“The NBA Was Too Black, A Bunch Of Thugs, A Bunch of Druggies” | Charles Barkley Goes In On Black Players Of Pre-Magic and Bird Era

In his recent appearance on the “Stephen A. Smith Show,” Hall of Famer Charles Barkley said that he wishes that today’s NBA players were more appreciative of what Magic Johnson and Larry Bird did back in the day to save the league. 

Charles Barkley makes some very good points about the state of the NBA. It’s just that sometimes his delivery is a bit blunt, hard to digest and politically incorrect for today’s information-consuming pallet. 

As the generations pass and the social media age rewrites history, Barkley’s recent appearance on the Stephen A. Smith’s show inspired more colorful commentary from Chuck, who decided to give flowers to Magic Johnson and Larry Bird by disparaging Black athletes of that era with some stereotypical dribble. 

Sir Charles says what any basketball fan with knowledge of the league’s history knows: that the players of today wouldn’t be making the millions that they are earning today if not for the iconic Bird-Magic rivalry. 

“Those guys saved the NBA. The NBA was too black, a bunch of thugs, a bunch of druggies, and Magic Johnson and Larry Bird changed the whole thing. Every time I see Magic and Bird, I say thank you, man, because everybody thinks the NBA is always like where you come in; you’re going to make a lot of money. No, when I got in at ‘85, the average salary was $250,000. That’s 250 like I say I told you 3-4 years later, I can’t remember exactly when I saw the first guy make a million dollars,” Barkley said.

Magic and Bird Rivalry Spawned NBA Golden Age, Road To Riches

We also know that Magic and Bird’s rivalry was fueled by the explosion of televised games, featured games of the week, radio and print media and cable TV. It was one perfect combination of events and evolution that took basketball from the sidelines to the thick of the pro sports money action. 

Barkley also believes that players these days are too focused on money, which is also a common theme among basketball purists and OGs. The explosion of salaries has definitely created a different outlook on the game, for players especially. With the high salaries and exposure and the revenue the superstar players generate for teams and the league, they have gained more power when it comes to negotiating with owners and having a voice with issues inside and external to the league. 

This empowerment, in the eyes of some, has led to the current load management controversy, an increase in players negatively interacting on social media, the lack of defensive intensity and the perception that today’s players are primadonnas. 

“These guys are so lucky and blessed, and they can’t play basketball 3-4 days a week. I wonder if some of these guys are born into money, but they’re not great players; let’s be realistic,” Chuckster added.

Kevin Durant Would Call It Jealousy

The year Barkley won MVP (1992-93) he was the 31st highest-paid player in the league, making $2.42 million, when adjusted for current inflation still only amounts to $5.27 million. The highest paid player in the league, San Antonio Spurs center David Robinson made $5.72 million. ($12.45 million).  

 “It’s changed,” Barkley said in reference to the bad public reviews for the recent NBA All-Star Game in Indianapolis, where a combined 397 points were scored.  

“These guys make so much money. They talk about the old days. Well, I’m from the old days. Getting a nice chunk from winning or losing a game meant something, because we were only making a couple million dollars.”

Twenty years later and Steph Curry’s 2024 salary is about $52 million as the NBA’s highest-paid player. Durant is second and he’s making $47.7 million in 2024. 

Charles Barkley Is Worth $60 Million 

Chuck has done well for himself. During his 16-year NBA career, Barkley earned a total of $40.3 million in salary. His peak money year was his final season with the Houston Rockets in 1999 when he was paid $9 million.

In addition to a multi-million-dollar salary for co-chairing TNT’s “Inside The NBA,” Barkley has earned tens of millions from endorsements with companies like Nike, FanDuel, T-Mobile, McDonald’s, Dick’s Sporting Goods, and Right Guard. 

He’s very much iconic in his own right. His points are true about the effect that Magic Johnson and Larry Bird had on the NBA, solidifying it as the supreme basketball league in the world and a globally marketable product. Which led to the fairytale lifestyles that players now enjoy, even before they ink their first NBA deal. 

Barkley Called Former Black NBA Players Druggies and Thugs

He didn’t have to go in and use a vicious racial stereotype against Black people to do it. Barkley has a history of saying what he would call “hard truths” about the Black community, he also proclaims to love. 

Barkley is far too articulate and smart to say that. Yes, the NBA was a microcosm of larger Hollywood life at the time and cocaine was a popular drug of choice, especially throughout the celebrity world of sports and entertainment. 

But the majority of the league were not druggies. There were also some white players and white stars in the league in the ’70s, from Rick Barry to Dave Cowens. Fights were more amped up across all pro sports leagues back then. Sometimes video wasn’t even available, so policing behavior wasn’t as important. 

Around that time, the ABA was just clearing the way for the NBA to be what Magic and Bird made it. They didn’t do it alone. Dr. J was a brand that elevated the league tremendously. The Bad Boy Pistons were a whole movement. All the small market teams still had a superstar. Then MJ came through and the NBA became a full blown corporate gold mine. 

The history lesson is admirable, but the way he went about it was highly questionable. That’s what Chuck gets paid the big bucks for. It’s a great life. He gets to clown around, talk basketball, golf and also be a well-respected voice of Black America.

His track record suggests that he’s more critical than anything of Black people, despite his unapologetic Blackness as a son of the South. He won’t stop talking either, because he’s made a legendary career of it, and he always makes time to give the media a worthy soundbite. 

Charles Barkley Came For Kevin Durant and Nikki Haley

This month alone he’s gotten into a verbal war with his old nemesis Kevin Durant, saying: “Kevin’s a follower. He’s not a leader.”

Then he went on CNN talk show “King Charles” with co-host Gayle King and interviewed GOP presidential candidate Nikki Haley. 

Barkley let the former South Carolina governor know that he wanted to vote for her but implored her to clarify her comments on the campaign trail last year that America has “never been a racist country.”

“I’m dying to vote for you,” Barkley told Haley. “I mean that sincerely. I want to give all my energy and all my heart behind your campaign, but I was upset when you made the reference that you didn’t think America had racism.”

So you never know what Barkley will say or do when it comes to the world of sports, entertainment, politics and race. Once you understand that you can’t take anything he says personally … respectfully … you can really see the game in all of it. He hasn’t stopped playing since Auburn. 

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