Charles Barkley

‘Race and Sports in America: Conversations’ primetime special covers social justice, combating inequality

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Athletes, including Olympians, discussed social justice, locker room conversations about race and ways that sports can help combat inequality in “Race and Sports in America: Conversations,” airing Monday at 8 p.m. ET on NBCSN, Olympic Channel, Golf Channel and NBC Sports Regional Networks.

NBC Sports’ Damon Hack hosted roundtables with active and retired athletes at the American Century Championship Golf Tournament in Lake Tahoe, Nevada, last week.

Panelists, including Olympians James Blake and Charles Barkley and Tokyo Olympic hopeful Stephen Curry, also reflected on personal experiences.

Barkley, an Olympic gold medalist in 1992 and 1996, said coaches recently reached out to him to speak to their teams.

“First of all, relax and breathe,” Barkley said. “This crap started 400 years ago. We can’t do nothing about that. We can’t do anything about systematic racism. What I challenge every Black person, every white person to do: What can I do today going forward?

“You have to ask yourself, I want to be part of the solution, not part of the problem. Because if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.”

Blake, a retired former top-five tennis player and 2008 Olympian, was wrestled to the ground, handcuffed and arrested by a plainclothes New York City police officer in 2015 in a case of mistaken identity caught on video. The police officer’s punishment was a loss of five vacation days.

“The first thing I said when I got tackled was, I’m complying 100 percent,” Blake said. “And that shouldn’t have to be your response the first time you interact with a police officer. And because that’s the way my dad taught me is stay alive. Do whatever you can to stay alive. Sort it out later with lawyers or however you want to do it, and stay alive in that moment. The fact you have to have those rules in 2020 means maybe we have to do something drastic to change the way police interact with the African-American community and the way the community interacts with the police.”

Curry said his daughters, 7-year-old Riley and 5-year-old Ryan, asked questions about the images they recently saw. He’s not shielding them, but rather being honest about society, going back centuries.

“We have to continue to double down and double down and keep people accountable in all walks of life, all industries, all forms of leadership, the judicial system, all those type of things,” Curry said. “And hopefully for my kids’ generation, their kids, we will see change. I’m hopeful and optimistic about, but I understand how much work will need to go into that.”

The full list of athletes who participated in the “Race and Sports in America: Conversations” roundtables:

• Charles Barkley – 1992 and 1996 Olympic basketball champion
• James Blake – 10-time ATP tennis champion, 2008 Olympian
• Stephen Curry – two-time NBA MVP, two-time FIBA world champion
• Troy Mullins – World Long Drive competitor
• Anthony Lynn – Los Angeles Chargers head coach
• Jimmy Rollins – World Series champion shortstop
• Kyle Rudolph – Minnesota Vikings tight end
• Ozzie Smith – Major League Baseball Hall of Famer

Additionally, Hack was joined by Super Bowl champion running back Jerome Bettis for an extended interview that will be published on NBC Sports’ digital and podcast platforms.

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Why Charles Barkley elbowed an Angola player at the 1992 Olympics

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Charles Barkley was prophetic before the Dream Team’s first game at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.

“I don’t know anything about Angola,” he said in a press conference, “but Angola’s in trouble.”

Two Angolans in particular. In a 116-48 showcase, Barkley shoved one player and elbowed another, drawing a technical foul for the latter that ended a 31-point U.S. run.

The elbow drew particular criticism and headlines referring to Barkley, and to some extent drawing in the rest of the Dream Team, as an Ugly American. It was the first Olympic game with NBA superstars. Aside from the expected blowout, it was not the first impression Americans had hoped for.

“We all tried to talk to him and say, hey, we still want to be liked,” Michael Jordan told NBC afterward. “That’s one of those moves that wasn’t quite smart. Hopefully we can get past that mistake.”

They of course did, steamrolling to gold to spark a new era for Olympic basketball.

But Barkley’s gesture endured, highlighted in Dream Team documentaries on NBA TV and NBC in 2012. Barkley continued to claim that the Angolan, 24-year-old economics student Herlander Coimbra, elbowed him three times before the Round Mound of Rebound had enough.

“That team played dirty,” Barkley, who had a 75-pound edge over Coimbra, said in the NBC film. “I said hey, dude, if you do that any more, I’m going to clock you. So he did it a couple more times, and I clocked him.”

To Barkley’s credit, he obliged to take a picture with Coimbra after the game, according to The New York Times, which reported that Angola had three gymnasiums in the entire country.

Still, U.S. Olympic Committee officials briefly considered sending Barkley home, according to Jack McCallum‘s book, “Dream Team.” They let Barkley stay in Barcelona, where he mingled regularly along Las Ramblas.

Barkley went on to lead the Dream Team in scoring as part of the greatest year of his career. He was also traded from the flailing Philadelphia 76ers to the Phoenix Suns that summer, then went on to win NBA MVP and reach the Finals, where the Jordan Bulls stopped him in six games.

He was one of four Dream Teamers to return for the 1996 Atlanta Games, winning another gold medal that he’s now planning to sell.

“Other players in Angola play against Charles Barkley, and they told us there’s like a kid, a fat boy who is very aggressive in the paint,” Coimbra said in the 2012 NBA TV documentary. “I think he acted like a bully, but maybe it’s his personality.”

Angola, though it has zero Olympic medals in any sport, actually qualified for five straight Olympic men’s basketball tournaments in the 1990s and 2000s and won games in 1992 and 1996.

MORE: LeBron, Curry lead finalists for U.S. Olympic roster

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Charles Barkley plans to sell Olympic gold medal

Charles Barkley
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Charles Barkley said in multiple interviews that he will sell his 1996 Olympic gold medal among other memorabilia from his basketball career to help pay for 20 affordable houses he plans to build in his hometown of Leeds, Ala.

“I don’t think I have to walk around with my gold medal or my MVP trophy for people to know I’m Charles Barkley, so I’m going to sell all that crap,” Barkley said on the Dan Le Batard show last Thursday. “That just clutters my house. I used to keep it at my grandmother’s house, but they all passed away, and I don’t want that stuff crapping up my house.”

It looks like Barkley’s 1992 Olympic Dream Team gold medal will stay in the family, however. Barkley said his daughter wants to keep that one item.

“Because of how sentimental it is for the world,” he said in an Alabama radio interview Friday. “But all of that other stuff, man, is just an eyesore.”

Barkley said he was told his 1993 NBA MVP trophy could fetch at least $300,000 to $400,000 but didn’t give a specific estimate for the 1996 Olympic gold medal.

In 1992, Barkley led the Dream Team in scoring (18 points per game on 71 percent shooting) despite starting just half of the eight games. He also memorably elbowed an Angolan player in a 116-48 rout in the opener. The flagrant foul led to Angola hitting its one free throw during a 46-1 U.S. run.

“If he keeps this up, they’re going to throw him out of the Olympics,” Michael Jordan reportedly said after the game.

Barkley not only made it through Barcelona, but he also returned with four other Dream Teamers for the 1996 Atlanta Games. He averaged 12.4 points per game (on 82 percent shooting), playing seven of eight games, as the U.S. again went undefeated.

Barkley made another memory in Atlanta, throwing one of his shoes into the crowd.

Carmelo Anthony‘s 2004 Olympic bronze medal was reportedly auctioned in 2014 for $14,080.

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