Bombastic, ballistic, blistering … boom! It all describes the force better known as Charles Barkley, who made his NBA entrance by blowing down the doors and never apologizing for the damage. Barkley didn’t suffer fools, only the painful defeats that came his way, mainly in Philadelphia and later in Phoenix and Houston while trying to win that elusive championship, which he badly craved but never obtained.
But the validation of Sir Charles as a superstar arrived anyway, despite it all. He was loud and brash, both with his play 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 guts and grace, someone with the amazing ability to move and soar and sprint despite his heft. He was listed at 6-foot-6 but truthfully was about two or three inches shorter. He was listed at 260 pounds but truthfully that depended on what he had for dinner. Here’s another truth: A stocked yet aging Sixers team with Dr. J and Moses Malone and Maurice Cheeks was fortunate to have Barkley immediately shine during 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 at the edges when he arrived. Barkley was good for them, and they were good for him. Each side took the best that the other offered. The veterans were energized by his personality and spirit, and he matured from their wisdom. Almost from the start, the Sixers and Barkley were made for each other.
The coming-of-age moments for Barkley were scattered throughout his first few seasons, none better than his 37-point, 14-rebound, 9-assist Game 4 playoff demolition of the Bucks in his second season. Here, you can sense and see the baton being passed, as the Sixers looked for Barkley constantly and he accepted the responsibility of leading the way. It was also a sneak preview of what Barkley could be, once fully unleashed. And it was amazing to behold.
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 — that forever changed basketball. At last, Barkley felt unburdened and free after so many painful endings with the Sixers. A new era beckoned in Phoenix. But first, a detour through Barcelona, where Barkley became The Man of the Games and a man of the people.
With the Suns, Barkley joined a team ready to reach the next level. The franchise accepted him as the centerpiece, and he accepted the responsibility that came with that. Barkley was named MVP of the 1992-93 regular season and put the Suns on his back when the playoffs began. He led Phoenix all the way to the 1993 NBA Finals before falling short against the Bulls. Along the way, Barkley delivered many memorable performances, including this 43-point triple-double masterpiece against the SuperSonics in the West Finals.
Barkley gravitated to Phoenix and vice versa. The Suns had everything except a franchise player; Barkley had everything except a supporting cast to provide a legitimate chance at a title. Their time together was prosperous and an upgrade over what Barkley experienced during his final few years in Philly. The Suns played entertaining and winning basketball and, in the process, created what was considered the model franchise in the NBA — a destination place, all made possible by Barkley’s tenure.
Charles Barkley traveled far from Leeds, Alabama, and blessed us with his loquaciousness and legend along the way. Nobody his size moved the way he did. Nobody talked and spit opinions like him, either. Barkley was a package and folks had to accept all of it; there was no other choice, nor should there have been. The uniqueness of Barkley was irresistible and made him a fan favorite, a Hall of Famer, one of the greatest players of all time and certainly among the most endearing. Barkley never won a championship, but he left this game as a winner.