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Barkley, Charles 1963–

Charles Barkley 1963–

Basketball player, sports commentator, author

Charles Barkley, the talented and controversial star of the Phoenix Suns and later the Houston Rockets, was voted the 1992-93 Most Valuable Player in the National Basketball Association (NBA). For years the outspoken, combative Barkley languished in relative obscurity as his former team, the Philadelphia 76ers, failed to advance in NBA playoff competition. But his inclusion on the 1992 United States Olympic Team and his 1992 trade to the Suns provided Barkley with a national audience for both his fabulous basketball talents and his legendary attitude. Eight years later Barkley retired from professional basketball as one of just four NBA stars ever to reach the statistical milestones of twenty thousand points, ten thousand rebounds, and four thousand assists.

At six-foot-five and 250 pounds, Barkley was short and stout by NBA standards, but that did not stop him from becoming one of the premier power forwards in the league. Known in his early years as the “Round Mound of Rebound”—a cunning allusion to both his weight and his ability—Barkley progressed through a decade of professional basketball while appearing to become stronger and more dominant each year. In 1991 New York Times Magazine reporter Jeff Coplon wrote that Barkley had “reached the stage where he can outrun, outjump, outwork, outsmart or outmuscle anyone who lines up against him.” At the same time, “Sir Charles” developed a vast reputation for speaking his piece and exercising his temper both on and off the basketball court. Coplon described Barkley as “a wild child who will say or do whatever crosses his trip-wired mind.” Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Bill Lyon characterized the volatile player as “a newly cork-popped magnum of champagne [who] spills all over the court, frothing and foaming.”

In an era when sports superstars found it fashionable to shun the media, Barkley was a sound-bite darling. After any game, win or loss, he could be counted upon to offer opinions on just about everything from his performance to his teammates' abilities to current political events. From time to time his comments caused a tempest, but he rarely apologized or reconsidered anything he said. Barkley was adamant on one point: He did not consider himself a role model for youngsters. Political correctness was for government officials, not basketball players, in his opinion. “I believe in expressing what you feel,” he told the New York Times Magazine. “There are people who hide everything inside—and it's guys like that who kill whole families.”

Came From Humble Beginnings

Charles Wade Barkley was born in rural Leeds, Alabama (population under ten thousand), ten miles outside of Birmingham. At birth he weighed just six pounds. He suffered from anemia and required a complete blood transfusion at the tender age of six weeks. Barkley's parents were very young when he was born. They separated and divorced while Charles was still a baby. He was raised by his mother, grandmother, and stepfather. When Barkley was in grade school, his stepfather was killed in an automobile accident.

The emotional and financial setbacks the family faced did nothing to dampen Barkley's childhood ambitions. Coplon wrote: “In the 10th grade, when Barkley stood a chunky 5-10 and failed even to make his high school varsity, he vowed to anyone who'd listen that he was bound for the NBA. He shot baskets by himself into the night, seven nights a week; he jumped back and forth over a 4-foot high chain-link fence, for 15 minutes at a stretch.” Barkley's mother, Charcey Glenn, told the Philadelphia Daily News: “Other kids were getting new cars and nice clothes, but Charles never complained. He'd say, ‘One of these days, mama, I'll buy you everything you want.’ I'd ask him how and he'd say, ‘Basketball.’ Other boys signed on at the cement plant down the road, but Charles said he wasn't gonna do that kind of work. He said he was gonna make it in the NBA, nothing was gonna stop him, and he meant it.”

As a high school junior, Barkley was named a reserve on the varsity team at his high school. Then, during the summer before his senior year, he grew from five-foot-ten to six-foot-four, from 220 pounds to 240 pounds. As a senior, Barkley starred for the Leeds High team, averaging 19.1 points and 17.9 rebounds per game and leading his team to a 26-3 record and the state semifinals. Nevertheless, his only college scholarship offer came from tiny Snead Junior College.

