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Charles Barkley: Value of kids' futures a slam-dunk

Charles BarkleyThey call him Sir Charles.

In the Xs and Os of the National Basketball Association, Charles Barkley reigns over the Os: outspoken, outlandish, outstanding. In a league dominated by giants, the 6-foot, 4-inch Leeds, Ala.-native managed to outrebound, outscore, outhustle, outsmart and outtrash-talk players twice his size and half his age.

Only three other players in NBA history -- Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain and Karl Malone -- managed to compile 20,000 career points, 10,000 rebounds and 4,000 assists. His accomplishment seems all the more amazing considering his competition included the likes of Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan.

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Barkley was a hardworking junior out of Auburn University when the Philadelphia 76ers made him the fifth pick in the 1984 draft. Nicknamed "The Round Mound of Rebound," Barkley's rebound-oriented game soon expanded under the tutelage of two superstar teammates, Julius "Dr. J" Erving and Moses Malone. The veteran stars quickly set their young charge straight about basketball, money and life.

His irreverent sense of humor and love for the game made Barkley a media and fan favorite through his 16 seasons. Although he never won the coveted championship, he became one of the most popular perennial All Stars. He was named league MVP in 1993 and one of the 50 greatest NBA players in 1996.

At times, Barkley's larger-than-life persona, fueled by over-the-top TV commercials, overshadowed his accomplishments on the hardwood. For instance, everyone remembers the 1992 U.S. Olympic basketball squad, the first "Dream Team" that included Jordan, Bird and Magic, but few recall that it was Barkley who led that stellar lineup in scoring at 18 points per game.

The NBA has always been a platform for Barkley, whose strong opinions on African-American leadership, spoiled professional athletes, poverty and prejudice make him a popular pundit. His repartee with Ernie Johnson and Kenny Smith, his broadcast cohorts at the NBA on TNT, makes it the one halftime show worth skipping a trip to the fridge.

Bankrate caught up with Sir Charles by phone in New York City, where he was promoting his latest book, "Who's Afraid of a Large Black Man?" The title may seem humorous, but the content is dead serious, as Charles goes one-on-one with 13 personal heroes on a subject close to his heart: racism.

Bankrate: You have often said there is little difference between the problem of racism and the problem of poverty.

Barkley: No question. I think that's really important. America has always been divided by race, but man, really now it's economics. Poor white people and poor black people have been taught not to like each other, and they're in the same boat. Until they get together and say, you know what, we're going to respect each other, treat each other better, fix our school system, make our neighborhood safer, it's never going to change. Because rich people don't live in the same neighborhood and they don't go to the same schools. Poor white people and poor black people are so afraid of each other for some ungodly stupid reason that they have made the problem much, much worse.

-- Posted: May 9, 2005




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