Charles Barkley leans on personal experience calling out Zion Williamson (2024)

In the world of sports punditry, Charles Barkley can be something of a controversial figure. The TNT talking head is entertaining—Inside the NBA probably has more fun than any other studio show—but he can uncork his fair share of headline-making hot takes and sometimes be a bit lacking in terms of general NBA knowledge.

Upon first blush, Monday night's comments about New Orleans Pelicans big man Zion Williamson may seem like another example of that. Calling a player out of shape and questioning his effort is usually a quick way to create a stir.

In this case, though, Barkley is coming from a different place. As he's previously explained, he was once in Zion's shoes.

Charles Barkley leans on personal experience calling out Zion Williamson (1)

Barkley Says Zion Isn't in Shape

On Monday night, the Pelicans squared off against the Kings to advance to the semifinals of the NBA In-Season Tournament. And while you might think that success came on the back of a big performance from Zion Williamson, you'd be mistaken. The uniquely talented big man had a quiet night, posting 10 points, six rebounds and six assists in 28 minutes of action.

And if you believe a former forward, it's because Williamson simply isn't in condition to make an impact on the court.

"Me and Kenny [Smith, who also remarked that Zion was out of shape], were watching. And this is the first time that I'mma sit and watch Zion play a full game. He's not in shape," Barkley said on TNT. "He doesn't run. He plays the game strictly on talent. He never runs on the fast break. He's kinda like jogging on offense and defense."

While that would already be enough to grab viewers' attention—comments about Williamson's fitness aren't new, but it's always a major accusation when effort enters the conversation—Chuck wasn't done yet.

"Somebody has got to get a hold of him because he's got so much talent," Barkley continued. "He's gonna be somewhat successful[...]He could be special. But see, I don't know if he has a Moses Malone, who told me I was fat and lazy. Like, he owns that organization already. But if he could get in shape, this team, you would not want to play this team. Because Shaq talking about those others? Those others, man, are really good. But it's gonna come down to Zion. And he needs to get in shape."

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Barkley Has Been There Before

When you first read (or hear) Chuck's comment, it's easy to feel like he's speaking from an ivory tower and looking down upon a player who isn't working hard enough for his tastes. A look back on his history, however, reveals that there's more to the story.

As he referenced during his Williamson comments, Barkley struggled when he first arrived in the association. When the rookie asked veteran Moses Malone why he wasn't playing more, he was met with a blunt response.

"You're fat and you're lazy, that's why. You can't play basketball if you're not in shape," he told Chuck, according to ESPN's Jackie MacMullan.

But that wasn't the end of Malone's input. He challenged his young teammate to lose 10 pounds, and they worked out together to reach that point. When Barkley had shed the weight, he was pushed to lose another 10. That cycle repeated itself until he reached 265 pounds.

And the effort paid off, as Sir Charles made the All-Rookie Team before blossoming into an NBA great. To this day, he credits Malone with pushing him to reach his potential.

Through that lens, Barkley's comments regarding Williamson sound a bit less harsh. While he and Zion might not be teammates, the former forward knows that sometimes you need a bit of tough love to reach your potential.

And, in fairness to Chuck, this isn't the first time he's connected the dots between his journey and Williamson's. Earlier in 2023, the Hall-of-Famer appeared on The Steam Room podcast and spoke directly to the Pelican.

"Zion Williamson, Yo, man, I don't know you. We've never met," Barkley said, according to an SI.com transcript. "Somebody gotta tell you like, yo, man, you gotta get in shape because you're going to keep getting hurt if you're out of shape.

"I don't think that your coach has enough power to tell you what to do. I don't think [Pelicans' executive vice president of basketball operations] David Griffin, who's a friend of mine, has enough power to tell you what to do.

"I'm so blessed for Moses Malone, who told me to get my fat a** in shape and made me lose 50 pounds. It changed the whole dynamic of my life. I hope you don't take this the wrong way. I want you to be a great basketball player. I've been in your shoes, being very talented, being overweight."

But, based on Monday's comments, Barkley is still trying get through to the former Duke Blue Devils star.

In the world of sports punditry, it's easy to get cynical and feel like comments are only made to garner attention. In Chuck's case, though, there's something more at play.

And, even if things are a bit rough around the edges, it is nice to see.

Uncommon Knowledge

Newsweek is committed to challenging conventional wisdom and finding connections in the search for common ground.

Newsweek is committed to challenging conventional wisdom and finding connections in the search for common ground.

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Charles Barkley leans on personal experience calling out Zion Williamson (2024)
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