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Hall of Fame basketball player Charles Barkley earns his pay by expressing an opinion. He seldom disappoints, as demonstrated by his offering a strong take before the NBA restart at Disney World even tipped off.

The NBA restart is off and running

After the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the NBA season 20 weeks ago, the league came back strong Thursday as the Utah Jazz defeated the New Orleans Pelicans, 106-104. Before the opening tip, every player, coach, and official kneeled during the rendition of the national anthem performed remotely by Jean-Baptiste.

The show of unity was an offshoot of the Black Lives Movement and in reaction to highly publicized killings of Black citizens, most notably George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer on May 25.

Once the anthem performance was complete, the TNT broadcast switched back to its studio team to wrap up the pregame, at which point Charles Barkley made the first newsworthy statement of the restart.

Charles Barkley goes against the tide

There’s an old joke about life in the military that goes something like this: Individuality is fine as long as we all do it together. Hall of Fame basketball player Charles Barkley, a longtime NBA analyst for TNT, doesn’t buy it.

Reacting to the unity shown by everyone on the court during the national anthem before the game between the Utah Jazz and New Orleans Pelicans, Barkley said he would be OK with anyone who chose not to kneel.

“The thing is, the national anthem means different things to different people,” Barkley said. “I’m glad these guys are all unified, but if people don’t kneel, they’re not a bad person. I want to make that perfectly clear. I’m glad they had unity, but if we have a guy that doesn’t want to kneel or the anthem means something to him, he should not be vilified.”

The pregame display by the Jazz and Pelicans players was matched by athletes from the Los Angeles Clippers and Los Angeles Lakers before the second game of the doubleheader that resumed a season interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic in March.

Additionally, many players wore Black Lives Matter shirts during warmups and displayed social justice messages on their jerseys. The league and its players’ union agreed ahead of time on a variety of approved messages.

Charles Barkley was in fine form


Charles Barkley: The Social Justice ‘Circus’ Has to Stop

Hate Charles Barkley for his opinions if you must, but his speech is protected by the same First Amendment that protects his detractors. What cannot be denied is that Barkley is a first-ballot hall-of-famer when it comes to delivering zingers, most recently aimed at Golden State Warriors player Draymond Green.

He showed midseason form on the pre-game show from TNT’s Atlanta studio alongside Ernie Johnson, Kenny Smith, and Shaquille O’Neal. Inside the NBA opened with a much larger desk than usual in the interest of social distancing, but without O’Neal on hand.

Johnson revealed that O’Neal would be late because he was stuck in traffic. He made his way onto the set about 10 minutes into the telecast.

“Hey! Way to show up, big fella,” Barkley said in greeting O’Neal. “Don’t try to sneak in here.”

O’Neal did chime in on the subject of anthem protests.

“That was beautifully done. Done in unity. Nice to see,” he said. “Again, when you have your platform, I think it’s very important that you speak up, very important that you speak your mind.”