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Volume 20 No. 42
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17 years after Nike ad, Barkley keeps up the fight

not a role model
Barkley calls the “role model” ad the most important thing he’s ever done.
Charles Barkley is quick to name his favorite ad. It’s the stark, black-and-white Nike Wieden & Kennedy spot from 1993 in which he answered, “I am not a role model. … Just because I can dunk a basketball doesn’t mean I should raise your kids.’’

More than 17 years later, Barkley calls the ad, recently reprised as part of a Le-Bron James Nike spot, the most important thing he’s ever done.

“This business is very corrupt,” he said. “We’re screwing these kids. We’re making billions of dollars on them, and it’s getting worse. When I did that commercial, I wanted kids to know that they are making these people a lot of money, so make sure to get an education and don’t let the system use you. It used to be bad, now it’s horrible.”

Barkley says he does commercials to establish a position in the bully pulpit, and once he gets going, it’s like trying to outrebound the man who was once the king of the box-out.

“They don’t care about these kids graduating, that’s why I made the role-model commercial,” he said. “These kids have to get an education, the 95 percent that aren’t going to play pro sports. The dirty little secret is that a lot of the guys who are in school aren’t majoring in anything significant that you can make a career out of.”

He continues rolling. “We can’t keep making money off these kids and keep calling it amateur athletics. It’s not right, but I know paying the players is very iffy. Who do you pay when coaches are making millions? I don’t know the answers, but I know it’s not right.”

— Terry Lefton