Charles Barkley: More Influential as a Player or Announcer?

Tomorrow marks the start of the NBA Finals (Go Thunder!). One of the sideshows at the NBA’s highest stage is Charles Barkley, all time great power forward turned NBA pundit. Given Sir Charles’ stature as a nationally renowned loud mouth and current public weight loss, one has to ask, is he more influential now than he was as an NBA MVP?

Consider the evidence. The below Nike ad epitomizes Charles Barkley in his playing days, a man who was trouble on the court, difficult for the media, and held no regard for the expectations of proper NBA player behavior. When criticized, he shunned the role model moniker.

And then we have this year’s Charles Barkley trying to be a role model with the Weight Watchers Lose Like A Man campaign… Which also includes this cross dressing ad:

It’s quite a contrast. Charles got ranked as NBA players’ favorite announcer in a Sports Illustrated poll last week. His snark and straight-up criticism has made TNT’s TV broadcast a much watch event for hoops fans. You never know what Charles will say.

Yet, this current influence — buoyed by a dynamic and wild character — is grounded in the past. And that past was just incredibly awesome, both in its greatness, but also in its toughness.

I used to go to the games when Charles started out in Philly. It was 1984, and Dr. J and Moses Malone were winding down after an incredible championship run.

The local media called Charles the Round Mound of Rebound then because of his physique, but he was sick, a shockingly dominant power forward at 6’6″. He was a brawler, too. One of my favorite Charles moments was watching him deck Danny Ainge (yeah I know, not mindful).

Players and teams alike feared Charles Barkley. After demanding a trade from perennial loser Philly to Phoenix, Sir Charles seized the MVP throne, and almost beat Michael Jordan and the Bulls in a well contended NBA Finals that saw Chicago cap its first three-peat with a one point game six victory.

Charles Barkley
Barkley at a 2007 poker tournament.

The NBA feared Charles, the player. He was irreverent, could dominate games alone, and challenged every norm the League held sacred for its stars at that point in time. Charles Barkley the player changed games, teams, conference dynamics, and the League itself.

Charles Barkley’s personality makes him worth watching today. It has been interesting to watch him mature and embrace a place in society as a role model. He is rightly commended for delivering new and different messages to black men, who don’t normally receive anti-obesity/pro-health messages.

But today’s influential pundit owes all of his respect to that player.

In fact, in the context of player versus TV announcer only one of the two roles could change the NBA, and that time has passed for Sir Charles. That’s why Charles the player was more influential even though he was less liked.

What do you think of Charles Barkley’s amazing career and his influence?


  • As a player, Charles Barkley was about as feisty as they get.  As an announcer, he is more of a comedian than anything else.  I like him as an announcer because since he was a lunch pail player, he likes lunch pail teams (such as my Grizzlies ;)…..which means I have to like his style.

    But then again, I’m a hopelessly biased fan.

    •  Me, too. I do love how he is becoming a more public figure and his latter life. Still, he was a brutal force on the court. People feared him.

  • Geoff, I am fortunate to have a seat a lot closer to Charles. I’ve been to the house where he grew up, and have talked with his mother and one of his brothers.

    Barkley has an impact in everything he does, because he is 100% authentic. Those who “handle” celebrities would tear their hair out with him as a client. He is exactly who you think he is — and then there are the parts you don’t know about, including his extreme generosity (often in anonymous ways.)

    •  He is amazing, isn’t he? You are lucky to have him as one of your local residents.

  • When i was working in radio in the 80s here in Lancaster, i got to meet Charles while covering their training camp at Franklin & Marshall college. (Also got to interview Dr. J. which was a real highlight for 23-year old me). I think it was 1985, so it would have been Barkley’s 2nd season. 

    I remember him running up and down the court, doing what appeared to be serious smack talking, which was kind of odd, since it was just the Sixers there. As he came up the court, I was able to hear what he was saying, and I was pleasantly surprised. He wasn’t smack talking the other players, he was smack talking himself. “C’mon Chuck, you can do better than that.” “What’s wrong with you Charles??”, And so on. 

    It was incredibly endearing in a sport known for it’s smack talk, even back then. I became a fan, and remain a fan to this day, even when I don’t agree with some of the things he says or does. Charles is Charles. 

    •  Yeah, I imagine his self talk is pretty intense.  Between the weight loss and gains, and the incredible drive to pound out rebounds in the middle at the level with his height is indicative of serious drive and tension. He is amazing, and I do really love watching Charles in any era.

  • Not an NBA fan, so it’s hard to comment on him as an announcer, but I can say I do enjoy his frank take on things when they catch my attention via news clips, ESPN, etc. I think part of what makes his ‘influence’ as an announcer legit is that as a player, he walked the talk. If he hadn’t been an exceptional player or even great student/teacher of the game, I’m not sure his comments as an announcer would carry as much weight. 

    Got to chat w/ Jerry Rice at Disney’s ESPN the Weekend once; it was painful to hear that the King of All Things Receiving was better known, asked more about that dancing reality thing than for what he did as a player. Mentioning that to show the nature of media and celebrity are just so vastly different today. That factors into the marketing, the endorsement deals, everything… and how in some ways a persona like Charles is even better positioned today.

    And agree w/ others: Charles is Charles. That’s the best thing about him; he’s stayed himself – I don’t even think it’s style or personality. He is who he is – which even if you don’t like him I think earns him a little bit of respect. FWIW.

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