American Idol: Scola Meets Barkley

One of the most unique parts about working in professional sports is the chance to get to know players on a more personal level. As fans, we look at these people as mere physical specimens expected to perform at the highest level known to man at a moment’s notice. But, when you get to know them, you realize they’re not that different from anyone else.

Case in point, Suns forward Luis Scola.

While Luis grew up worlds away -- or at least 5,828 miles away -- from Phoenix in Buenos Aires, he still managed to share one characteristic with most who grew up in the Valley in the ‘90s. He was a huge Charles Barkley fan.

“I watched him in the Suns days,” the 33-year-old Scola reminisced with a smile on his face. “When we first got cable in the house it was around the time [the Suns] played in the finals. They broadcast the whole playoffs and I watched the whole playoffs.”

Many people in the Valley fell in love with Barkley’s charm off the court and tenacious play on it during that memorable 1993 playoff run, but it is hard to argue -- no matter how painful it is for Suns fans to admit -- that at the time Michael Jordan was the darling of the NBA. Despite Sir Charles winning the MVP that year, MJ was the guy that most fans gravitated to nationally.

So it begs the question, exactly how did Scola join the people of Phoenix in their love for the Round Mound of Rebound?

“I really wanted Phoenix to win for some reason,” he said while searching the recesses of his mind to remember his thought process at the age of 13. “Everybody was really in love with Michael Jordan, and I was trying to be different. I liked Charles, he was MVP that year, so I rooted for them.”

As if Scola’s hard-nosed play this season wasn’t enough to endear him to Suns fans, his dislike of Mike and support of Phoenix’s favorite historical sports team is yet another reason to root for the Argentinian.

Like many men in their 20s and 30s, Scola always wanted to meet his childhood sports idol. Despite having met many other big-name athletes thanks to playing in the NBA and in international play for his homeland, he never got the chance to meet Barkley. That is, until this past Saturday at the Suns Charities Gala.

“It was great,” he said of his brief encounter with Barkley. “I got a chance to meet a lot of great players because of playing in the NBA, but Charles is a little special. I really idolized him growing up. I wanted a chance to tell him that and I didn’t find a chance before. I just wanted to tell him. You never know how long you’re going to play.”

Like with any brush with greatness, there is always some trepidation. A fear that meeting someone you’ve idolized for years could fall extremely short of the expectations you’ve built up in your head. Those fears quickly dissipated for Scola upon meeting Barkley.

“He was really, really nice,” Scola said of his childhood favorite. “I can’t say enough good words. He was nice to everyone. Not that it would have changed what I thought about him.”

Luis Scola isn’t all that different than you or I. Sure, he may be a 6-9 starting power forward with hair usually designated for the cover of romance novels, or the head of a Hollywood hunk depicting a Roman soldier, but in the end, he’s just a guy who grew up rooting for the Phoenix Suns and Charles Barkley. He just did it thousands of miles away with announcers speaking a different language.