(Photo: Reuters/Beck Diefenbach)
Tim Tebow may be topping popularity contests nationwide, but basketball legend Charles Barkley isn’t one of his growing number of fans.
The former NBA player called Philadelphia's The Fanatic 97.5 FM radio station on Monday, a mere day after the Broncos bested the Pittsburgh Steelers in an upset NFL playoffs victory. The talk soon turned to Tebow, and Barkley buried the football player's credibility in a conversation with host Mike Missanelli about the big game.
"The national nightmare continues," Barkley said of America's ongoing Tebowmania. "Hey listen, I like Tim Tebow, but there comes a point, he had a great game. They want to make it seem like, 'oh, the world is aligned correct.' I'm like, 'he does play quarterback – he's supposed to play well.'"
Missanelli, himself "not a big Tebow guy," then asked Barkley if he'd "had enough of Tebow." Barkley responded that he hoped Tebow's public popularity would blow over.
"The jury is still out on Tebow," Barkley said. "He seems like a nice kid, but these ups and downs are so different. Just because he had a great game and made four or five great throws yesterday doesn't mean he's gonna be a great starting quarterback in the NFL."
Such a stinging rebuke lands Barkley – a former power forward for three NBA teams, including the Philadelphia 76ers – squarely in the middle of a national debate over Tebow. Football purists criticize Tebow’s playing style, while Christians praise his public displays of faith. Through it all, the evangelical athlete keeps bringing the Broncos victories and praising God.
"I think Tim Tebow is the type of player who it's virtually impossible not to have an opinion on, and therefore virtually impossible to form a consensus on as well," said Derek Bodner, the associate editor of LibertyBallers.com, a 76ers fan site. "I think most people are either on one end of the spectrum – he's a winner, stats be ignored – or the other, which is that the league will catch up to his lack of refinement as a passer and he won't be able to sustain his success."
Jacquie Beckvermit, a Berthoud, Colo. Broncos fan, said acting belligerent isn't anything new for Barkley. Calling his claims "ridiculous," she said the basketball great was missing the mark Tebow makes on American culture.
"There is an apparent and strong support for Tebow across the nation," Beckvermit said. "Some of the support is for his values and some is for his football abilities, but there's no denying that he is liked in more than just Denver. I think America is excited to have a player that is always in the news for good things."
Neal Coolong, assistant editor of the Steelers fan site BehindTheSteelCurtain.com, said that the bigger point of Barkley's claims is that sports fans' speculations on Tebow are running rampant. Such attention isn't surprising, he added, as Tebow plays football with some noticeable flaws yet still inspires those around him.
"I don't think an athlete has generated this much of a buzz since Muhammad Ali," Coolong said. "That's how iconic he's become."
Americans have always loved underdogs, he continued, so Tebow would likely generate tons of talk even without publicly expressing his Christianity. The fact he does is just more fuel for the fires of popular opinion.
"I think Tebow's fun to watch," said Coolong, while conceding he was saddened by the Steelers' loss to the Broncos. "I love his passion. But ultimately, the amount of anti-Tebow sentiment that exists and what Tebow stands for makes him 'uncool.' That's an unfortunate reality in our society."