Phoenix Suns forward Charles Barkley and the National Basketball Association on Sunday downplayed an apparent off-hand racial remark Barkley made at the end of a testy television interview Saturday.
“That’s why I hate white people,” Barkley was heard saying.
Before Sunday afternoon’s NBA AllStar Game, Barkley said he meant the remark as a joking aside to Barry Bloom, a reporter standing nearby with whom he is friendly. Bloom, of the San Diego Union, is white.
“We were joking around,” Barkley said before the game. “That was it. I’m not going to let it affect today. I’m going to go out there and have fun.”
He called the controversy “typical journalism” and said, “People are trying to create controversy where there is none.”
NBA Commissioner David Stern said he was “more embarrassed by the reaction to this than by what Charles said.
“This is much ado about nothing. It’s all part of Charles’ routine - if you’re with him in private or when he’s being roasted or if he’s on his stage with reporters.”
When asked if Barkley should be held to the same standards as politicians such as House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas, who recently apologized after his reference to Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., sounded like “Barney Fag” during an interview, Stern said, “It depends. I think in this case Charles was doing his routine and that’s part comedian - the same as Billy Crystal or Bill Cosby.”
Barkley made the remark during a large informal news conference on the court of the Phoenix Civic Center, where he was to join the NBA’s Western Conference allstars in a practice.
Dozens of reporters surrounded Barkley, and a television reporter, who could not be identified, asked about “groupies,” the name for women who hang around athletes. Barkley began to answer the question seriously, saying that “rich, good-looking athletes” have “women who want to be with them.”
However, the more he discussed the matter the more upset he became and eventually cut off the interview, telling the reporter to “get a life.”
As he began to walk away, he turned to Bloom and said: “That’s why I hate white people.”
No time to sulk
The so-called Generation X of young basketball players might have been upset. Not Karl Malone and John Stockton.
The two Utah Jazz veterans and coMVPs of the 1993 All-Star Game waited until 7:43 of the second quarter before West coach Paul Westphal put them into the game.
Malone and Stockton, however, were not about to sulk. They continued a rally in which the West turned a 3-point lead into a 63-43 advantage in the second quarter. The East never recovered from the onslaught, and the West rolled to a 139-112 victory.
“I really didn’t mind sitting there,” said Malone, who scored 13 points on 5-for-5 shooting in the last 6:09 of the second half. “There are a lot of good players here. We all know where we are. The most important thing is not to get injured and don’t do anything silly to get injured.”
Malone finished with 15 points on 6-for6 shooting, but played just 16 minutes.
Stockton, who recently became the NBA’s career assists leader, had four points and six assists in just 14 minutes.
“Karl’s a great player and he’s going to play well with anybody, not just me,” Stockton said.
IRS probes referees
The three officials who worked the AllStar Game reportedly are among at least 35 NBA referees under IRS investigation for an alleged scheme involving millions of dollars in phony travel expenses.
The Sunday Oregonian reported the IRS is looking at allegations that referees swapped first-class airline tickets for cash and overreported travel expenses to the league for reimbursement, avoiding payment of income taxes on the difference.
Some of the referees may have pocketed $100,000 or more during the five years ending with the 1993-94 season, the Portland newspaper reported.
NBA officials refused to discuss the report Sunday and officials of the referees’ union could not be reached for comment.