Charles Barkley has come a long way from his ‘not a role model’ days

Charles Barkley detailed plans to build better housing for his small Alabama hometown, which would be funded by auctioning off his Olympic medal and MVP award. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)
Charles Barkley detailed plans to build better housing for his small Alabama hometown, which would be funded by auctioning off his Olympic medal and MVP award. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

In 1993, Charles Barkley unapologetically declared in a Nike commercial that he was not a role model. 

In recent years, he’s given us a fair amount of evidence to the contrary.

The always outspoken NBA Hall of Famer might have to re-shoot that commercial — maybe without the powerful dunks.

Because if his most recent idea comes to pass, Barkley will change the small Alabama town where he grew up in ways that go far beyond just being its favorite son.

In Birmingham, Ala. last week, where he was re-launching Redmont Distilling, a vodka and gin company of which he is now majority owner, Barkley told several media outlets that he wants to build affordable housing in Leeds, the small town about 15 miles away where he was born and raised.

And he’s going to do it with his own money, by selling off some valuable memorabilia.

We’re not talking about game-worn jerseys either: Barkley said his 1993 NBA MVP award and 1996 Atlanta Olympics gold medal will be auctioned off.

“That stuff’s not a big deal to me,” Barkley told WJOX-FM. “Listen, I’ve had an unbelievable life. But you know, I’ve been in Leeds quite a few times when I was in Birmingham checking on Redmont and we’ve probably got, I’m not even exaggerating, we’ve probably got 30 ‘eyesores’ as I call them, where houses used to be when I was growing up [and now] there’s either a rotted-out house or there’s just weeds, overgrown.

“What I’m trying to do, I want to work with the city of Leeds, number one I want them to give me the houses. And I’m going to use my own money, selling my memorabilia.”

Barkley noted that the blighted properties are in the black part of Leeds, a town of about 12,000 residents that is 16 percent black and where roughly 12.5 percent of the population lives below the federal government poverty level.

As the adage goes, real estate is all about location — even if a home is in great condition, if it’s next door to a dilapidated property it’s going to negatively affect that property’s value, and the neighborhood takes a hit too.

If Barkley’s plan works out, he could be changing lives for hundreds of Leeds residents. Not just the ones who buy the homes he builds, but those neighbors who will see their home values rise too.

For many of us, holding a gold medal, even if it’s not ours, is a breathtaking thing. But that’s where Barkley’s plan is also pretty remarkable: he knows what he’s achieved, and he knows the material symbols of that achievement are just that. If he sells his MVP trophy, he’s still the NBA MVP from the 1992-93 season; that can never be taken away from him.

He was still a member of the 1992 Dream Team, the greatest basketball team ever assembled.

He will always be remembered for his basketball achievements.

Barkley has an autograph deal with Italian-based Panini Group, and said he’s asked about how much his items could garner.

“All that stuff is at my grandmother’s house, I don’t even keep it to be honest with you,” Barkley said. “And I said, ‘How much can I get for my MVP trophy and my two gold medals and I’ve got an autographed flag signed by the original Dream Team’ and [the Panini representative] said, ‘oh, I can get you a lot of money for that stuff’ and I said I’ve got some other stuff I’d like to sell too … and he says, ‘I can get you at least $300,000 or $400,000 for that MVP trophy,’ and he said I don’t even want to guess but I can get you a lot for those gold medals.”

Barkley next checked with his daughter, Christiana, to make sure she was OK with his plan. The memorabilia belongs to her, he explained, but he called it “crap.”

“I told her when she was home, I want to get rid of all this stuff, but it’s yours, if you don’t want me to give it away. She said, Dad, if you’re going to build affordable housing in Leeds, I would love for you to do it, but I want one piece’,” he said.

“So I think she’s going to take the ‘92 gold medal because of how sentimental it is to the world, first time we took pros to the Olympics, but all that other stuff, man, it’s just an eyesore. And like I said, I want to do something really nice for Leeds, and if I can build 10-20 affordable houses for Leeds — I want to do green housing too — if I can sell all that stuff, it will be just a really cool thing for me.”

In recent years, Barkley has made $1 million donations to his alma mater, Auburn, as well as several HBCUs, including Morehouse College, Clark Atlanta, Alabama A&M and Miles College. He lets the schools do what they want with the money.

Donating funds is one thing — it’s not at all a small thing, and particularly for Miles College, the donation launched a massive capital campaign for the small school — but Barkley’s new plan is next-level and could make a tangible impact for dozens of families.

Sorry, King Charles, but that’s role model behavior.

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