Bombastic, ballistic, blistering… boom! This all describes the force better known as Charles Barkley, who entered the NBA by blasting down doors and never apologizing for damage. Barkley suffered no fools, only the painful defeats he suffered, mainly in Philadelphia and later in Phoenix and Houston, as he tried to win that elusive championship, which he badly wanted but he never got it.
But Sir Charles’ validation as a superstar still happened, regardless. He was loud and brash, both with his playing and with his voice. Either way, Barkley could not be ignored or forgotten.
Barkley was one of the NBA’s first freaks of nature, a player with courage and grace, someone with the incredible ability to move, glide and sprint despite his weight. He was listed at 6ft 6in but, truth be told, he was about two or three inches shorter. It was listed at 260 pounds, but truth be told it depended on what he had for dinner. Here’s another truth: A stocked but aging Sixers squad with Dr. J and Moses Malone and Maurice Cheeks were lucky to see Barkley shine immediately in his rookie season.
It took only a few years before it became clear: Philly belonged to Barkley, and Barkley belonged to the future. The Sixers were a proud former championship team that began to gray around the edges when they arrived. Barkley was good for them, and they were good for him. Each side took the best the other offered. Veterans were energized by his personality and spirit, and he matured through their wisdom. Almost from the start, the Sixers and Barkley were made for each other.
Barkley’s coming-of-age moments were scattered throughout his early seasons, none better than his Game 4 playoff demolition of the Bucks with 37 points, 14 rebounds and 9 assists in his second season. . Here you can feel and see the baton passing, as the Sixers constantly sought out Barkley and he accepted the responsibility of leading the way. It was also a taste of what Barkley could be, once fully unleashed. And it was amazing to see.
The summer of 1992 was the defining moment for Barkley. He left the Sixers for the Suns and joined the US Olympic team – the Dream Team – which changed basketball forever. Finally, Barkley felt relieved and free after so many painful endings with the Sixers. A new era was dawning in Phoenix. But first, a detour to Barcelona, where Barkley became the Man of the Games and a man of the people.
With the Suns, Barkley joined a team ready to take it to the next level. The franchise accepted him as a centerpiece, and he accepted the responsibility that came with it. Barkley was named the 1992-93 regular season MVP and put the Suns on his back when the playoffs began. He led Phoenix to the 1993 NBA Finals before failing against the Bulls. Along the way, Barkley delivered many memorable performances, including that 43-point triple-double masterpiece against the SuperSonics in the West Finals.
Barkley gravitated towards Phoenix and vice versa. The Suns had all but one franchise player; Barkley had all but a supporting cast to provide a legitimate shot at a title. Their time together was prosperous and an improvement over what Barkley experienced in his final years in Philadelphia. The Suns played entertaining and winning basketball and, in doing so, created what was considered the NBA’s model franchise – a place of destination, made possible by Barkley’s tenure.
Charles Barkley traveled far from Leeds, Alabama, and blessed us with his talkativeness and legend along the way. No one his size moved like him. Nor has anyone spoken and spat opinions like him. Barkley was a bundle and people had to put up with everything; there was no other choice, and there shouldn’t have been. Barkley’s uniqueness was irresistible and made him a fan favourite, a Hall of Famer, one of the greatest players of all time and certainly one of the most endearing. Barkley never won a championship, but he left that match as the winner.
Learn more about Charles Barkley
+ 75th Anniversary Team Player Page
+ 75 stories: Charles Barkley