Began Attracting Attention

Heads began to turn during the state high school semifinal, when Barkley scored twenty-six points playing against Alabama's most highly recruited player, Bobby Lee Hurt. An assistant to Auburn University coach Sonny Smith happened to be at the game. The assistant quickly phoned Smith to report his discovery—"a fat guy … who can play like the wind,” Smith was quoted as saying in the Washington Post.

Smith recruited Barkley, who majored in business management at Auburn. With his unusual shape and style, Barkley was an immediate sensation. “People concentrated on how much I weighed, not how well I played,” Barkley remembered in People. “I led the conference in rebounding for three years, but nobody knew it. I was just a fat guy who could play basketball well.” The relationship between Barkley and Smith began amicably enough but became rocky as the budding star rebelled against the coach's strict discipline. When Smith scolded, Barkley pointed to the bottom line: As a junior he was named Southeastern Conference Player of the Year while helping Auburn to its second-best win-loss record in twenty-five years.

At a Glance …

Born Charles Wade Barkley, February 20, 1963, in Leeds, AL; son of Frank Barkley and Charcey Glenn (a domestic worker); married; wife's name, Maureen; children: Christiana. Education: Attended Auburn University, 1981-84.

Career: Professional basketball player, 1984-2000. Selected fifth in first round of 1984 National Basketball Association (NBA) draft; member of Philadelphia 76ers, 1984-92, Phoenix Suns, 1992-96, and Houston Rockets, 1996-2000; announced retirement from professional basketball, April of 2000. Member of U.S. men's Olympic basketball team, 1992, 1996. Spokesperson for Nike (spots include mock opera segments and one-on-one game with Godzilla); international endorsements include Japanese instant noodles; also lent his image to Claymation figure for public service ad. Commentator for Turner Network Television (TNT) show Inside the NBA, 2000—. Established the Charles Barkley Foundation for philanthropic ventures.

Awards: Recipient of Schick Award, 1986, 1987, and 1988; member of All-Star team, 1987, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1991, and 1992; named to All-NBA first team, 1988, 1989, 1990, and 1991; named 1989-90 player of the year by the Sporting News; named Most Valuable Player of the 1991 All-Star game; Olympic Games, gold medal (with U.S. men's basketball team), 1992, 1996; named NBA Most Valuable Player, 1993; Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, inductee, 2006.

Addresses: Office—c/o Turner Network Television, 1050 Techwood Dr. NW, Atlanta, GA 30318.

In 1984 Barkley was invited to the Olympic trials, where he earned a spot on the preliminary squad before it was cut from twenty to sixteen players. His flashy style and his 360-degree spinning dunks did not entertain Olympic coach Bobby Knight. Barkley was cut before the team left for Los Angeles and the Olympic games. At that point he decided to leave Auburn one year early to turn pro, applying for the NBA's hardship draft.

Signed to the NBA

The 1984 NBA draft was one of the best in years. The first four players picked were Akeem Olajuwon, Sam Bowie, Michael Jordan, and Sam Perkins. The Philadelphia 76ers took the All-American Barkley with the fifth pick. At the news conference announcing the pick, Sixers General Manager Pat Williams joked of Barkley, “He's so fat, his bath tub has stretch marks.” More seriously, Williams told the Los Angeles Times: “We were concerned about his weight and his work habits. He had a reputation for being hard to coach. He should have made the Olympic team, but he couldn't get along with Knight. There were people who said he'd eat himself out of the league. But we went for the bottom line. We asked one question: ‘Can this guy play?’ The unanimous answer was yes. Fine, we'd start with that. The other stuff we could deal with later.”

