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President Obama Speaks Out; Interview With Charles Barkley

Aired February 17, 2014 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: President Obama one on one. It's not your typical interview, when the president of the United States sits down with basketball great Charles Barkley and talks about hoop, health care and a whole lot more. Stand by. You will hear the president on his favorite NBA stars, race and sexual orientation in sports, and whether he still has game at age 52.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You wake up sometimes -- has this ever happened to you, Chuck? You wake up and something hurts and you don't know exactly what happened? Right?


BLITZER: Charles Barkley joins us live to share his impressions of the president and their rare interview.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

President Obama doesn't do many one-on-one interviews, and when he does, he usually gets questions about policy and politics, so it's really interesting to hear him open up about his personal passion, among other things, being basketball, one that I admit I always share.

The president sat down with the NBA Hall of Famer Charles Barkley as part of the All-Star Game coverage on our sister network TNT. The interview hit some very serious topics, including two sports stars who have revealed they're gay, The Washington Wizards' Jason Collins, NFL draft pick candidate Michael Sam, who came out just last week.


CHARLES BARKLEY, FORMER NBA PLAYER: What do you think about that?

OBAMA: I really like the fact that Michael did it before the draft, because his attitude was, "You know what? I know who I am, I know I can play great football, and judge me on the merits.

BARKLEY: Speaking of that, Attorney General Holder announced the same-sex benefits package last week.

OBAMA: Think about basketball. I mean, think about what the NBA was before African-Americans were allowed to play on an equal footing.

You think about some of the stories that even folks like Oscar Robertson tell what they went through. You think about what Jackie Robinson ended up meaning, not just to baseball, but to the entire society. I wouldn't be sitting here it weren't for him. I think America's stronger where everybody's being treated with respect and dignity.

BARKLEY: What do you think of the term Obamacare?

OBAMA: I like it. I don't mind.

And I tell you, five years from now, and everybody's saying, "Man, I'm glad we got health care," there are going to be a whole bunch of people who don't call it Obamacare anymore because they don't want me to get the credit.

But you don't know what life will throw at you. And sometimes people don't recognize -- particularly young people -- how important it is to have coverage until you get sick and you realize you may lose everything you have, or your parents may lose everything they have trying to make you well. So we're encouraging people to sign up. They've got until March 31st to sign up for this year.

BARKLEY: So if you could speak to a specific group, and I guess you're talking about young adults...

OBAMA: Folks our age, I mean, I wouldn't call us old yet, but...

BARKLEY: We're knocking on the door.

OBAMA: We're knocking on the door. So once you're 50, you wake up sometimes -- do you ever wake up and you sometimes -- does this ever happen to you, Chuck? You wake up and something hurts, and you don't know exactly what happens?

BARKLEY: Everything hurts when I wake up.

OBAMA: When you were young, you actually had to have an injury before something hurts.

We'd like to encourage more young people to sign up, partly because, since they're healthier, their premiums are generally going to be fairly cheap. They can find good options for less than their cable bill, less than their cell phone bill, and it's just part of growing up is making sure that you're taking care of your body, taking care of your health.

And if you got a young family, you've got to make sure your family is protected with health insurance as well. And this allow you to do it.

BARKLEY: You have a really exciting initiative coming up called My Brother's Keeper. Explain that, because when they explain it to me, it sounds amazing, but I would like to hear it from you.

OBAMA: We're going to pull together private philanthropies, foundations, working with mayors, governors, churches, and not- profits, and we're just going to focus on young men of color and find ways in which we can create more pathways to success for them. We're not going to create a big new government program, but we're going to work with communities, businesses, so that whether it's helping to set up early childhood education so that young people can read early, or it is creating mentorship programs and apprenticeship programs so that a young person can get exposed to what a career is like in a factory as a machinist where you're getting paid $30, $35 an hour, but you may not even know that that option is available, across the board, from the time they're young all the way through their first job, we want to help more African-American men, more Latino men to succeed.


