Charles Barkley was on the long list of basketball prospects catapulted to fame and fortune upon entering the NBA. Almost all of them will tell you the same thing about money: it changes everyone around you. Suddenly, everyone becomes a relative and close friend.
The difference between others and Chuck is that he is more honest. Unlike the rest, Barkley isn't ashamed of sharing his experience with failing to manage his finances. In his 2002 book "I May Be Wrong But I Doubt It" (edited and with an introduction by Michael Wilson), the Hall of Famer thoroughly explained what it is like being a wealthy African-American in a predominantly white world.
"It’s the strangest damned thing. It’s weird being rich and black because you’re caught between two worlds. Being rich really puts you in a predominantly white world. Overwhelmingly, everybody you work with outside of sports is white. But you don’t just stop liking things about the life you’ve lived, your old friends and your boys. You’ve outgrown most of them, really, but you really want to maintain relationships. And they want to borrow money and you do it. You say yes and it’s almost like buying friendship to stay in good with ’em. And then they turn on you, too. If you say no, it’s like, 'You’re not going to give me any more money?"
Barkley is speaking from his own experience. But it is safe to say that he's also speaking on behalf of all NBA players, both past and present. We've all seen prospects, upon being drafted, burst into tears while hugging their loved ones. It does not matter if they were picked first or last. Making it to the NBA is their lifelong dream. Not only do they get to play ball at the highest level, but they also earn a ton of money that could set their families up for life.
We have also heard stories of players spending their first paycheck on cars, houses, and other niceties. These are all acceptable as they serve as a reward for all their hard work. On the flip side, there's a large number of retired players going broke because they failed to manage their finances well during their playing days.
Sound advice from Doctor J and Moses
Barkley was not immune to almost burning through his bank. Like any other young guy strapped with cash, Barkley wanted the best cars. Note: he did not crave one or two of the fattest whips. He bought six. Fortunately, two basketball legends noticed his spending habits and gave him sound advice. None other than Julius Erving and Moses Malone — his teammates in his first few years in the league — got into his ear and told him the truth.
"But when I first got to the pros, I bought something like six cars," Barkley wrote. "And Doc and Moses made me sell ’em. They told me, 'Look, man, you can only drive one car. What the hell are you doing with six? If you drive one car, sell the other five and invest that money wisely and just let the damn money grow, that will become enough money to buy twenty cars in five to ten years.' Something else they told me that was very important, and I’m glad they didn’t just sit back and tell me what I wanted to hear. They told me, “You don’t have to drive a lot of flashy, expensive cars, spend a lot of money on jewelry to get attention. Stop trying to impress people; everybody already knows who the hell you are."
We can definitely say that Barkley has one of the most interesting lives among all NBA players. He has literally seen everything on and off the court. Barkley played in the toughest eras and rubbed elbows with some of the greats. He is also had his fair share of trouble off the court. And we're fortunate that Chuck is willing to share these stories and the fresh wisdom that comes with them.