AMERICAN CENTURY CHAMPIONSHIP | Barkley pleases the crowd with his humorous antics and some pretty bad golf |

AMERICAN CENTURY CHAMPIONSHIP | Barkley pleases the crowd with his humorous antics and some pretty bad golf

Charles Barkley is returning to South Tahoe for the 31st annual American Century Championship.
Tribune file photo

STATELINE – Former NBA superstar Charles Barkley is nothing if not a man of the people.

Barkley is one of the main attractions of the American Century Celebrity Golf Championship, invariably drawing huge crowds. Fans are attracted to him as he makes his way through the golf course, displaying one of the most infamously unattractive herky-jerky golf swings ever to be seen on the links.

Part of the attraction to Barkley is his accessibility. He demonstrates not only a willingness to sign autographs for swarming fans, but also engages in humorous banter.

When one woman told him he looks more handsome in person he replied:

“You trying to say I look like (crap) on TV.”

“The public is cool,” said Barkley during an interview with the Tahoe Daily Tribune. “Once in a while you come across a (jerk), but most people I meet are fantastic. I mean that. I like to give people the opportunity to talk to me.”

Barkley – or The Round Mound of Rebound as he was affectionately known during his NBA playing days which lasted from 1984 to 1999 – may be one of the best athletes to ever step on a basketball court, but a proficient golfer he is not.

On the second hole he hit a chip shot approach that never the left the carpet.

“I don’t care if it gets off the ground. I’m just trying to move the ball forward,” he said.

For much of his Friday morning round, he employed an awkward-appearing one-handed golf swing that yielded surprisingly good results.

“I’m just trying anything right now,” he said.

Despite his struggles on the course, Barkley said he truly enjoys the game.

“I just like being out on the golf course,” he said. “It’s a place where I can enjoy some peace and quiet. When I go to the supermarket or the dry-cleaners, it’s crazy, but when I’m out on the course on a beautiful day with the water and tall trees – I just enjoy it.”

Tournament spectators enjoy Barkley, too.

“We just like him,” said spectator Janice Barrenchea, who followed Barkley throughout the day. “He’s a character. He has a great personality. I heard he donated a lot of money to people who lost property in the Angora Fire. I know he says a lot of controversial things, but deep down he seems like a giving and wholesome person.”

Barkley did not get through his round without saying something controversial, as he called Lebron James’ recent free agent departure from Cleveland to Miami “disappointing.”

“I think he should’ve stayed in Cleveland,” he said.

Barkley departed from the Philadelphia 76ers – the team that drafted him in 1984- for the Phoenix Suns in pursuit of a championship ring that ultimately eluded him.

“When I left, I was 30 and I wanted to win a championship,” he said. “Lebron’s 25.”

However, on Friday, Barkley was less focused on analyzing NBA past and present and more focused on having a good time on the golf course.

Willing to pose for pictures with fans, sign autographs, high-five little children and joke with shy spectators, Barkley pleased many long-time fans while winning some new ones.

“I’m a little star-struck but that was great,” said spectator Morgan Cheney after receiving Barkley’s autograph on a program.

Barkley was paired with comedic actor Brian Baumgartner, who is most widely known for playing the character of Kevin Malone on the television show “The Office”.

“Charles is great,” said Baumgartner. “He and I are buddies, and we’re just having a great time.”

Barkley said he loves coming to South Lake Tahoe for the tournament due to the magnificent setting.

“This is a beautiful golf course in one of the most beautiful parts of the world,” Barkley said.

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