For the record, I love Charles Barkley.
I grew up in what I’ve said on numerous occasions was the greatest eras in the NBA — the 90s. And Barkley was among the top players during that time starring most notably the 76ers and later with the Suns and Rockets. Barkley never won a championship, but was named to numerous All-Star teams, won an MVP and was part of the original and only Dream Team.
Again, I’m a Barkley fan.
If my memory serves me correctly, while he was playing, Barkley was just as loved for this off the court “antics” as for his play for 48 minutes. The media loved him, because of his candor and, aside from the infamous spitting incident and the “I am not a role model” commercial Barkley maintained favor and had crossover appeal, which, for that time, was essential for the black athlete.
But to his disadvantage (or maybe in hindsight it was an advantage), depsite his success and personality, Barkley spent his career in the shadow of his boy Michael Jordan. During that era, Barkley was at best the third most popular black NBA player behind Jordan and Magic Johnson, both of whom won multiple championships.
But as I watch the NBA playoffs, have conversations from time to time with people at work and watch how Barkley is talked about in the media, it’s become clear that Barkley is without a doubt the most beloved former NBA player period and arugably the most popular athlete, past or present.
I just can’t figure out when that transition occurred.
Barkley, along with Ernie Johnson and Kenny Smith, is part for the very popular TNT NBA team. Most of the time, Barkley talks about everything except basketball and does it in a way that nobody raises an eyebrow or questions him. When he does get in trouble or says something controversial — it’s just Charles being Charles.
How he’s ascended to this status is beyond me. Maybe, since he didn’t venture into coaching or front office work like Jordan and Larry Bird, nor became a successful entrepreneur like Magic, he was able to carve his niche through television which allows him to be visible and in turn land commercials with Dwyane Wade.
Whatever the case, Barkley is one of THE go-to voices for all things, not just basketball. People value his opinion and maybe, it’s not really important why we do.