Interview: Icon Charles Barkley

The outspoken NBA legend talks PEDs, gays in sports, and if LeBron is the greatest of all time.

So is Inside the NBA as fun as it looks?

We’re having more fun than that! I always tell people I wish we could put the behind-the-scenes stuff on the air, but we’d probably get arrested. Last year Shaq was always tackling everybody. I tried to tackle him back, but I couldn’t knock his big ass down.

Well, he’s a pretty big guy.

Shaq is the only guy I played against where I said, “Man, that’s a big fucking dude.” Before his last season, Kevin McHale was talking to Robert Parish and said, “Chief, do you see that guy? I think it’s time for us to think about retiring.” In person Shaq’s the biggest guy in the world, man. He’s huge. 

How do you think your teams in the ’80s and ’90s would fare today?

We’d kill these little girly teams they’ve got today. Come on. The Miami Heat, the best team today, they make Roy Hibbert look like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. 

When LeBron, Melo, D-Wade, and Bosh were all on the court together in the playoffs, people said the ’03 draft was the best ever. How do you compare it to yours in ’84?

I like our draft class better, to be honest. No disrespect to those guys; they’re all terrific players. They have LeBron, who is a once-in-a-lifetime player, but we had Michael Jordan, HakeemOlajuwon, John Stockton. But any discussion about this stuff is dictated by LeBron James, because he’s just special. 

Do you think he could go down as the best ever? Jordan says he would have taken LeBron one-on-one.

I haven’t put LeBron past Kobe Bryant yet. He’s won a couple of rings, and now everybody is trying to compare him to Michael, who won six. What happened to Kobe? Kobe’s still got five. LeBron has to win three more championships before he’s in the Kobe Bryant class. 

You were listed at 6’6″, 250 pounds. Growing up in Alabama, how did you not become a football player?

Well, the thing is, I wasn’t that big. I was only 5’10” until I was a senior in high school. But I don’t think it has anything to do with physique. The mentality to play football is different. You’re going to get hurt, you’re going to get a bunch of concussions, and you have to sign off on that. I played football one day, and then I realized they were all fucking nuts.

Was the Alabama-Auburn rivalry a big deal when you were growing up?

Oh, yeah, and it’s probably gotten worse because Alabama is kicking butt, so its fans are even more obnoxious. It’s tough because we’ll never be as good as Alabama in football. They’ve won 15 championships; we’ve won two. 

What do you think of the Alabama fan who poisoned the Auburn trees?

First of all, the guy named his kids Crimson and Bear, so he’s obviously an idiot. People at Auburn want him to go to jail for life, but I thought they should have been more creative. I thought they should’ve put him in jail every Saturday for two years when Alabama is playing.

How do you feel about performance- enhancing drugs in sports? 

Obviously, you worry about guys who use them all the time, but injuries are a different situation. Listen, these guys make so much money from these teams, they should want to come back and play, and the teams should want them to come back and play! I don’t judge guys who use PEDs, because I think every scenario is different. If I’m a poor guy and I have a chance to make hundreds of millions of dollars and take care of my family, I would definitely use PEDs. 

Were you surprised when Jason Collins came out last year?

No, because, first of all, we’ve all played with gay people, and you might not know it, but you work with gay people. Everybody does. But I think it’s an insult to gay people to think they’re going to be looking at you in the locker room, which is one of the things the media and fans try to say. It doesn’t work like that. I’d love to see an openly gay player, a really, really good gay player come out. 

You once said you are not a role model, but nowadays when you speak people listen.

That’s one of the reasons I still do TV. It’s important, but I don’t think every battle is worth fighting, so I’m very selective in what I want to talk about. But when something comes up that I think needs to be addressed, I take my shots. 

Photos by Steve Lipofsky / Corbis | Licensed to Alpha Media Group 2014