Each year leading up to the American Century Championships that take place at Edgewood Tahoe, there are a series of conference calls to promote the event with various participants.
Every year, one of the players on the calls is Charles Barkley. Barkley has arguably become the face of the tournament and it is an annual highlight to listen to what has become, “The State of Charles Barkley,” press conference.
This year was no exception.
Following is the Q/A with Barkley heading into tournament that will be played July 8-12 at Edgewood. The tournament will be played without spectators due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Q. Charles, you’ve played in the event for a long time. This is your 25th year. And there are no fans, which is one of the great delights out there. How do you think this experience will be different for you and the celebrities?
BARKLEY: Well, I think for me personally I won’t hit anybody, so that’s always a welcome relief. That’s first and foremost.
First, I just want to give a shout out to American Century for holding the event. Obviously, it’s under some unique and different circumstances. Shout out to American Century, but also NBC.
You know, I can always count on those guys at NBC. A few years ago, we had those major fires, and I asked Jon Miller and those guys if I could take a camera up to where the houses burned down. He gave me his blessing, because I didn’t think it was fair that we came to Lake Tahoe and just have shits and giggles on the course and have a great time and gamble and do karaoke.
So, he gave me a camera, and I walked around for four, five hours and met with people who just lost their house.
Q. Last year you promised you were not going to finish in last place, and you fulfilled that promise. What have you been doing in the last year that’s helped you continue to improve your game?
BARKLEY: Well, let me just say, I played great the first day last year, then I got tired, because I’m not used to walking four days in a row. I’m not going to get tired this year. I’m going to play well.
I’m really excited. I started working with a new coach about two years ago, and the last year things have gotten a lot better for me. Stan Utley’s been great. And I’m really looking forward to playing well.
I’ll be devastated if I don’t play well. Like I said, I had a couple of good days last year and then I ran out of gas. This is the only time I walk on the golf course. I played pretty well Thursday and Friday, and then Saturday and Sunday my tank was on empty.
So, I’ve worked out a lot more. I hit a lot more balls. And listen, I think I’m going to play well. I really do. I’m excited for the tournament. Listen, obviously I don’t feel like I’m going to win the thing, but I’ll be very surprised and disappointed if I don’t play good.
Q. Given all that’s happened over the past month with the social movement and Black Lives Matter, how does this 4th of July feel different to you guys? And on the larger picture, sports in general, how has the pandemic in particular changed your attitude for what sports means in the big picture?
BARKLEY: Well, listen, this pandemic, I want to give my blessing to everybody out there who has got the disease and their family, if they passed away. This thing, it’s one of the craziest things, by far the craziest thing that’s happened in my lifetime. We’ve got businesses ruined forever. We’ve got so many people who are going to be out of work forever. It’s changed their life. As far as the socialism stuff, listen, America is the greatest country in the world. We have dropped the ball on equality, economically, and that’s the biggest difference. We need to give black people and poor white people economic opportunity. We put them in the worst neighborhoods. We put them in the worst school, and we said good luck.
And I think this thing exploded because, No. 1, we need police reform. I’m never going to bash the cops. I think we need the cops. I think they’re important and significant.
You know, it’s interesting, you see all these fools on television talking about defunding the cops. First of all, let’s get one thing straight – good neighborhoods and white neighborhoods are not going to defund the cops. They’re only going to defund the cops in poor black neighborhoods and poor white neighborhoods.
And who are black people supposed to call, Ghostbusters? Are you kidding me? We need cops. But we need police reform because the bad cops are giving the good cops a bad name. But anybody who thinks we can have a civilized society without cops, they’re being disingenuous and they’re not being honest and fair. But we do need police reform. And that’s something we really need.
Like I say, I don’t want any unarmed black man killed. I don’t want any unarmed white man killed. But we do need police reform, but we need to work with the cops. And, like I said, I get disappointed when all these fools and jackasses get on TV saying we don’t need cops. We’d be in the wild, wild west if it wasn’t for the cops.
I don’t want anything to happen like happened to Mr. Floyd. That was awful and that was terrible. I think as a black man you see another black man die at the hands of cops ‑‑ it’s, like, putting his knee on his neck for nine minutes and got his hands in his pockets; clearly he doesn’t feel threatened ‑‑ you got your hands in your pocket. You don’t feel threatened at all.
So, that was a really awful situation. That cop has to pay the consequences for that. But this can also be a learning experience. And we need to have a learning experience. Like I say, we need the cops.
Q. Charles, you’ve played golf with all these guys in the past few years and watched them play and checked their scores. Can Steph or perhaps Mulder or Derek Lowe, who came in third last year, can any of these guys beat Tony Romo this year?
BARKLEY: I think all those guys are good golfers. If you get hot of course you can. But listen, there are some guys, they’re head and shoulders ‑‑ like Tony ‑‑ Steph actually has a real job, so he’s always at a disadvantage. He might have a great chance this year because like Del said his game is probably sharp and he’s probably healthy.
