Legacy of the Chuckster
Posted: March 12, 2004
As the legend goes, then-Suns assistant coach Lionel Hollins was walking off the court in the old Portland Memorial Coliseum, immediately following the Suns’ elimination from the 1992 NBA Playoffs at the hands of the bigger, tougher Trail Blazers.
“What we need is a Charles Barkley,” Hollins muttered.
Some one month later, a Charles Barkley is what the Suns got. And the stuff of true legends was made.
The fact that this particular story rings true just adds to the mystique and merry mayhem that started that fateful summer of 1992 and continued for four years. The arrival of Sir Charles Barkley in the Valley of Sun changed the face of a franchise and put an entire city on its collective ear.
Barkley’s acquisition in a trade with the Philadelphia 76ers gave birth to an amazing perfect storm of success, notoriety and plain frenzy that quickly enveloped the team and the city. Shortly after the June deal that brought him to town, the Suns introduced the new America West Arena, a new logo, new uniforms and a new coach. What wasn’t new to the franchise were sold-out crowds, playoff success and amazing popularity. Adding a player with Sir Charles’ talents and personality simply turned up the heat on the Suns Fever.
“It’s hard to put it into words how popular he was, and deservedly so,” said that new coach, Paul Westphal. “To me, he kind of embodied the Western individualistic spirit. When he came here, people asked how he was going to match up with Karl Malone. He said, ‘Tell Karl there’s a new sheriff in town.’
“He just had that kind of cocky, gunslinger, ‘bring ‘em on’ attitude that really resonated, particularly in a southwestern city like Phoenix.”
The 1992-93 season opened with a win at home over the L.A. Clippers and ended in Game 6 of the NBA Finals as John Paxson’s three-pointer found the bottom of the net on the north rim at AWA, propelling Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls to their third-straight NBA title. In between, Barkley led the Suns to an NBA-best and franchise-record 62-20 mark with amazing performances and sheer force of personality. And he enjoyed every minute of it, as did everyone around him.
“The game was just a lot of fun that season,” said teammate Dan Majerle. “Off the court, we had a fantastic time because Charles was a guy that just kept everybody loose. But when it came time to play he took care of business on the floor. It was just a year I’ll never forget because we just had so much fun and we won so many games. We had such a good team, our whole mix was special and Charles made it that much more special.”
His efforts that season earned him NBA MVP honors, the only Suns player in history to achieve such status. And it was only a Chicago team that Jordan himself has tabbed as the best of the Bulls’ six championship squads that kept Barkley and the Suns from earning even more hardware.
“It was a remarkable season and one that must be ranked as high as any other single season by anyone who played the game,” said Kevin Johnson, who teamed with Sir Charles to create one of the league’s most devastating two-man games. “I’m not talking only in terms of statistics and reaching the Finals, but in far more meaningful ways. The season was full of magical moments. It was a magical year for Charles and for all of those fortunate enough to tag along with him.”
Barkley followed up his MVP performance in ’92-93 with three more years of tremendous play, earning NBA All-Star and all-NBA Team recognition each season. He posted staggering averages of 23.4 points, 11.5 boards and 4.4 assists over his 280 games in a Suns uniform. His playoff statistics are even more astounding – 26.5 points, 13.4 rebounds and 4.1 assists per contest.
Unfortunately for Barkley and the Suns, the amazing stats and rousing successes never culminated in a championship ring. The inability of the Barkley-led Suns teams of the early and mid-‘90s to win it all was a source of frustration for many but, looking back now, it would be hard to imagine a more enjoyable ride.
On March 20, that ride will finally pull right up to the Suns’ Ring of Honor, where Barkley’s name and number will hang alongside four other people associated with that memorable ’92-93 team – Johnson, Majerle, Westphal, Tom Chambers and trainer Joe Proski – as well as the other most-renowned names in the annals of the franchise – Van Arsdale, Hawkins, Adams and Davis.
For fans, the organization, his former teammates, not to mention his soon-to-be fellow Ring of Honorees, the induction is more than well-deserved.
“Charles, in my opinion, had probably the best year anyone’s ever had in Phoenix and did the most for bringing attention to the Suns during that period of time than anyone’s ever done,” Westphal said. “He deserves the honor greatly.”
“I know for me it was awesome,” said Majerle, who entered the Ring himself less than two years ago. “With Charles, he was the biggest thing to hit this town in a long time. He is a real character and people are going to come out to see what happens.
“It’s going to be an awesome night for him.”
More than likely, it will be also be a night that legends are made of.