Charles Barkely’s partying with Urkel, driving drunk and telling Scottsdale police he was cruising for a blow job was in the words of AOL Sports’ Jay Mariotti, “rock bottom, an indefensible blunder in a wild life pardoned too often by basketball and media buddies who should have been in his face instead of frolicking with him.” Still, sports journalism’s no. 1 mascara fiend is not without compassion, Thursday’s night’s emotional outpouring on TNT causing Mariotti to proclaim, “the B.S. meter wasn’t moving. I had it out, ready to gauge his honesty and contrition levels. He passed.”
In a sports year in which we’re evaluating public apologies more than watching games, at least we heard sincerity in Barkley’s voice. He said more in two minutes than Alex Rodriguez did in 32, beginning TNT’s “Inside The NBA” program by apologizing directly to his family, the network, his sponsors, the league and the fans who have made him the most talked-about analyst in sports television. Even if he struggled to maintain his composure and kept stumbling over his words, this was his best broadcasting performance to date.
If anyone doubted it, TNT’s ratings dropped 38 percent during his seven-week suspension while suffering through the likes of Chris Webber and Gary Payton. No offense to them, but anyone is boring when the comparison point is Barkley. People love him because he speaks his mind and, more often than not, it smacks of truth. And they’ll continue to like him and watch him, despite the troubling nature of his DUI and dirty cop talk, because he now has shown he’s flawed like everyone else.
If he screws up again, all bets are off. If he screws up again, the TNT bosses who have been forgiving will fire him on the spot. But as one who was tough on Barkley, I’ll admit it’s easier to give him another chance than most. Because his living hell is so visible, you want to see him overcome it and become the basketball ambassador he always should have been. Whether he’s accountable enough to ever be the governor of Alabama, as he aspires, is unlikely. But I’ve seen politicians overcome worse than Barkley and thrive.