NBA

Why Charles Barkley Believes ESPN is Exploiting Bronny James

In the early 2000s, LeBron James burst onto the national stage as a high school athlete. Nearly 20 years later, his son Bronny is following the same path. While the younger James is still a teenager, he’s already nationally know, playing in front of thousands of fans, and appearing on ESPN. Charles Barkley, however, doesn’t like what’s going on.

While it might sound like Sir Charles is simply hating on young players, that’s not the case. The former forward actually takes issue with ESPN, not the athletes.

Bronny James’ rise to prominence

Thanks to college sports, it’s normal for athletes to start garnering national attention towards the end of their time in high school. Bronny James, however, has accelerated the process.

Although he’s only 15 years old, James has already garnered a great deal of national attention. The teenager has been shining on the AAU circuit for years, and his highlights have been making the rounds online since at least 2014. Since starting high school, however, Bronny’s hype has reached new levels.

Although Bronny might not be filling up the box score just yet, he’s already impressing scouts. Eric Bossi of Rivals.com praised the teenager’s poise and physical tools;  ESPN’s Paul Biancardi highlighted Bronny’s jump shot. Magic Johnson even joined in on the act, telling TMZ Sports that the young guard has a chance to surpass LeBron one day.

Understandably, ESPN has tapped into the hype and started airing Sierra Canyon High School’s games nation-wide. With Bronny, Zaire Wade, and two additional five-star recruits on the roster, the team was tapped to appear on the network 15 times this year.

Charles Barkley issues with televising Bronny James’ games

Charles Barkley is never shy about voicing his opinion; on Monday, that opinion was about Bronny James. While it’s easy to think of former players as curmudgeonly old men complaining about ‘kids these days,’ Barkley’s point focused on profits, rather than a change in culture.

During the NBA on TNT halftime show, a clip of LeBron watching his son’s game was shown. That prompted Sir Charles to question the ethics of airing high school games on television.

“We always talk about college players being exploited,” he said. “This is the ultimate exploitation. … What is the financial incentive other than the network making money on these high school kids? We always complain about these college teams making all this money. … You’re making money on college kids. Now you’re making money on high school kids.”

Is Charles Barkley right about televising high school basketball?

On Monday, the NBA on TNT panel showed both stances on the issue. Charles Barkley and Kenny Smith raised questions about profiting from amateur athletes playing high school basketball. Shaquille O’Neal, on the other side of the aisle, saw nothing wrong with televising a game between two schools with elite talent on their rosters; if fans want to see promising young prospects, someone has to air the game.

Whether you agree with Sir Charles or side with Shaq, Ernie Johnson raised an equally valuable point: if nothing else, putting teenagers on ESPN 15 times places them under an incredible amount of pressure. Independent of the financial aspects, that’s not the healthiest situation for amateurs who are supposed to be developing as players and people. It’s one thing for highly paid professionals to be under intense scrutiny, but high school basketball is a bit different.

Unfortunately, there’s no easy solution to the issues around amateur athletics. Charles Barkley, though, has reminded us that we should at least consider how our love of sports affects the world at large.