BLITZER: We are going to more of the interview in a few moments.

But let's bring in the retired NBA superstar, the TNT sports analyst and my friend, Charles Barkley.

Charles, thanks very much for joining us.

BARKLEY: Thanks for having me.

BLITZER: All right, so what was it like? Tell us how you felt. You're in the White House, you're interviewing the president of the United States.

BARKLEY: I was very nervous.

I didn't get a lot of sleep the night before. I got up early in the morning because the interview didn't take place until like 3:00 in the afternoon. And it was a long day, Wolf, to be honest with you. I was just very nervous. And I never get nervous, but I was really nervous going to the White House.

BLITZER: Why? Why were you so nervous?

BARKLEY: Well, I think any time you meet the president of the United States, it's got to be exciting, whether you're a Democrat, Republican or an independent.

I met President Bush Sr. I met President Clinton before. And I have actually met President Obama before. But it's still exciting. It's obviously just a wonderful opportunity, but to meet the president, you have got to be somewhat nervous and also excited.

BLITZER: And emotional, too, because you described this as being a very emotional experience.

Look, you grew up in Alabama. Did you ever in your life expect that you would be sitting down one on one with the president in the White House?

BARKLEY: Never in my wildest dream.

You know, Wolf, I grew up in the projects of Alabama. And I have got to tell you the coolest thing about the whole day. After we had finished doing the interview, we bump into each other again. He says, Chuck, have you ever been to the Oval Office? I said, yes, we do that in Alabama all the time.

And we both kind of giggled. And he gave me a little quick tour. And it was one of the highlights. And he tweeted a picture of me standing next to the president in the Oval Office. It was just one of the coolest, if not the coolest experience of my life.

BLITZER: And it's not just the president of the United States. He's our first African-American president of the United States. And so that must have been an especially powerful moment for you.

BARKLEY: That's what made it even more.

Like I said before, I had met President Bush Sr., President Clinton, and that was cool, but to be in the White House with the first black president and stand in the Oval Office, I have had such an amazing life. And that was just like icing on the cake, to be honest with you.

BLITZER: It really is. Even just walking into the White House -- and I was a White House correspondent for many years. Every day you do it, you say to -- you pinch yourself. You say, boy, what a country we have that something like this can happen.

But talk about what he reflected on. We heard him in that excerpt from the interview talking about some of the earlier pioneers, whether Jackie Robinson, Oscar Robertson, who paved the way for him and, in fact, paved the way for you.

BARKLEY: Being at the All-Star Game this weekend, I got to see the great Bill Russell, who is probably one of the great mentors I ever had in my life. Guys like Oscar Robertson, Wilt Chamberlain, Dr. J, Moses Malone, and I know those guys played a little bit later, but you think about it. I never had to do any heavy lifting.

All the older black players and white players -- I think, sometimes, when we talk about civil rights, and you go back to Medgar Evers and guys like that, those young black men that were killed in Mississippi, there's always been a lot of white people who have never gotten the credit.

I know the black people deserve most of the credit, like Rosa Parks, but to go back to civil rights, there's always been great white people who marched with those great black leaders.

BLITZER: Why did you decide to raise the issue of gay rights, especially among athletes in the locker room or whatever, with this president?

BARKLEY: Well, I think it's important as a black man to always be inclusive. I'm always against any form of discrimination.

I learned that from Bill Russell. As a black player, we always want to be inclusive. And we have all played with gay players. Listen, we should not be discriminating against anybody. And I think it's an insult to gay people to think that they're going to be looking at their teammates in a sexual way. That's an insult to all gay men.

And we welcome them to the locker room. And I wish Mr. Sam the best. And I'm glad Attorney General Holder announced same-sex benefits, because they deserve the same sex benefits as other men and women couples.

BLITZER: All right, Charles, I'm going to have you stick around. I have a lot more questions for you. We are going to show more of your interview with the president of the United States.

