Charles Barkley: NBA Pre-Bird and Magic Era Plagued by 'Thugs and Druggies'

Barkley Reflects on NBA's Evolution and Player Attitudes.

by Nouman Rasool
Charles Barkley: NBA Pre-Bird and Magic Era Plagued by 'Thugs and Druggies'
© Christian Petersen/Getty Images

In a candid discussion on the "Stephen A. Smith Show," NBA Hall of Famer Charles Barkley expressed his desire for modern NBA players to recognize the pivotal roles Magic Johnson and Larry Bird played in transforming the league.

Barkley, known for his straightforward opinions, emphasized the duo's impact, crediting them with rescuing the NBA from a tumultuous era and setting the stage for the lucrative salaries players enjoy today. Reflecting on the state of the NBA prior to Johnson and Bird's arrival, Barkley remarked, "The NBA was too black, a bunch of thugs, a bunch of druggies." He noted that their influence was instrumental in revitalizing the league's image and popularity.

"Every time I see Magic and Bird, I say thank you, man," Barkley said, acknowledging the significant increase in players' earnings since his entry into the NBA in 1985, when the average salary was around $250,000.

Barkley Critiques Player Motives

Barkley, who has consistently praised Johnson and Bird's contributions, expressed concern that today's players are more focused on financial gains than on their passion for the game.

He believes that Johnson and Bird's genuine love for basketball was a key factor in elevating the NBA. This perspective forms the basis of Barkley's critique of current players, whom he perceives as taking for granted the opportunities afforded by the legends' hard work.

Highlighting a shift in priorities, Barkley lamented that some players today seem more interested in managing their careers for financial longevity rather than showcasing their full potential on the court. "These guys are so lucky and blessed," he said, questioning whether the same level of dedication to greatness exists among some of the modern players.

Barkley also touched upon the issue of 'load management,' a strategy employed by players to prolong their careers and maximize earning potential. He criticized this approach, suggesting it undermines the legacy of Johnson and Bird, who, in his view, played with an unyielding commitment to excellence.

Concluding his remarks, Barkley acknowledged that not all players fall into this category. He recognized that there are still superstars in the NBA who aspire to achieve greatness and elevate the sport, just as Johnson and Bird did.

Barkley expressed his hope to see more players emulate this mindset, thereby continuing the legacy of two icons who forever changed the face of the NBA.

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