The Wit and Wisdom of Charles Barkley: Part II

by Russ Bengtson

So I’m working on another post involving yet another Top 50 player right now, but in the meantime, I figure I’d post the second part of the Charles Barkley sessions (there will be a third part as well as to not overwhelm you all today). Part One is here.

To recap—a week ago Friday, Charles Barkley made an appearance at a West Philadelphia sneaker store, in part to talk about his series of Air Force Ones, but also to talk to a crows of high school kids and impart some of the wisdom he’s learned over his 40-something years.

Anyway, I taped the entire conversation he had with us national media types, and the transcript follows here. I put “SLAM” when it was a question I asked myself. This section deals mostly with sneaker stuff—for those of you too young to remember, Sir Charles had the second-hottest kicks in the universe in the ’80s and ’90s (behind only you-know-who).

Q: [Um, I missed it. But you can figure it out, probably.]
CB: The high schools are cool, the college are cool. Everybody talk about the NBA stuff, but man, I was really excited about my high school colors. The college stuff was a bonus, but man, I gotta tell ya I’m excited. Obviously everybody remembers the NBA stuff, but for them to do my high school was very cool and significant for me.

SLAM: What shoes did you wear in high school?
CB: Oh, I wore Nikes in high school. I wore the…I think they were…plain white leather with the black Nike Swoosh. I mean, I remember. And obviously growing up poor it was really weird, because my mom bought me one pair of shoes, they had to last the whole season. So my mom came in the locker room and got ‘em after every game. Cause they had to last. It’s an interesting thing. She said ‘you can wear ‘em as much as you want to once the season’s over,’ but they had to last me the whole season. So it’s really weird. They’re like ‘who’s knockin’ on the door?’ ‘It’s your mom, she wants your shoes.’ After every game, it was just a weird dynamic.

SLAM: So were you one of those guys who wore a new pair every game once you reached the NBA?
CB: No, I did not. I thought that was stupid.

I’ll bet he wouldn’t tell close friend and golfing partner Michael Jordan that (who famously did wear a fresh pair every game). Although I sort of knew the answer to whether he wore new pairs daily—I have a pair of Barkley’s game-worn shoes from his rookie year (thanks, eBay!) and them things are DOGGED.

Q: Did you have a favorite pair of all-time that you wore?
CB: I didn’t have a favorite pair because I had great trust in Nike. The only thing I told Nike when we were working on my shoes was that I wanted lightweight shoes. That’s the only thing I wanted. Then obviously the colors come into play depending on what team you play for. But number-one criteria I had was a lightweight shoe.

SLAM: But they could only be so light for you, or else you were gonna tear ‘em up. If they were too light.
CB: Well, I mean, if I wanted shoes that were gonna tear up, I woulda got a pair of the Marburys. [Laughter] No, I got great trust—like I said, I give Steph a hard time, I like Steph, I think he’s doing some great stuff. But I think it’s really weird, it’s really unfair, the way he try to like talk about he wants to own and not be owned. Cause first of all, there’s always been cheaper shoes. Now he want to act like he’s doing the soulful thing. There’s always been shoes that have been cheaper than Nikes. I mean, just don’t act like your doing this all out of the goodness of your heart. Just say you’re trying to get a marketing tool.

Man, I thought that was a good question, too. Barkley’s shoes were basically football shoes with basketball bottoms. I don’t remember any of them being THAT light.

Q: Charles, could you talk about the first time you saw someone wearing your shoes?

CB: I think it’s one of the great joys of life when you see somebody wearing your shoes, or you see a college team wearing your shoes—I tell you what one of the highlights of my life was, when I saw an NBA player wearing my shoes. I mean, that was really one of the highlights of the whole shoe thing. And let me tell ya something, I’m not just gonna blow smoke up Nike’s ass. Not that that wouldn’t be fine. Nike is probably the greatest thing that ever happened to sneakers. Nike made it cool to wear sneakers. I’m not just saying that because I’m with Nike. Shoes were not anything until Nike—and I gotta give Michael Jordan all the credit, love and respect that he deserves—Michael Jordan and Nike made sneakers cool.

Q: How did you feel when Nike came to you with this project, to have all your teams represented.
CB: Well, it was great for me. It was great for me. Like I said, I was most excited about my high school, college was a bonus, and I love seeing my old NBA stuff. But it’s just great for me.

Q: You’ve been a competitor all your life. On the court, when it came to your shoes, did you ever see another signature shoe that Nike did and say ‘I want a shoe like that.’
CB: The only player that I ever saw—they tried some with Scottie Pippen, David Robinson, all those guys—everybody wanted Michael Jordan’s shoes. I told you, Michael Jordan made it cool…[laughs] Michael Jordan is the only person in the history of sports, or let’s say the NBA, where everyone says ‘I gotta have some of those.’ Like LeBron’s a great player, I don’t know how his shoes are sellin’. Even Allen Iverson’s had great shoes, Kobe’s had shoes, but Michael Jordan is the only guy where everybody says I gotta have some of those.

Q: Do you own some?
CB: Oh yeah. I wore ‘em several times. And then I wear some of his stuff off the court. But Michael Jordan and Nike they gotta get the credit they deserve. They made it cool to wear sneakers.

There’s a shot I remember from SLAM with Charles (as a Rocket) wearing Air Jordan XIIs and dunking all over some poor Laker. We ran it a number of times.

Q: How much input did you have on the design of your shoes?
CB: I had a lot of input in the design. I flew out to Beaverton several times, and I appreciated that. It made me feel good. Because, and like I say, I wanted my shoes to look cool, too. That was important. And obviously Jordan, he was the man, but the myth was big guys couldn’t sell shoes. And I’m, pretty confident saying mine was one of the top sellers, and probably the second top seller at Nike when I played. I’m pretty confident saying that. But they was just like ‘big guys can’t sell shoes.’

It’s worth noting here the problem was that CENTERS couldn’t sell shoes. Patrick Ewing’s adidas did fairly well, as did Kareem’s, and David Robinson sold his fair share of Nikes. But for the most part, seven-footers weren’t doing Jordan (or even Penny) numbers. But Charles, as big has he played, was maybe 6-4. Kids definitely identified with him.

Q: Well, historically they can’t.
CB: I can’t worry ’bout them. I think we can.
SLAM: Did you and Mike give each other a hard time about that stuff?
CB: No, no, no. No, no, no. That was fine for me to make a couple spots with him, but like I say, man, Michael Jordan made sneakers cool. Until he came along—Magic and Bird tried to do their thing for Converse, and nobody said “I gotta have those.” Much as I respect those guys. But Michael, it was like an event every time his shoes came out. And I know how Nike used to, like, at the All-Star game, break ‘em out. And all the players in the locker room was like, ‘shit, what are they gonna look like?’ And it was like—I think that was the perfect way Nike did it, break ‘em out every year at the All-Star Game. But you had Hall of Famers and All-Stars—you know, Nike did the game. They kept ‘em locked up until Michael put ‘em on, and people were like, ‘wow.’ Now that was great marketing, but it was like, ‘those are cool.’

Part III, which I’ll post tomorrow or the next day, is where Charles gets serious. Very serious. It’ll be worth the wait.