The Loudmouth Bully Strikes Again

By Jason Whitlock
Updated: June 1, 2006

KANSAS CITY — I’m not trying to pick on Charles Barkley. I swear.

It’s just that I find the current NBA playoffs so fascinating that I’m watching all the games, all the pregame and postgame and halftime shows.

And one thing has become absurdly obvious: Charles Barkley, the TNT studio analyst, has become so drunk on his rave reviews, fat contract and high-profile platform that he’s become a loudmouth bully prone to making declarations that are flat-out wrong.

Tuesday night I nearly fell off my treadmill when Barkley led off his halftime comments taking a swipe at Suns guard Raja Bell, inferring that Bell was a “whiny-(butt) player” for taking offense at Barkley’s and Magic Johnson’s pregame comments.

Charlesenio, Michael Jordan’s errand boy, and Magic had spent much of the one-hour pregame show insisting that Bell was going to hurt the Suns by playing with an injured calf.

“I’m not a doctor,” Barkley said. “But I know you need two legs to play basketball.”

Barkley deduced from the pregame warmups that Bell didn’t have the necessary “explosion” to help the Suns on Tuesday night against the Mavericks. Barkley and Johnson suggested Bell was foolish for not surrendering his spot in the rotation/lineup to a 100 percent healthy teammate.

The tone of Barkley, Johnson and Kenny Smith’s pregame comments had the feel of a Phoenix eulogy. With the Suns down just 2-1 going into Tuesday’s contest, TNT’s analysts wrote them off.

Ten minutes before tip, Barkley ripped the Phoenix crowd for being flat and all but predicted a blowout.

So I wasn’t surprised when Craig Sager stopped Bell for a brief halftime interview and the Phoenix guard said he felt disrespected by Barkley’s and Johnson’s pregame statements. Bell overheard some of the comments while he was getting treatment in the training room.

Bell’s interview with Sager sparked Barkley and Johnson to go on the offensive. Barkley made the “whiny-(butt) player” remark and stated that he didn’t work for the Suns or the Mavericks. Johnson predicted the Mavs would rally from their five-point halftime deficit and beat the Suns.

Of course, the Suns won by 20 points, Bell continued to inspire the Suns — playing 31 minutes and scoring nine points — and Barkley and Johnson never admitted they were wrong. In fact, TNT brought Bell on for the postgame interview, and Bell took the high road and kissed the pinkie rings of the two Hall of Famers.

I was embarrassed for Barkley and Johnson. Not only had Bell made their pregame comments look asinine, he then took a page from Kobe Bryant and clowned Barkley with superior class and intellect.

TNT’s “Inside the NBA” is widely considered the best studio show in sports. I’m beginning to have my doubts. Host Ernie Johnson is marvelous. Barkley and Kenny Smith can be hilarious. But for the good of the show and Barkley’s credibility, Kenny Smith needs to strongly challenge some of Barkley’s ridiculous assertions.

Smith would be wise to spend the summer at ESPN studio host Greg Anthony’s summer camp for broadcasters who need backbone. You pair Barkley with Anthony and you’ve got an irreverent fireworks display every night.

Right now all of the firecrackers are blowing up in Barkley’s face. It’s not a big deal that his predictions are wrong. What’s uncomfortable is watching the aftermath. Barkley’s ego won’t let him laugh at himself, won’t let him backpedal.

He’s calling Bell “whiny” for reacting to criticism that was dead wrong. Well, what does that make Barkley for whining on a national radio show two weeks ago about criticism directed at him?

I guess I am picking on Barkley. Someone needs to.