Charles Barkley’s Ties to Jewish Community Strong to This Day

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Charles Barkley says he’d never met a Jew until he arrived in Philadelphia in 1984, a naive 21-year-old out of Leeds, Ala., who’d just been drafted by the Sixers. 

Charles Barkley says he’d never met a Jew until he arrived in Philadelphia in 1984, a naive 21-year-old out of Leeds, Ala., who’d just been drafted by the Sixers.
Little did he know the impact the Jewish community would have on his life.
That’s why he was so eager to express his gratitude before a packed house at the Katz JCC sixth annual Sports Awards dinner Sept. 26 in Cherry Hill.
“I never heard the term ‘Jewish’ until I got here,” said Barkley, who was his usual no-holds-barred self on a variety of topics ranging from players like Colin Kaepernick kneeling during the national anthem, to his job as NBA analyst on TNT, to the political climate. “They weren’t in the ‘hood.’
“When I came here in 1984, I moved into a completely Jewish place, and they were the most amazing people. It meant a lot to me. I didn’t know anything, like how to get a meal. So I want to thank you for taking a 21-year-old kid under your wing.
“You taught me a lot about life. You treated me with great respect. You helped me grow as a man. You’ve treated me fantastic over 30 years. That’s one of the reasons I feel a great sense of pride when I speak to Jewish people.”
The 53-year-old Barkley did more than address the crowd.
He signed autographs. He posed for pictures, both with kids and later for sponsors. And he agreed to contribute three signed Sixers jerseys along with a private TNT studio tour in Atlanta capped by dinner for two with Sir Charles. That raised more than $13,000 to go toward sports, fitness and wellness services for children of all ages and abilities.
And he told the crowd how much he admired some of their fundamental beliefs, which he’ll try to impress upon his “black friends.”
“I admire your respect and dignity for yourselves and family,” said Barkley, who started off by expressing his appreciation to the kitchen staff and congratulated each award winner by name. “That’s one thing I’ve said as a black person.
“We need to treat each other with more respect. Help each other become more successful. Nurture each other.”
And he asked everyone to give back to the community, which is what he urges for any athlete dissatisfied with the system.
“They have a right to protest,” said the Hall of Famer, who’s just one of six players to amass 20,000 points, 10,000 rebounds and 4,000 assists. “That’s the great thing about this country.
“My concern is with what they’re going to do next. You can’t just protest. You have to give money, time and effort to the black community. Kneeling or holding up a fist, that’s a statement, but there’s something that comes after that. So I challenge all those guys.”
And while his one-time ambition of being governor of Alabama has been tabled, he remains concerned for the country.
“I feel bad for the American people, because the politicians are supposed to take care of us,” Barkley said. “I feel bad for the American people that these are the choices we have.
“This thing started a long time ago with Democrats and Republicans fighting like little girls. They argue on every little subject. There’s not a single person in the world I disagree with on every subject. That’s just silly.
“I want to make a difference. I’m doing lot of great stuff without being governor. That would’ve given me a bigger platform.”
Before Barkley stepped on the podium, awards were presented to Bruce Apple (People’s Choice), David Golkow (David Back Memorial Maccabi), Jake Silpe (Emerging Leader) and Sam Jacobs (Lifetime Achievement).
For Silpe, the University of Pennsylvania sophomore point guard, who averaged 5 points and 3.2 assists, it was particularly meaningful, since his best friend, Alex Cohen, is the only previous recipient.
“Alex showed me how to become a leader, and I’ve had great leaders in my life,” Silpe said. “They’ve showed me how to lead on and off the court.”
Barkley has become a leader as well — and someone who’s not afraid to tell the truth.
“I take my job very serious,” he said. “Television is a very powerful thing. People expect you to be honest.
“They don’t realize most of the guys on television are full of s—. But, they know me well enough to know I’ll always be honest and straightforward.”
That might be something else he picked up from all those years of hanging out with his Jewish neighbors.
“I’ve had an apartment, a house and now a condo, and I’ve been the only person who’s not Jewish in all three neighborhoods,” he said. “So I always laugh with my neighbors. I’m part of the family now. That’s one of the reasons I wanted to speak here tonight.”
And one of the reasons Barkley is a real mensch.
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