In a crazy special election in which a Democrat won a Senate seat in Alabama for the first time in a quarter-century, Charles Barkley’s serving as a political analyst on CNN seemed downright normal.
Barkley, an NBA Hall of Famer and Alabama native, gave an impassioned speech at a rally for Democratic Senate candidate Doug Jones, calling on voters to to “stop looking like idiots to the nation” and not cast ballots for Roy Moore, Jones’ embattled Republican opponent.
After news outlets called the race for Jones, a jubilant Barkley told CNN’s Jake Tapper that Tuesday was a great night for Alabama, which he said had “been stuck in a time warp for a long time.”
“I’m so proud of my state. I love my state. We got some amazing people here,” the former 76er said. “Yeah, we got a bunch of rednecks and a bunch of ignorant people, but we got some amazing people here and they rose up today.”
Jones’s unlikely victory was due in part to a high turnout of African-American voters, something the senator-elect acknowledged in his victory speech. According to exit polls analyzed by the Washington Post, 96 percent of black voters cast their ballots for Jones, and 98 percent of black women and 93 percent of black men said they believed the multiple accusations of sexual misconduct made against Moore.
Barkley said the turnout — unofficially at about 40 percent overall — made him “proud of my state.” He also called the results a “wake-up call” to Democrats who have taken the support of black and poor voters for granted.
“They’ve taken the black vote and the poor vote for granted for a long time,” Barkley said. “They’ve always had our votes, and they’ve abused our votes, and this is a wake-up call. We’re in a great position now, but this is a wake-up call for Democrats to do better for black people and poor white people.”
After a Hall of Fame career that spanned 16 seasons with the Philadelphia 76ers, Phoenix Suns and Houston Rockets, Barkley has become one of the most popular basketball voices in the country. He’s been an NBA and NCAA analyst for TNT for 18 years.
Over that time, Barkley hasn’t been shy about weighing in on politics. A former conservative, Barkley considered himself a Republican until he became dismayed with George W. Bush’s administration, telling World Golf in 2006, “I was a Republican – until they lost their minds.”
In 2008, Barkley announced on CNN that he would run for governor of Alabama as an Independent, but couldn’t run until 2014 because of residency requirements. But by 2009, he had backed off that idea, telling Jay Leno that “politics have become a scumbag business.”
Over the years, Barkley has supported candidates from both parties. He was an early supporter of Barack Obama, endorsing the Democrat for president in 2007. In 2016, he backed John Kasich in the Republican presidential primary.
Barkley benefits from working for TNT, where a deal he signed in 2015 (after downing two bottles of wine and two bottles of tequila with Turner Broadcasting System president David Levy) includes occasional opportunities to appear on CNN to discuss issues beyond sports, according to Sports Illustrated’s Richard Deitsch. Barkley and his Inside the NBA co-hosts also frequently talk politics on that show. He wouldn’t have the same amount of freedom over at ESPN, which says its analysts should “refrain from overt partisanship or endorsement of particular candidates, politicians or political parties.”
So, has the Alabama Senate race reignited Barkley’s desire to run for office in his home state?
“No,” he told BuzzFeed’s Alexis Levinson on Tuesday night. “They can’t afford me.”
Here’s what some journalists and political pundits had to say about Barkley’s role in Tuesday’s special election.
Tonight was a big win for the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination in 2020, Charles Barkley
— Ben Jacobs (@Bencjacobs) December 13, 2017
Charles Barkley obviously chose to get involved in the Alabama Senate race. Just curious, was Nick Saban ever asked his thoughts? Doesn't appear he was ever asked, but wanted to be sure I wasn't overlooking something.
— Jemele Hill (@jemelehill) December 13, 2017
Seriously though, Democrats need to make #CharlesBarkley Chair of the DNC.
— Ana Navarro (@ananavarro) December 13, 2017
Charles Barkley is 1-0 against Steve Bannon in special elections
— David Wright (@DavidWright_CNN) December 13, 2017
Written a bunch of political critiques of Charles Barkley over the years, but he has consistently spoken about class and poverty. Tonight is no exception. https://t.co/xO5LAXLUcZ
— Dave Zirin (@EdgeofSports) December 13, 2017
That point where you’re shocked to find yourself nodding along with Charles Barkley’s commentary.
— jelani cobb (@jelani9) December 13, 2017
This is the biggest victory for Charles Barkley since the Toon Squad. pic.twitter.com/MeCs2ffcBG
— John Asbury (@johnasbury) December 13, 2017
Friend texts: "Charles Barkley finally won a championship."
— Chris Hayes (@chrislhayes) December 13, 2017