Charles Barkley apologized Wednesday for a supposedly joking threat to “hit” Axios political reporter Alexi McCammond on Tuesday night after she asked him a question that irked him at a gathering of political operatives and journalists in Atlanta.
“I don’t hit women but if I did I would hit you,” McCammond quoted the former basketball star on her Twitter feed, adding that “when I objected he told me I ‘couldn’t take a joke.’”
As outrage over Barkley’s comment exploded on social media and elsewhere, he issued an apology through the AT&T-owned cable network TNT, where Barkley is a cohost on the Thursday night pre- and post-game show Inside the NBA.
“My comment was inappropriate and unacceptable,” Barkley said in his statement. “It was an attempted joke that wasn’t funny at all. There’s no excuse for it and I apologize.”
The 56-year-old Hall of Famer, a former player for the Houston Rockets and Philadelphia 76ers, has made similar “jokes” in the past. In 1990, after the Sixers beat the New Jersey nets in a close contest, he remarked: “This is a game that, if you lose, you go home and beat your wife and kids. Did you see my wife jumping up and down at the end of the game? That’s because she knew I wasn’t going to beat her.”
As of this writing, it seemed unlikely that the encounter—which occurred as journalists and campaign staff gathered at an Atlanta cocktail party in the run-up to Wednesday night’s Democratic primary debate—will have an impact on Barkley’s role on the TNT program, which is broadcast in partnership with the NBA, usually with a double-header night of basketball.
“Charles’s comments were unacceptable and he has issued an apology,” a TNT spokesman told The Daily Beast.
The NBA, which allows both TNT and ESPN to broadcast its games under a $2.7 billion-per-year rights agreement, didn’t offer a comment on Barkley’s conduct.
McCammond wrote on Twitter that he made his comment after he expressed support for both South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg and former Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick, and she sought clarification.
“The comments Charles Barkley made to me are not acceptable,” McCammond tweeted after Barkley issued his apology, noting that his “joke” had initially been part of an off-the-record exchange with her. “Threats of violence are not a joke, & no person deserves to be hit or threatened like that. Silence only allows the culture of misogyny to fester. And those kinds of comments don’t merit off-the-record protections.”
In a separate tweet, McCammond explained: “There are almost no times when I will break an OTR ‘agreement’ but this is not OK. And it was all because he came in talking about how he loves Deval Patrick and once someone from Pete’s campaign came around he said he loved Pete and I reminded him he previously said he was a Deval fan.”
McCammond added: “I encourage you to consider how you’d respond if a friend said something similar to what Barkley said tonight. And then challenge yourself to ask the same of yourself if a stranger (or ‘celebrity’) said that. I hope the answers are the same. Everyone should be held accountable.”