He's revealing why he doesn't shoot hoops as much as he'd like to.

Also later, this: You're going to find out why the former President Bill Clinton is on the sidelines and he's cheering. Take a look, Clinton, 42.


BLITZER: We're back with more of the new one-on-one interview with President Obama. Charles Barkley did the interview live. He conducted the interview. We will go back and discuss more with him in a moment.

But listen to his conversation about the game they both love.


BARKLEY: Thank you. So, I know you're a big basketball fan.

I never thought I would say this, but watching LeBron James play at the peak of his superpowers is an amazing debate. I never thought I would say somebody like -- this guy could be as good as Michael Jordan..

OBAMA: You know LeBron. I know LeBron.

When you're standing next to him and then you watch him close up, I have never seen somebody that size, that fast, who can jump that high, who's that strong, who has that much basketball savvy all in one package.

So we don't know yet where he's going to be. Now, I'm a Chicago guy, and Mike will always be the guy for me, just because that was a magical moment for the city, and he was a champion.

But Mike's now retired. LeBron, when you look at him, you think he might be able to play at a high level for another seven, eight, 10 years. He's only 29 years old. In terms of every aspect of the game, LeBron has a chance to be as good as anybody.

BARKLEY: You play basketball, obviously. How often do you get to play basketball now?

OBAMA: You know, these days, it's probably once a month. You know, things happen. One is you just get a little older and creakier. The second thing is, you got to start thinking about elbows, and you break your nose right before a State of the Union address. What's been fun is watching Sasha, who's playing basketball now. She's in seventh grade.

BARKLEY: I had a struggle watching my daughter play basketball, because I wanted her to be really, really good. Where are you on that parent/fan meter?

OBAMA: Well, I think there's a difference if you're a Hall of Famer.


OBAMA: You probably have a higher standard than somebody who was a good high school player.


BLITZER: And the retired NBA superstar and TNT sports analyst Charles Barkley is still with us.

You love basketball. He loves basketball. Let me get back to that other subject you raised for a moment, gay rights and gay basketball players. Right now, as far as I know -- you tell me -- there are no openly gay players in the NBA. I assume there are several gays who are playing in the NBA, but they're not open about it.

When they start coming out and playing on active rosters, how will they be received by their teammates, Charles?

BARKLEY: Well, I think they're going to be safe with their teammates.

I think the public in large is more homophobic than guys in the locker room. I think we as players get a bad rap. If you go back and look at that Michael Sam interview, he told his team over the summer. He never had an issue. And none of those players outed him on Instagram or Twitter or other -- all that social crap.

And there was another college player who went, came out on his team. And he said he was treated great. I think players are going to respect each other. And we should respect each other. When you're part of a team, there's going to be agreements and disagreements. But you should always have respect for each other.

That's one of the things that really surprised me, Wolf, about that Miami Dolphins situation. I was blessed to play in the NBA for 16 years. I cannot believe other teammates would let some of that stuff go on, because, when you're part of a team, like every now and then you might cross the line and say something, but I was very surprised and disappointed that other players on that Miami Dolphins team let some of that stuff go on.

That's what disappointed me the most.

BLITZER: Yes, it disappointed a lot of us. Let me quickly get your thoughts on a subject we have spent a lot of time here in THE SITUATION ROOM reporting on these past several weeks and months, Dennis Rodman and North Korea. What's going on here? You know Dennis Rodman.

BARKLEY: I like Dennis a lot.

But I think he made a mistake trying to think he could go to North Korea and keep everything just about basketball. It's obviously a very tricky situation. I can't tell Dennis what to do. He's a grown man. I wish he would not have went, because I hated all the scrutiny he was going through.

But you can't go to a country like that and say, I'm just going to stick to basketball. It's not that simple.

