BARKLEY’S MONEY DANCE WITH LIV PROVES HE’S AN AMERICAN FRAUD
In driving a negotiating wedge between TNT and the Saudi-funded golf upstart, the basketball commentator is willing to sell out to murderers, which means antagonist Skip Bayless should “kill” him
The first reason I hate the idea of Charles Barkley joining LIV as a golf analyst, which might require him to leave TNT as a basketball analyst, is that he sucks at golf. Yes, I realize his swing — once a stand-up comedy routine of starts and stops, wiggles and yips — has improved a bit with substantial work. He still can’t beat me or you in a round of 18 holes, or over beers and wings in a Topgolf bay.
So where’s his cred when assessing actual professional golfers?
The second reason I oppose such a move is that he’s courting the same blood money, from Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, that has lured Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka and other flim-flam traitors who’ve ignored their geopolitical responsibility as Americans by swimming with murderers. Barkley is talking to LIV only to gain negotiating leverage against his Turner Sports bosses, who owe him a reported $30 million the next three years — meaning, he’s vastly underpaid in the current market of top sports commentators, with Tom Brady’s future deal topping out at $375 million over 10 years. Chuck also is making significantly less than Troy Aikman, Tony Romo and Joe Buck.
And he’s barely making more than the nemesis he’d “like to kill,” Fox’s Skip Bayless, which must chap his very large ass. So, greed consumes him. As he said famously of the LIV initiative, “I don’t judge other people. If someone gave me $200 million, I’d kill a relative.” Hey! Maybe Bayless should kill him!
The third reason I’ll attack such a move is that Barkley doesn’t grasp why it’s morally repugnant. In his meeting in Atlanta this week with LIV ringleader Greg Norman, who is said to be preparing a mammoth offer, he mocked the majority which has accused the Saudis of using a golf whim to whitewash their human rights atrocities. They did find willing and needy stooges in Norman, Mickelson and the other defectors. Now, Barkley is considering an escape from the best sports studio show of its time, “Inside the NBA,” to be a carnival barker in a LIV circus played amid blaring music on less-than-classic courses, including Trump National Golf Club in New Jersey — where the rebel tour arrives next week, heaven help us.
“I told (Norman), 'Listen, they are making up words, like blood money and sportswashing.’ I said, 'We have all taken blood money, and we all have sportswashed something, so I don't like those words, to be honest with you.’ ’’ Barkley told the New York Post. “If you are in pro sports, you are taking some type of money from not a great cause.”
That’s a copout. A lie, actually. The NBA has its hypocritical ties with China, and so does LeBron James, but Barkley would be leaving a network rooted in the U.S. while taking money directly from the Saudis. He spends his entire adult life taking advantage of American free speech like few athletes of his time, then offers up his rambling mouth for the employ of killers? Does Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman — who somehow was offered a fistbump by President Joe Biden last week, despite his likely involvement in journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s murder — literally sign LIV paychecks? It’s a question urgent enough, understandably, for Barkley’s network and his sponsors to inquire why he’d do a dirty dance with creeps when his current business relationships are clean.
“They checked in with me," Barkley said. “What I told Subway, Capital One and Dick's Sporting Goods, I said, ‘Wait a minute. I haven't signed anything. I haven't met with the guy. Let's let this thing play out before you all call me all upset.’ ’’
They have a right to be upset. You don’t sink years of endorsement investment into one personality — someone who has body-shamed women on the air, among missteps too numerous to list — to see him haphazardly consider a career move to a Saudi-funded golf league. If TNT won’t let him moonlight, as he’d prefer, no rational soul would fault the network. From here, it seems Barkley is giving too much ear time to his longtime buddy, Mickelson, who admittedly joined LIV in part to recover from a hole left by past gambling debts. Barkley, too, has a history of problem gambling. I don’t need an active imagination to paint a picture of how Barkley and Mickelson could throw a LIV event. Would the Saudis even care? No. They’d probably be in on the wagering.
What also bothers me, in the end, is that Barkley — who happens to be a must-watch as a basketball straight-shooter — believes he can recklessly branch off into other sports without any public objections. He thought he was a hockey commentator at one point — he knew nothing — and now he thinks he’s a golf commentator. Does he realize his massive TNT platform shrinks to almost nothing at LIV, which doesn’t have a major broadcast deal and streams events on its website, Facebook and YouTube? Does LIV actually think that sticking Barkley on live events would prompt a major American network to do business with the renegades?
Worse, his fanboys in sports media continue to celebrate his every step, syllable and fart. Most embarrassing is The Athletic’s Richard Deitsch, who gushes as if he discovered Barkley — no, Dan Patrick did. Wrote Sports Illustrated’s Jimmy Traina, who ejaculates every time he mentions him: “The curiosity factor of a non-golf broadcaster who’s a loose cannon on the mike for a rogue organization could very well make some people tune in.”
Maybe once. Otherwise, if he leaves TNT for this leap of idiocy, we’ll quickly forget Charles Barkley and wait for Draymond Green to take his studio chair in a year or two. I was beginning to tire of Barkley anyway. And it isn’t because he’d routinely obsess over me and Bayless, once on “The Tonight Show” a couple of nights before Christmas, when my phone blew up at dinner. He made up for it a few years later in Cleveland, when he bought rounds at a bar, but he later screwed up in Los Angeles when he shouted me down in an elevator filled with people. Not that I care. That’s what Charles does.
As a basketball talker, he’s an all-time great. As an analyst of other sports, he’s an all-time farce. As a human being, he’s an assclown who fakes his way through real discussions and lacks life depth.
His dalliance with the Saudis, even if for a week, confirms as much.
Jay Mariotti, called “without question the most impacting Chicago sportswriter of the past quarter-century,’’ writes general sports columns for Substack while appearing on some of the 1,678,498 podcasts and shows in production today. He is an accomplished columnist, TV panelist and talk/podcast host. Living in Los Angeles, he gravitated by osmosis to film projects.