Neil Best leaves no stone unturned in the world of sports media.
Charles Barkley, unplugged
I wrote a story for the Wednesday newspaper about Charles Barkley, who offered some characteristically blunt thoughts on college and pro hoops at a Tuesday breakfast to preview the new CBS/Turner partnership to present the NCAA Tournament.
Naturally, the newspaper could only contain some of what Sir Charles had to say.
It began when I first sat down at his table and told him I got plenty of mileage out of his comment last week about the Nuggets being better than the Knicks, post-trade.
Apparently the big win over the Jazz didn't change his mind. Barkley told me he is amused when he hears and reads media members claim the Knicks are a "dangerous" team.
"They're dangerous," he said. "On defense."
Barkley lamented that mid-major "little guys" such as Coastal Carolina get "screwed" in favor of "mediocre Big East schools" that make the NCAA field because of pressure from "biased" New York writers.
That was all before Barkley sat down with several scribes and spent 30 minutes mostly explaining (repeatedly) why he plans to spend some of his studio air time during the NCAAs talking about the lack of commitment colleges have to educating their athletes.
Here goes (check out the Cam Newton comment far below):
"One of the reasons I took this job was there are some things I want to say. I don’t have to do this job, OK? I’m concerned about them not graduating these players. I met with the NCAA and said, 'Let’s have a dialogue about you guys graduating these players.'
"We just gave these - - people 11 billion dollars. They’re not paying the players. I’m not going to go on a rant about where the money goes, but they have an obligation to graduate these players. We can’t just keep making money on these players and not graduating them.
"This is the first time I’ve had a dog in the fight, but this ain’t the first time I’ve talked about it. I’ve been talking about it for years, not graduating these players. But now I’ve got a dog in the fight."
On whether he will discuss this subject during the actual tournament coverage:
"That’s the only reason I’m doing this. I want to talk to them about not graduating players. That’s my concern. I’m not going to just jump on the bandwagon and let y’all make all this money on these kids and just not say anything. I sat them down before I said I would do this.
"I said, 'Hey, I’m not coming here to pump up anybody.' And I’m on the NBA’s - -, too. The NBA, they need to keep these kids in college longer. I want two years. But my number one concern when I sat down with these guys was I said, 'I’m not here to just make money on these kids.' Like I said, hey, we wrote a nice check, 11 billion is a lot of money.
"They said, 'We understand your concern.' I said, 'Now I’m going to talk about it. I’m going to beat it in their heads all the time.' Like I say, this is the first time I’ve really had something involved in the situation. They’re very aware of where I stand and I’m not going to stop.
"You can’t be giving them basket weaving degrees. These colleges have an obligation to make sure they’re going toward graduation. You can’t just put them in classes to keep them eligible.
"They all think they’re going to play in the NBA even if they’ve got no chance. But you at least have to make sure they are going toward their education. The truth of the matter is 99.9 percent of these kids are going to go out in the real world.
"I didn’t wake up one day and say, 'Hey, let me add a job to my schedule.' But I said, hey, listen, I’ll do anything to help Turner be successful. I want to be part of the team. If y’all need me to do college basketball, I have several concerns. I’m not just going to get no pay check if y’all are not going to graduate these kids.
"Like I say, I’ve been on this thing for a long time. But the NBA has to help, too, they have to keep these kids in college longer. But the colleges have to do a much better job of making sure these kids are going toward their degree. We have no idea where the damn $10.8 billion is going. We know it’s not going to the players. I’m not an idiot. Somebody’s making money.
"I’m very adamant that players should be able to borrow money from agents. The tricky thing about paying players is who do you pay? . . . I understand that’s a very tricky slope. I’m not sure there is a way to do that. But I don’t see any competitive advantage with borrowing money from agents.
On the one-and-done players hurting the NBA product:
"These drafts we’ve had recently have been atrocious and they’re hurting our product. They’re hurting my product because the draft is designed for NBA teams to get better. For us to draft players who are not ready, it does a disservice to our game and our fans.
