While the Lakers took a commanding lead in the Western Conference final last night, thanks to the fact that they bothered to pay attention to rebounding again, that probably won’t be what everyone will be talking about in the days to come. Which is fine, even good, because the NBA has used these bubble playoffs as a platform to address and amplify the most serious issues of our time, miles beyond anything that’s happened in sports before.
But that means people around the games, in the coverage of them, are going to chime in. Which is also good, because that helps keep the level of discourse up and reminds people what truly matters and what affects the most lives. Jalen Rose two nights ago is an example, even if it’s just an interjection. Yes, the games are going on, and yes it’s his job to talk about them, but that doesn’t mean he’s going to put blinders on to what is going on in the world and what will truly have bearing on people going forward.
TNT has been no less shy about talking about these issues as well while covering the playoffs, but the problem is that when you have someone who likes to flap his gums like Charles Barkley does, at some point, he’s going to go on his own message.
Let’s just knock out the two clips first. First his thoughts on the lack of charges for Breonna Taylor’s killers:
Then his thoughts on defunding the police:
You know something is fucked when Clay Travis and his site Outkick.com – where Jason Whitlock gets to spew the tour clubs sandwiches he eats for lunch regularly — are applauding you on social media.
To his first point, and yes, the Breonna Taylor case is different. She was in her goddamn home, instead of being killed on the street. While we may never get the actual details or ever know the truth completely, something definitely smells when the city of Louisville settles with her family for $12 million before announcing there would be no officers charged in her killing. Kinda feels like they know everyone fucked up and are trying to get ahead of it. It’s along the lines of Rahm Emanuel’s Chicago administration settling with Laquan McDonald’s family for $5 million long before the footage of that atrocity came out.
Also, you don’t tend to prepare your city for mass protests and riots if you think you’re on the right side of history. And that was nationwide.
As for Barkley’s second take, it would be folly to expect him to understand nuance. “Defund the police,” at least generally, does not aim to eradicate police forces completely, though there are some that would have you believe that. Barkley doesn’t understand that what the aims of that movement are is to take problems that police simply do not understand, do not help, and aren’t equipped to deal with, out of its hands. Issues such as mental health, homelessness, and drugs are best served by social workers trained in those areas. In fact, it was the country’s totally fucked handling of drug cases that led to Breonna Taylor’s death, as the warrant issued for her house was because they suspected someone she once dated had “received packages” there, whatever the fuck that means.
Barkley is right that rich, white neighborhoods are always going to demand the security, or perceived security, of having a police force. Which means there will always be some form of police. But his contention of “Who are Black people supposed to call?” seems to miss the entire point of our country’s upheaval the past few months. Black people can call the cops, and all they seem to get is shot by them. Who called the police before Atatiana Jefferson was shot and killed in her own home? Her Black neighbor, who was concerned because her front door was left open and thus called the police to do a welfare check.
She ended up dead. He says he’ll never call the police again.
And it’s not like murders of Black people are solved anywhere near an acceptable rate anywhere in this country. It’s not like they’re close to stopping. And the underlying issues that cause them aren’t anywhere close to being solved either.
It’s unlikely that Barkley does more than five minutes of research for any pregame, halftime, or Inside the NBA show, because his popularity is based on him shooting from the hip. But when it comes to this time in history, and what NBA players are trying to achieve, he owes them and everyone better. When he asks “Who are Black people supposed to call?,” what he should be asking is why they would feel the need to call so much more often than white people. And what freeing up money might mean for those issues that are at the root of all of it.
But Barkley hasn’t bothered to ask questions in a while. There was a time when Barkley was a sharp analyst on TNT, I remember it. And he could spice it with his natural humor. You still see it on occasion, but it’s shrouded now in his laziness and flippancy and has been for years. This was far too important of a moment for him to fall back on that once again.
UPDATE: Barkley was “pissed” at TNT colleague Kenny Smith for walking off the set last month as an act of solidarity with NBA players protesting the shooting of Jacob Blake.
On the Ringer’s podcast Winging it with Vice Carter, Barkley said: “I was pissed at Kenny. Because I didn’t think he should’ve walked off. He should’ve told us in advance. Because I had just said that it was bogus what the Milwaukee Bucks just did to the Orlando Magic. They didn’t tell them. And then like 30 seconds later, he did the exact same thing.”
“I had no problem with him walking off. He should’ve told us so we could’ve prepared. The show was like, ‘Uh-oh.’”