Thanks for the Memories
Posted: March 20, 2004
Charles Barkley, so often a man of many words about any subject that remotely comes his way, summed up a night of celebration and recognition with two simple, heart-felt words.
“Thank you,” he told the sellout crowd after watching his No. 34 permanently placed in the Suns’ Ring of Honor during an emotional ceremony at halftime of the Suns’ 123-111 win over the Bucks.
Barkley thanked Chairman Jerry Colangelo and the organization, his family, former teammates, the great players of the past who paved the way for his own success, and most of all, the fans of the Phoenix Suns, whom he once again called the best in all of basketball.
“I think the main thing is that it’s for the fans,” he said after the 30-minute ceremony making him the 10th inductee into the Suns’ most exclusive club. “I’m just glad for them. They made me like fans. I just thank Mr. Colangelo and the Suns’ organization for doing this. For me, it means a great deal.
“I will never forget that period of my life. It was just great playing here.”
Among the list of dignitaries and friends on hand to help Sir Charles celebrate were Hall of Famers Bill Russell, “Magic” Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Bob Lanier, Suns alumni Mark West, Joe Kleine, Elliot “Socks” Perry and Cedric Ceballos, and several Ring of Honor members, including Barkley’s former coach, Paul Westphal, and former teammates Tom Chambers and Dan Majerle.
In addition to the unveiling of his banner in the Ring of Honor, Colangelo presented Barkley with a limited edition Gerard Perregaux 18K gold watch and announced the renovation of the new Charles Barkley Reading and Learning Center at the Peoria Boys and Girls Club. A donation of $50,000 was also made to the Charles Barkley Foundation, which supports a variety of children’s education causes.
The sometimes controversial but always entertaining power forward came to the Suns in the summer of 1992, helped open America West Arena by leading the team to a league-best 62 wins and the team’s second-ever trip to the NBA Finals. Sir Charles capped off arguably the most exciting and successful season in franchise history by becoming the first Suns player to win the league’s MVP award.
“He was the straw that stirred the drink,” said Majerle. “The fans enjoyed Charles and Charles enjoyed the fans. He really liked it here. He enjoys being up there. It’s something he’s really going to enjoy and love.”
After a tumultuous relationship with fans in Philadelphia the first eight seasons of the Alabama native’s career, Barkley felt from the moment he landed in Phoenix that his connection with the Valley’s fans would be different.
“I knew when I got off the plane,” he said. “There were hundreds of people at the airport. Then we came straight here and did the press conference and there was a ton of people here. I knew it right away. It was just unbelievable.”
The love affair continued throughout that incredible season, bringing national attention to the Suns and whipping the Valley’s sports fans into a frenzy never seen before or since.
“The people here is the reason I like Phoenix,” Barkley said. “These people made me really enjoy playing basketball. Coming to work every night, this place was electric to come to every single night.
“When we came here in ’92-93 they put all their passion into the Suns and that’s what made it unique for me coming to work every night. These people, they love their team. I remember when we played the Bulls (in the Finals) after Game 5 we got home at 2-3 in the morning and there’s 10,000 people (waiting at the airport). They don’t do that in other cities.“
After years of friction following Barkley’s 1995 trade to Houston, he and Colangelo patched things up over the past year paving the way for his rightful place among the organization’s all-time greats. The smoothing over of differences has had an effect on another permanent honor that will no doubt come Barkley’s way in the next year, his induction into the Basketball Hall of Fame. Having said for years that he would go in as a Sixer, Barkley’s love affair with the Valley and his return to the club’s good graces has given him a change of heart.
“I’ve been debating it for a long time, to be honest with you,” he said, revealing that he would indeed prefer to enter the Hall in Suns purple and orange. “I couldn’t go in as a Sun if we were still estranged. It’s something that I’ve thought about for over a year because obviously I’m very aware it’s coming up soon. If I wasn’t in the Ring of Honor or we weren’t on speaking terms, I’m not going to go in as a Sun. But this just kind of sealed it.”
Dick Van Arsdale, the Original Sun, welcomed Barkley to the Ring with open arms, and is appreciative of what he brought to the Suns and the lasting impact he had on the organization.
“Barkley is one of the few players in the league who has tremendous charisma,” he said. “He did bring a lot of energy to the team, which we really needed. When Barkley was playing, you just always expected something good to happen when he was on the court. He made things happen. I think it’s great for the fans, because they’ve always identified with him so much.”
The Chuckster also seemed to identify with everyone in the organization, from already established star players like Kevin Johnson and Chambers to the last guy on the bench, and even to family members of those that worked behind the scenes to make the whole team look and feel good.
“I think that he treated everybody just like a normal guy,” said Joe Proski, the Suns’ original trainer and a Ring of Honor member. “My mom passed away last October and I wish she was here because she moved into a (nursing) home, and she had three pictures on her wall and one of them was, ‘To my favorite Grandma Dolly, From Charles Barkley.’ She would have gone nuts to be here tonight.”
Barkley’s mother, Charcey Glenn, wife Maureen and daughter Christiana, and two brothers were also by his side for the highly anticipated festivities.
“I think it means everything,” Glenn beamed. “Charles is very humble. I felt like he deserved it before now, but it’s better late than never. He’s happy. He’s overjoyed. He has his family here and we’re just having a wonderful time and it’s just a blessing.”
Magic Johnson conveyed congratulations from the gang at TNT, where Barkley is a popular and controversial studio analyst, and acknowledged the work Sir Charles has done and will continue to do in the community.
“He meant a lot when you look at where the Suns are,” hesaid. “He created some excitement; he took them to the Finals. He’s a guy who put his heart and soul into the organization, and put his heart and soul into every game that he played. It’s great that they’re giving him this great honor.”
With Barkley firmly placed in the permanent shrine that is the Suns’ prestigious Ring of Honor, the team can go about the business of rebuilding a campionship caliber team without the constant question of when or whether Sir Charles would be accepted into his deserving spot among the club’s all-time best.