UMass Boston's independent, student-run newspaper

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

A Message to ‘Sir’ Charles Barkley

Dear Sir Charles Barkley,

Before I get into the business of your criticism over Isaiah Thomas’ willingness to play in the NBA playoffs despite the loss of a loved one, I want to say that I consider you an awesome figurehead in TNT’s NBA coverage. You help make it, in my opinion, the most enjoyable content in any sport on US television. You have transitioned seamlessly from your days as a Hall of Fame power forward to your days as one of the most popular sports analyst today, and for that I commend you.

But that being said, it’s time I tell you what I think of your opinion on Thomas’ current emotional state, which I find terrible.

For those reading, Thomas played with his Boston Celtics team when they opened their playoff campaign, just one day after the death of his sister Chyna Thomas following a car crash in Washington State. Thomas could be seen tearing up, and for good reason, given the devastating news he received just the day before.

Of course, he didn’t have to play, and I wouldn’t have had any problem with that at all given those circumstances. But he chose to play for his team against the Chicago Bulls. Most people showed support for him, myself included. Barkley, however, would show himself to be one of the exceptions. Despite Thomas’ 33 points in the Celtics 106-102 Game One loss at TD Garden, Barkley wasn’t a fan. On the NBA Tip-Of pregame show the night after the game, he stated, “I’m not feeling comfortable with him sitting on the sideline crying like that.”

“That’s just not a good look for him, in my personal opinion,” Barkley went on to add.

Why don’t you say that to Pete Sampras, Barkley? He broke down during a 1995 Australian Open tennis match, after a fan yelled for him to win it for his coach Tim Gullikson, who had collapsed and was hospitalized from a heart problem just the week before. How about Dan Jansen and Joannie Rochette, as well? Both Winter Olympians lost family members before they took part in their respective competitions. Jansen lost his sister Jane Jansen to leukemia in 1988. Rochette lost her mother Therese Rochette to a heart attack in 2010.

Oh, and you shouldn’t forget about your former TNT colleague and current Golden State boss Steve Kerr. Four years after his father Malcolm Kerr was murdered by Islamic Jihad terrorists in Beirut, Kerr couldn’t fight away tears as fans of rival Arizona State chanted “PLO” and “Your father’s history” during a 1988 basketball game.

I would think your statement would set up a war of words with him on that note. To be fair, though, he did add that playing through grief can be therapeutic, citing Brett Favre’s performance in a 2003 Monday Night Football game just a day after his father’s death, as an example. Favre threw for 399 yards and four touchdowns.

Most of the athletes I cited still managed to come through despite the circumstances. While Jansen missed out on winning any medals at the 1988 Winter Games after crashing out of both of his events (though he would eventually win a gold medal six years later in Lillehammer), Rochette turned in an inspiring performance in the ladies’ figure skating competition en route to a bronze medal at the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver. Sampras, after being offered a chance to finish their match the next day by Jim Courier before declining, won in five sets, only breaking down in the last set. Kerr made all six of his three-point shots, finishing with 22 points in the 101-73 win for his Wildcats, who wound up making it into the Final Four in 1988.

So what to think about all of this? Barkley, it’s one thing to think of how uncomfortable it is to see people you know cry in public, or to give think about their mental state and criticize their ability to play. But in the end, we need to empathetic for these individuals, no matter how their performance is affected by these sorts of tragedies.
So far, Thomas has scored 33 and 20 points in the Celtics two playoff games, which were both losses to the Bulls. So while the Celtics have struggled, he is not the problem. Or at the very least, he is not entirely responsible. He’s had an awesome year, and he has my support no matter where this series will end up. And he deserves that.