BLITZER: Is there a question -- when you walked out of the White House and you have been thinking about that interview you had with the president the other day and he took you around to the Oval Office, is there a question you now wish you would have asked the president that you didn't ask him during the course of that on-camera interview?

BARKLEY: Not really.

You know, I felt I wanted to -- I got everything I wanted to say, but the main thing, once I got over my initial nervousness, I wanted to savor the moment, because when you're growing up in the projects in Leeds, Alabama, you never, number one, that you're going to meet the president, but obviously you don't think you're ever going to get a chance to do a sit-down interview.

And I will never forget it. I thought the coolest thing in my life I had ever done was when you stand on the podium when they play the national anthem when you get your gold medal. I was able to do that twice, and that was the coolest thing I had ever done in my life. And this surpassed that by far.

BLITZER: I'm sure it did. And you had a lot of cool things in your life.

I saw you this weekend at the NBA All-Star Game. I go every year. I love doing it. Our sister network -- there we are. We were at the TNT party. You saw Kid Rock performing there. It's a great moment, the whole weekend, isn't it? What's your favorite part of the NBA All-Star weekend?

BARKLEY: Well, just the celebration of what we do. I thought the coolest moment of the weekend was when every All-Start. One of them was Bill Russell had his 80th birthday.

Kenny has a great saying. When you walk around the NBA All-Star weekend, it's like a bunch of trading cards come to life. We do the best job out of all the all-star games. Kid Rock was amazing. The city of New Orleans was amazing. But I take my hat off to the NBA and the new commissioner, Adam Silver. They just do a great job of celebrating the entire NBA heritage. And it was awesome, as usual. BLITZER: Yes, I take my hat off to the new commissioner, Adam Silver, as well.

And remember back in 2008, the former commissioner, David Stern, he took the NBA All-Star Game to New Orleans right not that long after Katrina, and that city of New Orleans, including the mayor, Mayor Landrieu, everyone in New Orleans was grateful to the NBA for going to New Orleans, showing their support. And the folks in New Orleans did an amazing job.

Hey, you did a very good job yourself. But maybe you want to come here in THE SITUATION ROOM and help me co-anchor some times, Charles.

BARKLEY: Well, I got to say one thing to you, Wolf. This is the first time in a long time your Washington Wizards are going to make the playoffs.


BARKLEY: So that's the good news I got for you today.

BLITZER: I'm with you, with you all the way. I'm sure all my Washington Wizards fans, they're thrilled to hear that. You're a good analyst and you're spot on, for sure.

Hey, Charles, as usual, thanks very much.

BARKLEY: Thanks for having me.

BLITZER: Charles Barkley is a legend in his own right. And I love that legends brunch every Sunday morning of the NBA All-Star weekend, when all those superstars, including Charles Barkley, they show up. It is like an amazing event.

Just ahead, the 42nd president of the United States goes hog wild. Stand by for Bill Clinton's new moment in the sports spotlight.


BLITZER: The former President Bill Clinton leading the traditional hog call. The 42nd president was honored by the University of Arkansas Razorbacks over the weekend, as the team celebrated the 20th anniversary of its NCAA Championship win.

President Clinton was at the game when the Hogs won their only national basketball title in 1994, while he was president. He told fans that he's proud of what Arkansas basketball has meant to his home state.

Finally, still here on the sports beat here in THE SITUATION ROOM, take a look at how President Obama spent part of this federal holiday out there on the links in Palm -- I guess it's Palm Springs, California. It's, of course, where numerous presidents have teed off going back to Dwight Eisenhower. President Obama has played more than 160 rounds of golf since he took office in 2009, according to CBS News White House correspondent Mark Knoller, who chronicles all this kind of stuff. He's been keeping count of everything.

Thanks to Mark Knoller, my good friend.

Remember, you can always follow what's going on here in THE SITUATION ROOM on Twitter. Go ahead. Tweet me @WolfBlitzer. Tweet the show @CNNSITROOM.