This will probably be the most he’s ever been prepared. Think about it. He’s been busy the last three years winning MVP and championships. I think if he’s going to win it this will be the year.
But Tony is a great player. Mark Mulder is a great player, and Derek Lowe is a great player.
Let’s be realistic. There’s probably 10 guys, maybe 15, that can actually win this thing. I mean the notion that everybody is going to win, that’s just bogus. But there’s probably 10 to 15 guys, or there’s probably five guys who will probably go off as the betting favorites. And listen they deserve it.
They’ve won the tournament, I think some of the guys won it two out of the last four years, some of the same names.
Listen, what’s going to be very interesting about this tournament this year, everybody’s probably coming in playing, probably have played more golf than they’ve ever played. I think that’s going to be really important and significant.
Nobody has been busy for the last four months. I’m not saying they played golf the entire four months, but they probably could have worked on their game in some capacity. So, you know, that to me was going to be the most interesting thing because nobody’s been busy. Everybody’s been working on their game.
So, I think clearly it sucks without fans, because they’re one of the highlights of the week. But as far as golf, man, I think this has the chance of being the best one ever. And I’m not just saying that just for the hell of it. I’m saying everybody’s been working on their game so those top 10 to 15 guys, you know, you only win this thing by ‑‑ I think there’s probably only four or five holes different that you make birdie. So, if you have a guy who has been working on his game get on a hot streak, I think anybody can win in the top 10.
Q. Speaking of the betting lines, Tony Romo is the favorite at 5‑to‑6. Mulder is 5‑to‑2. Derek Lowe is 12‑to‑1. Mardy Fish is 12‑to‑1. Steph Curry, 18‑to‑1. John Smoltz, 30‑to‑1. Dell Curry 100‑to‑1. And Charles 7500‑to‑1.
BARKLEY: I’ll tell you this. If the players are really smart, they’d all bet some money on me and let me win this thing, and we would break every casino in the world. That would be my suggestion to all the players, put a couple hundred dollars on me and find a way for me to win this thing. That would be a nice little check for them.
Q. Last year you birdied a hole. I guess that was the first day when you still had your stamina. DeMarcus Ware finished beneath you. So did Dylan Dryer. I see DeMarcus on the list; Dylan isn’t there. I don’t think you’re going to finish last.
BARKLEY: Let me tell you something. I guarantee you I’m not going to finish last. How many players are playing this year?
BARKLEY: I’m going to finish in the top 60. I’m going to finish in the top 60.
Q. Charles, with the new NBA season not starting, next season not starting until September. How do you think that will help the Warriors? And do you think they can get back to title contentions with Steph and Klay now fully healthy?
BARKLEY: I think, number one, I’ve always been a proponent that we don’t start the season until December. You go back look at the NBA, the year we had our best ratings we started at Christmas. And I think it was because we’re not competing with college football and pro football which are King Kong and King Kong Jr.
I think if we started in December at Christmas, like, we have five games on Christmas Day, I think that would be a perfect way to start the NBA season. And we could go a couple extra weeks because there’s no competition in the middle of the summer.
I’ve always believed that we should do that. Listen, the Warriors, it depends on what they do going forward. I mean obviously they are going to have a good team.
Anytime you’ve got Klay and Steph you’re going to have a good team. They’re probably the two greatest shooters that ever lived. But they’re not the same ‑‑ they’re not going to be the same team they used to be because other teams have gotten a lot better. The Lakers and Clippers are not going anywhere.
The Nuggets got a good solid team. I’m probably missing somebody, but clearly the Lakers and the Clippers are the two teams to beat, not just this year going forward. Milwaukee is terrific.
It’s going to be interesting. My number one thing ‑‑ I’m not even really worried about next year; my only goal go is to get through this. I just hope none of the players get sick, because I think it will be catastrophic for the NBA to get started and then have to stop.
I think it also will be bad if we have a bunch of star players who get the virus and we don’t have a legitimate champion. But if everybody is healthy, this will be a great accomplishment. With all the crap that we’ve been through this year, to go down to Orlando and play without fans and motivate yourself, man ‑‑ like I say, if everybody is healthy it will be a great accomplishment. My only concern is stopping this thing if a bunch of people get sick or a bunch of great players are not able to play. And then, like I said, I told somebody the worst‑case scenario will be the New York Knicks against the Sacramento Kings playing for the championship.
Like, if all the players in the league got sick and those two organizations play for the championship, that wouldn’t be a good look. So, I’m hoping that everybody’s healthy and we have a great championship between the Clippers, the Lakers and the Bucks ‑‑ and Toronto, that guy from Toronto, Masai and Nick, are doing a fantastic job.
But as far as the Warriors, they might be competitive because of Klay and Steph. Draymond is a good little player. But the rest of the stuff is out. I mean, the rest of the jury is out on the rest of that team.