Barkley joined a fine, competitive 76ers team with a veteran core of Moses Malone, Julius Erving, and Maurice Cheeks. He was thrilled at the opportunity to play with such renowned superstars. Their talents deflected pressure and publicity from Barkley's first season, when he averaged 14 points and 8.6 rebounds in part-time play and exasperated coaches and teammates with his aggressive on-court antics. Within months of his arrival Barkley was feuding with 76ers coach Billy Cunningham and alienating all but Philadelphia's fans with his nonstop commentary during and after games. Even then Sir Charles firmly asserted his right to be himself. “I don't have to please the public to win, I just have to do my job,” he said in the Philadelphia Daily News. “Like [Larry] Bird. He's the most obnoxious man I ever played against. I never saw a player so cocky, but he backs it up. I can respect that. Even the fans who get on me, I think, respect me as a player. If they don't … well, you know, some people are just ignorant.”

Barkley's insistence on freedom of expression soon marked him for controversy. As the 76ers slid toward mediocrity in the late 1980s, he made headlines for lashing out against his teammates. In 1987 he called the Sixers “a bad team that has to play perfect to win.” Enraged management fined him $3,000 for the remark. He was also fined—for a slightly more substantial amount—after he spit on a young fan during a game. On that occasion, Barkley had been heckled from the stands by opposing fans until he retaliated by spitting in their direction. He missed the hecklers and hit a girl, to whom he later apologized. Barkley answered his critics in the Sporting News: “If I play with emotion I'm a hotdog. That's okay, because I know if I don't play with emotion, I won't play anywhere near my ability. If I play nonchalantly, I can't play right. Am I not supposed to play with emotion?”

That “emotion” enabled Barkley to evolve into a power forward who could muscle past much taller opponents, a player who remained among the league's top rebounders through several seasons. Even the declining fortunes of the 76ers did not mask Barkley's stunning ability to dominate games. He was determined to play his very best, both for his team and for himself. Esquire correspondent Mike Lupica wrote: “There will always be a lot of mouth to Charles Barkley. But there is also a lot of talent, the kind of talent only a handful of players will ever have.”

Stirred Controversy at Olympics

In 1992 Barkley was given a second opportunity to represent America at the Olympic Games. He was a member of the first U.S. Olympic men's basketball team that featured professional players. The so-called “Dream Team,” composed of the NBA's top stars, was the premier attraction in the 1992 Summer Games in Barcelona, and as usual Barkley drew the lion's share of publicity. As Jack McCallum noted in Sports Illustrated, Barkley was “the only member of the Dream Team to have elbowed an Angolan, drawn a technical [foul] for talking to the crowd, received gentle yet unmistakable rebukes from his teammates, been called on the carpet by the [U.S. Olympic Committee] and gotten alternately cheered and jeered in the pregame introductions.” McCallum added: “Barkley has earned a difficult and quite curious double distinction in Barcelona. He has become, at once, America's greatest Olympic ambassador and its greatest potential nightmare, a man who can turn a grimace into a smile—or vice versa—in an instant.” Barkley was a scoring leader for a Dream Team that easily captured the Olympic gold medal.

The controversy continued in Philadelphia when Barkley returned to his pro game. He was unhappy with the lackluster 76ers and was anxious to be traded to a team that might qualify for high-level playoff action. At the same time, the 76ers front office had grown wary of the volatile superstar, whose statements were beginning to have embarrassing repercussions for the entire team.

The Sixers might not have advanced far in post-season play in the NBA in the 1990s, but most Americans recognized Charles Barkley. He drew the wrath of feminists by describing one particular game as the kind that “if you lose, you go home and beat your wife and kids.” Statements like that—as well as his outspoken views on racism in sports, front office management, and his own worth—assured Barkley plenty of ink in the nation's newspapers.

Signed With Suns

At the end of the 1991-92 basketball season, Barkley was traded to the Phoenix Suns. Nearing the end of his own career, he was overjoyed to find himself on a talented squad with real championship potential. Asked what he planned to contribute to the Suns, Barkley gave his characteristic blunt answer in Sports Illustrated: “I'm not as good as I was … but nobody is as good at 30 as they were at 27. I mean, I'm the only guy I know who could be top 10 in scoring, top 10 in rebounding and top 10 in field goal percentage and have a bad year.”

