Charles Barkley, who gleefully and pointedly has never refused to speak up on any topic ever, used his “Saturday Night Live” monologue to address Laura Ingraham’s recent admonition to LeBron James to “shut up and dribble” rather than talk about societal problems.
Barkley isn’t buying the command to stick to sports, and he told sports stars as much while offered a few gentle digs at James’s game and hairline.
“I’m an athlete and athletes have been speaking a lot this year,” he said. “They’ve been kneeling during the anthem, refusing to go to the White House. A lot of times athletes are worried that speaking out will hurt their career. Here’s something that contradicts all of that: me.
“I’ve been saying whatever the hell I want for 30 years and I’m doing great. I’m hosting ‘SNL’ for the fourth time for no reason. Other than Lorne Michaels just wanted someone to talk to about ‘Black Panther’. But this country has a great tradition of athletes speaking their minds. Muhammad Ali changed the way people thought about Vietnam. Jim Brown had people thinking about race. Michael Jordan even thought it was okay for him to play with Looney Tunes.”
The TNT broadcaster managed to skewer James even as he urged him to keep speaking up, saying that dribbling is only one of four things he does well. The others? “Shooting, passing and magically making his hairline come back.”
As for the secret of his own success, that came “because I have a great work ethic, I’m responsible and because when I was born I was three feet tall and weighed 26 pounds.”
Barkley, who has considered a political career, offered a message that at its core was serious. “At the end of the day, athletes are the only ones speaking out in their communities,” he said. That’s something he did in December, campaigning against Roy Moore in Alabama and telling voters in his native state, “At some point, we’ve got to stop looking like idiots to the nation [for supporting Moore in his failed Senate bid]. I love Alabama, but we’ve got to draw a line in the sand. We’re not a bunch of damn idiots.”
His final message to James?
“Keep on dribbling and don’t ever shut up.”
Incidentally, Barkley never mentioned Ingraham’s name, referring to her as “this lady on Fox News.” Her comment arose after James and Kevin Durant took issue with President Trump in a wide-ranging video, with James saying the president doesn’t “give a f— about the people.” Ingraham called their comments “ignorant” and said: “You’re great players but no one voted for you. Millions elected Trump to be their coach. So keep the political commentary to yourself or, as someone once said, shut up and dribble.”
She drew fire for that and issued a statement, saying the “shut up and dribble” phrase was a riff off her own past work and that she has used variations of that phrase for 15 years.
“If pro athletes and entertainers want to freelance as political pundits, then they should not be surprised when they’re called out for insulting politicians,” she said in the statement. “There was no racial intent in my remarks; false, defamatory charges of racism are a transparent attempt to immunize entertainment and sports elites from scrutiny and criticism.”
Read more from The Post: