Kenny Smith, the former NBA player and affable co-host of TNT's "Inside the NBA," is calling out his colleague Charles Barkley for his recent remarks about the grand jury decision not to indict Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Michael Brown.
In a genial open letter posted exclusively on For the Win, Smith opens by lavishing Barkley with praise, calling him the "greatest power forward of all time." But Smith then he goes on to say, "The body of work that our Black Civil Rights leaders put in by planning, executing and activating does not justify you being in the conversation. While your body of work on the [basketball] court very few compare to nor should be mentioned when you are giving your expert analysis. Again, I respect that you have an opinion on Ferguson. And here’s mine."
Smith writes: "The question must be asked: Why is there so much distrust in the police and the legal system from the African American community? Without manifesting what the effects of slavery still have today, Dec 1st still marks only 59 years since Rosa Parks sat on that memorable bus. Many of our parents and grandparents have lived through those times and have passed those stories on to all of us. Those civil rights changes were at one time the law! They were not illegal. So did the protection of the law by the courts and police make it right? Obviously not, so as African-Americans we still know and feel that there are laws and jurisdictions that severely penalize the poor and, most importantly, African-Americans greater than any other group. Some laws were initially made without us as equals in mind; that’s just the facts. So the thought process that it’s not for us or by us will unfortunately lead to distrust."
The open letter stands in stark contrast to controversial remarks Barkley made in the aftermath of the St. Louis County grand jury decision in the death of Brown. The NBA Hall of Famer not only called looters "scumbags" during an interview on Philadelphia’s 97.5 Fanatic radio station, and he argued that the decision not to indict WIlson was fair because the evidence supported that conclusion.
“We have to be really careful with the cops, man, because if it wasn’t for the cops, we would be living in the wild, Wild West in our neighborhoods,” Barkley said. “We can’t pick out certain incidentals that don’t go our way and act like the cops are all bad.”
Barkley, who has been outspoken on contentious issues in the past, went on to say that the media was over-hyping the Michael Brown story and overlooking the phenomenon on black-on-black crime. “They don’t jump to conclusions when black people kill each other,” he said.
Smith offered this counterpoint to Barkley's characterization of looters: "Here’s an analogy: If you put 100 people on an island with no food, no water, no hope of a ship coming, then some will overcome it and be resourceful, some will live in it, others will panic and others will show horrific character, which is wrong. But not to understand that all alternatives are possible is wrong as well. I was also disheartened to see the reaction of burning buildings and looters by some. However, when you are in 'The Struggle' to not expect that that potential reaction is foolish on our part."
As for Barkley's remarks on race, Smith said, "Mike Brown wasn’t about race relations, nor Trayvon Martin or even Hurricane Katrina for that matter. It’s about trust."
Smith and Barkley will be on air together again Thursday, so NBA fans may be treated to an unlikely political debate amid the usual jocular joking.