Gregarious, opinionated, and larger-than-life, Charles Barkley has been one of the NBA’s most dominant media personalities since he retired from playing in 2000. This isn’t surprising given that during his playing days, Sir Charles was also one of the NBA’s most dominant personalities.
However outsized his media personality is, though, it still can’t compare to Barkley’s actual on-court career and play.
Generously listed at 6’6″, the rotund Barkley in actuality barely edged 6’4″ in height. What he lacked in vertical stature, he made up for with boundless energy and strength. He’s the shortest player to ever lead the NBA in rebounds per game for a season. He could sky high for spectacular blocked shots. His tremendous power, and low center of gravity, in the post allowed him to mercilessly back down defenders. The dexterous Barkley was also a remarkable passer able to whip wrap-around and behind-the-back passes with ease.
Most excitingly, Barkley was an absolute freight train on the break. Not a soul alive would plant their feet firmly in the paint to take a charge from the Barkley locomotive.
Best known for his days in Phoenix where captured the 1993 MVP award and led the Suns to the NBA Finals, but Barkley’s beginning was in Philadelphia. He broke into the league alongside sage veterans like Andrew Toney, Bobby Jones, Maurice Cheeks, Julius Erving, and most importantly for Barkley, Moses Malone. A ferocious rebounder himself, Moses helped show Barkley the ropes of being an “undersized” big man in the NBA.
Unfortunately for Charles, he caught these sage vets toward the end of their careers. Erving and Jones retired soon after his arrival. Toney succumbed to injuries. Moses was prematurely traded to the Washington Bullets. Philly degenerated from the Eastern Conference Finals in 1985 (Barkley’s rookie year) to the Eastern Semis in ’86 to the 1st Round in ’87 to out of the playoffs in ’88.
As the team’s fortunes dwindled, Barkley became more and more the centerpiece and cog for Philadelphia. His scoring average correspondingly rose from 14 in 1985 to 28 in 1988. Shooting close to 60% from the field, Barkley was selected to his first of several All-NBA 1st Teams that season.
Riding the wave of his talent, the 76ers slide reversed in 1989 as Charles loaded the Sixers on his back and carried them to three-straight postseasons. In 1990, Barkley received the most first place votes for NBA MVP, but the quirky voting system meant he finished second to Magic Johnson in that ballot.
Ultimately, though, these 76ers playoff forays proved fruitless in the quest for an NBA championship. The only All-Star caliber talent teamed with Barkley in that period from 1989 to 1991 was shooting guard Hersey Hawkins. Increasingly disgruntled by 1992, Charles and the 76ers rancorously split:
In a move bound to have a drastic impact on the franchise, the Philadelphia 76ers traded All-Star forward Charles Barkley to the Phoenix Suns on Wednesday. The 76ers received guard Jeff Hornacek, forward Tim Perry and center Andrew Lang.
Barkley, 29, is a six-time All-Star who averaged 23.1 points and 11.1 rebounds last season. He is a ferocious rebounder, inside scorer and ball- handler whose combination of strength and agility make him one of the league`s most effective and intimidating players…
Barkley had been on the trading block for a number of reasons:
– The 76ers finished 35-47, the poorest in Barkley`s eight years.
– Barkley`s playing style did not mesh with the passing-game offense that will be adapted by the 76ers new coach, Doug Moe.
– Barkley`s outspokenness and behavior were a constant concern.
Hours before the trade, Barkley was acquitted in a Milwaukee court of disorderly conduct and battery stemming from a fight outside a bar last winter in which Barkley broke a man`s nose.
Such controversy follows Barkley. On various occasions he has criticized 76ers management, criticized teammates and clashed with reporters.
Freed from the disastrous Philly situation, Charles submitted some truly amazing games during his days in the Valley of the Sun. In the 1993 postseason alone, he tortured San Antonio with a 28-point, 21-rebound effort including a series-winning jumper in Game 6. Against the Seattle SuperSonics, he had a 43/15/10 performance in Game 5 and 44 points and 24 rebounds in the decisive Game 7 to send Phoenix to the Finals. Then in the 1994 playoffs, Barkley eviscerated the Golden State Warriors with 56 points in Game 3 of their opening round series.
However, the good times in Phoenix slowly crumbled too.
Named the NBA’s MVP in 1993, Barkley’s Suns lost a tough NBA Finals showdown with the Chicago Bulls that season. Then in back-to-back seasons the Suns lost heart-breaking Game 7s against the Houston Rockets in the Western Semi-Finals. Injuries rattled Barkley and Suns teammates Kevin Johnson and Dan Majerle, which by 1996 reduced the club to 41 wins and a merciless 1st Round exit at the hands of the San Antonio Spurs.
(Also, by this point Barkley had become fully enamored with taking ill-advised three-pointers. Upon retiring, he had jacked up 2020 3s while making just 26.6% of them. He’s probably the most ineffective three-point shooter in NBA history.)
With the Phoenix situation unraveling, Barkley was traded to the Houston Rockets. Teaming with Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler, Barkley again enjoyed immediate team success with a trip to the Western Conference Finals in 1997. Thereafter, the Rockets slowly succumbed to age and injury as Barkley, Olajuwon, and Drexler trudged to the end of their magnificent careers. Sir Charles struggled to play a full season for the Rockets with 53, 68, 42 and finally just 20 games played during his four years with Houston.
Unlike Olajuwon and Drexler, Barkley never have won a title, but his 16-year career was still a tremendous success by any reasonable measure. 11 times an all-star, an MVP, a two-time Olympic gold medalist, and a never-ending stream of monstrous rebounding and scoring games.
Simply put, Charles Barkley has always been and always will be – for better or worse – irrepressible.
Years Played: 1984 – 2000
5x All-NBA 1st Team (1988-’91, 1993)
5x All-NBA 2nd Team (1986-’87, 1992, 1994-’95)
All-NBA 3rd Team (1996)
All-Rookie 1st Team (1985)
11x All-Star (1987-’97)
All-Star Game MVP (1991)
22.1 PPG, 11.7 RPG, 3.9 APG, 1.54 SPG, 0.83 BPG
54.1% FG, 73.5% FT