard Sherman says it isn’t-the irritation with him is probably less about him being black enough and more about the fact that he isn’t cool enough. 

It’s important to note that black people aren’t the only ones buying this irresponsibly packaged version of black cool. White people are fascinated with the wildly advertised “thug” culture, admiring from afar even as they are relieved that its testimony is not theirs to give. It’s why white people are most responsible for Hip Hop albums’ platinum selling ways through the late 1990s and early 2000s and why a network will allow for a little broken English and some clowning around as long as their black audience continues to tune in night after night.

Ultimately, Barkley owes a lot of his popularity to his own street credibility-his ability to connect with a “certain” audience and to the mystique of keeping it real as whites look on, endorsing his outlandishness.

And so the unintelligence of those who stand in awe of street cred is not the deficiency of blacks alone. 

It’s a matter on which Sir Charles should have more compassion and consider offering the more appropriate counsel to those within an earshot to do as he says but not as he does.


  1. Sir Charles is always ready with commentary that takes the discussion to a whole new level. The broad generalizations that he makes keeps him booked. The act may be wearing thin, though.

    1. absolutely. the jig is nearing its expiration date. Thank you so much for reading and for taking time to comment as well! :-)

  2. Loved this! And I agree, the only reason Barkley is everywhere all of the time commenting on issues is because the powers that be know he's going to say something controversial or utterly ridiculous. He stirs the pot and that's great for ratings and clicks. I enjoy his shenanigans on TNT and that says a lot b/c he's always slandering my Knicks, lol. Basketball is fun and entertaining and the TNT crew ups the fun factor. But people need to stop looking for him to speak on behalf of black people. Barkley declaring himself as non-role model was probably the most intelligent non-basketball related thing he's ever said.

    My thoughts related to this topic are here:

    Check it out when you get a chance! xo

    1. Thanks so much for taking time to check out this post! I think you just identified what will be my favorite new thing to say about Chuck Barkley, that him saying he wasn't a role model is the most intelligent thing he's said that had nothing to do with bball...I love it.