If there is a fan favorite for the 25th annual American Century Championship, it has to be Charles Barkley.
After the Angora fire of 2007 that burned down more than 200 homes in South Lake Tahoe, Barkley donated $100,000 to South Tahoe’s Community Disaster Resource Center for relief efforts and hosted a dinner for approximately 100 local firefighters.
“I told NBC, you know, it’s not right for us to come up here and just have fun, play golf and then leave,” Barkley said during a conference call Tuesday afternoon. “I told NBC let’s take a camera, let me go spend some time with people who lost their house. It was emotional, I’ve never seen anything like that before, I have to be honest with you, I’ve never been around an area where a fire had devastated (like that one did). People were great to me, man, and I really appreciate and look forward to being up there every year.
“Every year I lie and say I’m going to come up more. Then I realize it’s cold up there during the rest of the year. But one of these years I’m gong to come up there during the winter.”
In true Barkley fashion, he brought the house down when asked if he was going to ski.
“No, black people don’t ski,” Barkley said, as the media in attendance at Edgewood roared. Only Sir Charles could get away with that.
Barkley didn’t play in last year’s event because of an injured shoulder, missing out on a chance to play with Larry the Cable Guy. He walked around Edgewood for a couple of days and served as a tournament ambassador.
“I had a blast,” Barkley said. “The people in Tahoe, they are fantastic. I just like the people in the area. It’s going to be another fun week. I can’t wait.”
Barkley is near the bottom every year when it comes to the odds, and this year is no exception. He is listed by the sportsbook at 5,000-1.
“I play golf pretty much everyday,” Barkley said. “I love it. I would love to be better at golf. I would love to compete in this thing and have a chance to win, but obviously I’ve got some issues, but hey as I tell people there are worse things in the world than sucking in golf.”
That’s true Barkley. The gentle giant has the unique ability to laugh at himself. He has one of the ugliest swings in America, prompting former NHL star Jeremy Roenick to ask the former NBA star if he was playing left-handed or right-handed.
“Every morning I wake up it’s a coin flip whether I’m going to play lefty or righty, so I don’t know the answer to that question yet,” Barkley said.
Roenick was quick, however, to point out Barkley wasn’t always a bad golfer.
“I’ve played with Charles when he played great golf, and I’ve seen him play really good golf,” Roenick said. “It doesn’t matter what he does on the golf course. What matters is what he does off the golf course. What matters is the attitude of what this tournament brings to the people who watch. This is one of the biggest weekends in Tahoe, and a lot of it is because of guys like Charles and probably because of Charles, because of the way he sees things.”
Added Jack Wagner, “He (Barkley) is self-deprecating, but you know (he has) the ability to laugh at himself and I think Jeremy’s like that, too. The ability to do that is what draws the audience. It’s that kind of charm and charisma that this event has that PGA Tour events don’t have which is why NBC is truly behind us. If we can’t laugh at ourselves we’ve missed the joke, and Charles is the leader of that.”
Barkley put on his TNT analyst hat the rest of the time, giving his opinion on various subjects regarding the NBA.
He was asked who should be the Lakers’ next coach, and he was quick to take himself out of the running.
“Number one, I’m not jumping on a bad job,” he said. “I got a great job. You got your best player (Kobe Bryant) coming off a bad Achilles and knee surgery. That’s not a good job right now. I think the Knicks is a similar situation. You don’t take a job you’re going to get fired from. All these, those two jobs, all they talk about is how much cap space they’re going to have in two or three years. If your team sucks for two or three years, you are going to get fired.
“I don’t want to be a coach. I’m not sure how many of these players want to be great players. I think they want to ‘make the max.’ That is the word they always use when they are talking about their contracts. They want the max. I’m not sure how much they really want to be great players.”
The former NBA great was asked why he leaned toward the Heat against the Spurs.
“First of all, it’s tough to beat LeBron,” Barkley said. “You have got to beat that guy four times, man. I just think that’s tough to do. I think he’s amazing to watch. I told somebody that I’ve been in (around) the NBA for 30 years, and we’ve never had a superstar that leads the team in scoring, rebounding, assists, and he has to guard the best player on the other team.
“Look at all the NBA stars. We never had to have one guy do so much for a team. Beautiful to watch. Think about it, two years, three years ago he guarded Derrick Rose. In the (NBA) Finals two years ago, he guarded Kevin Durant. Are you kidding me? To be able to guard Derrick Rose the year he was MVP and shut him down every time in the fourth quarter. And during the finals when OKC needed a basket. He’s such a freak of nature, he’s quick enough to guard Durant; strong enough to make it tough on him. It’s fun to watch LeBron.”
Barkley concluded by saying the Spurs have no chance if point guard Tony Parker isn’t healthy. He feels the series could end in five or six games if Parker isn’t his usual productive self.
“I play golf pretty much everyday, I love it. I would love to be better at golf. I would love to compete in this thing and have a chance to win, but obviously I’ve got some issues, but hey as I tell people there are worse things in the world than sucking in golf.”
Former NBA basketball player and current TNT NBA Analyst