Barkley remembers Ali, set to make 21st American Century Championship appearance
The four biggest influences in Charles Barkley’s life are his grandmother, Dr, Martin Luther King, Bill Russell and Muhammad Ali.
So, it was no surprise Barkley reflected on his relationship with the former boxing great, who died two weeks ago at age 74 from complications from Parkinson’s disease, during a conference call last Wednesday, June 8, to publicize the 27th annual American Century Championship July 19-24 at Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course.
A Jenazah, a traditional Muslim funeral, was held at Freedom Hall in Louisville, Kentucky, on Thursday, June 9. Despite his closeness with Ali and his family, Barkley said he didn’t attend either service because he didn’t want “too much of a spectacle.”
Ali’s death hit Barkley so hard the former NBA star and current basketball analyst didn’t comment on it right away. He issued a press release, instead. He said he needed time to process; he didn’t want to say anything generic.
“People know he was a big influence in my life,” Barkley said. “Other than my grandmother, he was the most significant person in my life.
“He helped so many poor people; people who couldn’t help themselves. He made me want to stand up for the poor. I will always stand up for the underdog. Last weekend was one of the hardest weekends of my life.”
The NBA Hall of Famer and Olympian said every time he talked with Ali he made sure to tell the former boxing great how appreciated he was, and how much Ali helped him.
Barkley also said Ali isn’t getting enough credit for his boxing ability. Of course when an individual is bigger than a sport, that’s bound to happen.
“His resilience,” Barkley said, noting how many times Ali lost and recaptured the title. “He lost out on three years of his career. He came back and lost to Joe Frazier in 15 rounds, and then got off the floor and beat Frazier twice.
“I’m a big fan of the sport. Boxers want to be undefeated. They don’t fight anybody. They don’t risk losing like Ali did.”
BARKLEY BRINGS NEW HIP, SAME GAME TO ACC
Barkley, a fan favorite at the ACC, is looking forward to this year’s tournament.
He played last year despite a bad hip. He put off surgery to play in the event. He had the surgery right after last year’s event.
“This is my favorite week of the year,” Barkley said. “I circle this week on the calendar [before anything else]. I barely made it through last year. I could barely walk.
“I had the surgery, but my golf game hasn’t gotten any better. I’m never concerned on how well I play. I come and have a blast.”
In 2007, after the Angora fire struck, Barkley went to the burn area, talked to people who lost their homes, then wrote a check for $100,000 to The Angora Fire Fund. He also took area firefighters and their families out for dinner during his trip.
In 2008, he wrote another check for $95,000 to the Angora Fire Fund.
There’s a plaque near the driving range at Edgewood Tahoe acknowledging his generous contributions to the area.
Barkley said the ACC is getting better every year, and the tournament is attracting the top athletes and celebrities from all the major sports. He said he always gets calls from athletes wanting him to get them into the event.
The tournament seems to have the market cornered on past and present NFL greats.
Fourteen QBs, three current and 11 retired, played in last year’s event.
Billy Joe Tolliver, a four-time winner who isn’t in the field this year, and Mark Rypien have won the event twice. John Elway is always a fixture in the top 25.
Jacksonville’s Blake Bortles, New York’s Ryan Fitzpatrick, Arizona’s Carson Palmer, Kansas City’s Alex Smith and Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers are the active QBs in the field.
Of local interest, the Golden State Warriors will be represented by head coach Steve Kerr and Andre Iguodala, the MVP of the 2015 NBA Finals. Kerr was supposed to play last year, but declined because of back issues.
Barkley was asked what kind of golfer Iguodala is.
“He’s really a good player,” Barkley said. “When I was in Oklahoma City, we all went out [to hit the golf ball], and the guy [at the course] told me that Steph Curry and Igoudala had been hitting balls. I know Steph is a good player.”
Curry was a big hit with fans and media alike in his first two ACC appearances. He didn’t play last year because his wife gave birth to their second child.
There’s a Curry in the field, however. Steph’s dad, Dell, a former NBA star, has committed to play.