In a revelation that has added yet another colorful thread to his rich tapestry of a life, NBA legend Charles Barkley has spun a tale of his humble beginnings that could rival any gambling house narrative. Emerging from the shadows of his family’s past, Barkley recounts how his mother and stepfather ran an underground card-sharp’s haven in the heart of Alabama, threading the needle between poverty and illegality.
The grandeur and grit of the family’s clandestine enterprise are laid bare in Barkley’s newly authorized biography, “Barkley: A Biography” penned by author Timothy Bella. Within its pages, the icon reflects on growing up amidst an unsanctioned casino operation. “The house was like a casino on the weekend,” Barkley recollects. Men of all sorts would pour in on a Friday, their pockets jingling with anticipation, and wouldn’t leave until the lingering smoke of Sunday night had cleared.
The hustle, as it turned out, was an act of necessity, not choice. Barkley’s mother, Charcey, in tandem with stepdad Clee Glenn, fought valiantly against the fetters of their economic reality – she a maid, he a worker in a meatpacking plant. Unable to stretch their meager earnings, they turned their home into a den of dice and spirits. “How much money can you make working in a meatpacking factory?” Charcey poses in the biography.
Barkley’s own brushes with the lure of gambling were made public long before the disclosure of his family’s secret operation. Known for his larger-than-life personality on and off the court, Barkley admitted to an ESPN interviewer in 2007 that he had lost upwards of $20 million to casinos, shrugging off the habit as financially foolish yet personally affordable.
The NBA MVP’s penchant for gambling swung between the highs and lows, as he himself narrated to CBS Sports in 2015. The fleeting touch of fortune’s favor saw Barkley come perilously close to winning a cool million dollars on multiple occasions, only to watch the spoils trickle away in pursuit of beating the house – a fickle feat that even Barkley found elusive, despite his tenacious spirit.
Aside from the vicissitudes of gambling and his illustrious career, Barkley’s life story is one that intertwines with the historical fabric of Alabama. He broke racial boundaries as the first Black child born in Leeds’ segregated hospital – a legacy credited to his grandfather’s standing in the community.
The texture of Barkley’s story is not solely defined by his wins and losses or his roots in a family that gambled against the odds. An intriguing tale of health struggles emerged, with Barkley sharing how a severe anemia diagnosis during his youth was vanquished by a lifesaving full blood transfusion, the origin of which became a jest in the family lore.
Despite acknowledging his historical inability to dial back his betting habits, Barkley’s reputation as a beloved sports figure remained unsullied, culminating in a partnership with FanDuel. In 2020, the sportsbook giant inked a multi-year deal with Barkley, propelling him to the forefront of their promotional campaigns as a resounding voice in the world of sports betting. This partnership solidifies his standing as a champion both on and beyond the court, where his legend continues to captivate the imagination of fans and onlookers alike.