Charles Barkley was one of the most iconic figures in the NBA during the 1990s. He, along with Michael Jordan, and Hakeem Olajuwon were considered the three biggest and most valuable superstars in the league. Because of his excellence and presence in the spotlight, Chuck became a revered figure for fans.
Much like how people wanted to 'be like Mike', people also wanted to be like Chuck. The way he played on the court made many young fans want to replicate his abilities and performances on the court. But it was his off-the-court activities that Barkley didn't want to be replicated.
In 1993, following arguably the best season of his career, Charles Barkley and Nike put out a commercial that has now become legendary. In the commercial, Barkley iconically claimed 'I am not a role model... Parents should be role models. Just because I dunk a basketball, doesn't mean I should raise your kids.'
And in a recent interview with Kevin Durant, Barkley explained why he wanted to make that commercial. While talking to KD and his cohost Eddie Gonzales on the ETCs podcast, Barkley explained that he approached Nike to make that commercial after his experience at talking to several schools (26:30 mark).
Barkley explained that many schools in America, then and to this day, were segregated. And when he asked the children in those schools whether they wanted to be athletes, he got shockingly different answers. Students at black schools all wanted to be athletes, whereas only 10% of the kids at white schools wanted to be athletes.
“The ‘role model’ thing was really a cool thing for me. So I go to Nike and said ‘I want to make this commercial’. They’re like ‘are you out of your f*cking mind?’. I say no, I want to make this commercial. They’re like ‘why do you want to make that commercial. I said that I’m noticing something when I go speak at schools. And you know, unfortunately, we still have a lot of segregated schools. And I’m noticing this thing when I go to these predominantly black schools, these kids don’t think they can do anything but play sports. Because I always do this unscientific thing, where I’m like ‘how many of y’all want to play sports?’. At the black schools, all of them raised their hands. These kids are brainwashed, and I’m talking about years and years of going and speaking at schools. But when I would go to a predominantly white school, only about 10% would raise their hand… I want to be a doctor, I want to be a lawyer… I’m really concerned that black kids don’t think they can do anything other than be entertainers and play sports. And Nike said ‘this is very risky, Chuck’. I said I can take the heat, but Nike to their credit came back to me later and say that’s one of the best things we ever did and 90% of the letters they got were positive. Because I always joke to my friends, I’m the only person in the world that ever got in trouble for telling kids to listen to their parents.”
Barkley stated that he approached Nike, with the idea that he wanted to make sure he and many other NBA players would not become a standard or a blueprint for young, black kids. And while Nike was hesitant, they agreed, and it received a lot of positive feedback, while still getting Barkley in trouble for a positive message.
Along with this subject, Chuck also touched on possibly retiring from 'Inside The NBA' on TNT, stating that he does not want to die while still working.
Barkley's commercial with Nike is considered one of the most iconic of his era. It was a bold statement made, that paved the way for several players in the NBA today to be themselves and not have to conform to a blueprint from society on how to be a proper role model.