"The problem is we’re all pigs. College is just trying to get theirs. The NBA is trying to get theirs. The agents are trying to get theirs. Everybody is just concerned about their thing. We’re all in this thing together. We have to reach a happy medium. We need to help college basketball. They need to help us. But right now everybody is just being a pig.
"I’m just worried about my game, and we’re hurting college basketball and we’re getting hurt in the NBA . . . We draft these kids who are not ready for the NBA and it’s killing our product . . . You have bad teams that are supposed to be getting help, and they’re not getting help. That screws the fans in that city. That’s not fair."
More on talking about these things during the tournament:
"The game is the easy part. You just talk about what you saw. But when I get a chance to meet with these guys, like I say, before I took this job I sat down with them and said, 'What are y’all going to do about these graduation rates?' This can’t be a cash grab for everybody. Me talking about educating these kids is the most important thing.
"When I gave a million dollars to my high school, Auburn and another school I did that because these kids getting their education is important to me. Not to make it racial, but it has a really negative effect on the black community, because the majority of these players are black. They’re not going to make it in the NBA. They’re not getting educated. Then we expect them to raise their families uneducated.
"I think our kids are becoming brainwashed. These kids only think they can play sports. They don’t think about being doctors, lawyers, engineers, teachers, firemen, policemen, things like that. C’mon, they’re kidding themselves.
"It’s having a really negative effect on the black community. A lot of these kids are black. They’re uneducated and we put them in the world and expect them to be good fathers with no job and no education. It has a really negative effect on the black community. It’s just a fact.
"I’m going to talk about the game but when I met with the NCAA I said at some point we’re going to have to talk about graduation rates on these - - games now. At some point it has to come out. We can’t go three weeks just talking about basketball and everybody gets paid and we have a bunch of dummies running around out there.
"At some point we’re going to talk about graduation rates. I know we love sports and college sports but colleges are there to educate people. It can’t just be a cash grab."
On his bosses' motivation:
"My bosses are here to make money. But I can’t just be in it for the money. That’s not cool. I can’t be in it just for the money . . . I love working for Turner but this thing can’t just be about the money. I told them I need some reassurances that y’all are going to let me talk about this on the air.
"They have to make sure the kids aren’t just taking - - classes to stay eligible. I’m not going to get into a - - contest on where the 11 billion is going. But I saw 23,000 Cam Newton jerseys [at Auburn games] and y’all are bitching because he supposedly got $200,000. As I’ve said to y’all, if he got $200,000, he was grossly underpaid.
On college stars leaving after one season:
"I hate that one and done - -. These kids aren’t ready for the NBA. The players' union gets mad when I say it, but I don’t care. It’s really killing our game. It’s hurt college basketball but it’s hurt the NBA also. Bad teams are supposed to get some help. They’re not getting help.
"I don’t count Blake Griffin as a rookie because he red-shirted. The best rookie has probably been the kid from the Knicks who went 37th [in the draft]. He’s been the best pure rookie to me all season. He’s not going to win Rookie of the Year because of Blake, but [Landry] Fields has been the best rookie this year top to bottom.
"You have greedy parents, you’ve got - - agents who are just trying to get their money, but it’s hurting our game."
On being in the studio for an NCAA quadrupleheader:
"I’m not feeling being in the studio for 12 hours. I’m trying to figure out what the hell you’re going to do for 12 hours. I’m in [the TNT NBA studio] from 8 at night to 2 in the morning, and it’s boring as hell. You’re sitting there watching two games but you’re there for six hours. It’s a very simple game.
"[Ernie Johnson] is an idiot. Me and Kenny [Smith] make fun of him. Ernie shows up and noon. I’m like, 'What the hell are you doing from 12 o’clock to 8 o’clock?' Ernie gets there at 12 o’clock. We don’t go on the air until 8. The game hasn’t happened yet!"
On the state of the NBA:
"I watch more basketball than probably any person in the world. I just love it. But when I watch the NBA right now I’m very disappointed. I think we do a disservice to the game and a disservice to the fans . . . When you look at the NBA right now, it’s not a very good product."