WHEN it comes to classic players — looking not a polygon older than their prime — showing up in NBA 2K21, the basketball video game series has mostly got them in the bag. Michael Jordan. Kobe Bryant. Larry Bird. Magic Johnson. Even ex-Pacers coach Nate McMillan is there.
One notable holdout? Charles Barkley.
In an interview with a kids’ YouTube channel, Barkley explains why. The video was originally uploaded back in July, but started becoming viral this month with the release of the current-gen version of NBA 2K21.
“You know, that’s a great question,” he told the very young host of YouTube channel Nick’s Trick Shots.
Barkley continued: “Just giving me some money doesn’t help anybody. I said, ‘Give the old, retired players a million dollars, and I’ll be in the video game.’”
A million dollars sounds like an impossibly big ask, but the former Phoenix Suns superstar and current analyst makes some good points.
Game developers 2K pay the NBA Players Association and the NBA Retired Players Association for the rights to use players’ likenesses in the game. (The amounts are apparently substantial; the Wall Street Journal reported that the deal between the NBPA and 2K was about $1.1 billion.) It also makes separate negotiations for retired players no longer covered by the union.
Barkley thinks that the amount retired players get isn’t enough. Take note, he's not talking about himself, or guys like Jordan.
“I’m talking about guys older than me, too, just for the record. I’m not talking about old retired players like me,” he went on. “See, there’s this misconception that everybody’s been making a gazillion dollars our whole life. There’s players older than me who didn’t make any money. Those guys — they’re older, and they probably need the money, so that’s why I’m not in the video game.”
According to Barkley, he regularly gets a call from 2K.
“So they piss me off every year,” he said. “They call me every year, and they ask, ‘Hey, have you changed your mind?’ I said, ‘Why in the world do you think I’m gonna change my mind?’”
In late 2019, Scott Rochelle, president and CEO of the National Basketball Retired Players Association, told Brandon Robinsons of Heavy.com that a breakthrough may have been reached between Barkley and 2K Sports.
"We had a productive conversation with Charles recently and we’re looking to make this happen," Rochelle said. "Every year, Charles talks about not being on the game. There’s been talks back and forth for years."
Obviously, nothing came of those talks.