Barkley meshed well with his new team and earned his first Most Valuable Player citation for the 1992-93 season. McCallum suggested in Sports Illustrated that Barkley won the MVP award not only because of his considerable talent and his stellar 1993 performance, but also because of the impact he had on the Suns as a team. Barkley proved to be the pivotal player Phoenix needed to advance to the NBA championships. He helped to motivate the other players, and he himself performed like a man with something important to prove. According to McCallum, Barkley took “a successful team and made it a championship contender.”

But even as the Suns made their push to the finals in 1993, Barkley was suggesting that he was ready to retire. “I feel the end coming,” he told Sports Illustrated. “I've had enough limelight, and I've got enough money.” No one seemed to take Barkley's threats very seriously. Suns coach Paul Westphal said in 1993 that he hoped Barkley would play at least until 1996 and perhaps longer.

Fought for NBA Title

The Suns faced the Chicago Bulls in the 1993 NBA playoff finals, with the spotlight on Barkley and his friend and opponent, Michael Jordan—the “bad boy” of the Bulls who is generally considered to be the greatest player in basketball. The Bulls won the first two games of seven and seemed intent on sweeping the championships, but, largely through the efforts of Barkley, the Suns managed to pull off two victories before losing the NBA title to Chicago in game six. The loss, which gave the Bulls their third championship title in a row, was hard for Barkley to take. “It's just really difficult, you just hurt,” he was quoted as saying in an Associated Press report.

Even without the NBA title, though, the Most Valuable Player award served as a high point of Charles Barkley's unusual career. Lambasted for his weight, criticized for his brash statements, feared on court for his aggressive play, and heckled just about everywhere, Barkley emerged as the one thing he never wanted to be: a role model for the rugged individualists of the 1990s. “The majority of people in the world don't do what it takes to win,” Barkley told the New York Times Magazine. “Everyone is looking for the easy road…. I made up my mind a long time ago to be successful at whatever I did. If you want to be successful, can't nobody stop you.”

Barkley helped lead the Olympic “Dream Team” to another gold medal at the 1996 Atlanta Summer Games, which also gave him the chance to meet one of his idols, boxing great Muhammad Ali. That same year, the Suns traded him to the Houston Rockets, but his last years in pro ball were plagued by injuries. He played his final game on April 19, 2000. He retired as one of just four NBA athletes ever to achieve career stats of twenty thousand points, ten thousand rebounds, and four thousand assists, along with Karl Malone, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Wilt Chamberlain.

Found Success After Playing

Barkley's post-NBA career renaissance began when he signed with Turner Network Television (TNT) to cohost its Thursday-night NBA-game show, Inside the NBA. Then, as a follow-up to his 1991 top-selling autobiography, Outrageous! The Fine Life and Flagrant Good Times of Basketball's Irresistible Force, he published another successful memoir, I May Be Wrong but I Doubt It. In 2005 his third book appeared, departing from the memoir genre and instead featuring Barkley's interviews with notable figures from the world of sports, politics, business, and entertainment. The thirteen chapters in Who's Afraid of a Large Black Man? featured his discussions on racism with interviewees ranging from U.S. Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) and former U.S. President Bill Clinton to rapper-turned-actor Ice Cube and golf pro Tiger Woods, a close friend of Barkley's.

Barkley remains an iconoclastic figure, consistently dubbed one of the most interesting figures in sports entertainment for his comments on Inside the NBA, and he is candid about his personal flaws, including a love of gambling. He once estimated he has lost at least $10 million in the pastime, including more than $2 million in one six-hour blackjack marathon. Yet the former NBA All-Star has also donated heavily to schools back in his hometown of Leeds and other education-related causes through his philanthropic venture, the Charles Barkley Foundation.

Over the course of his long career in the limelight, he has occasionally mentioned a future career in politics, possibly even a run for the governor's office in Alabama. In 2006 he admitted to be looking for a home in the state in order to meet the required seven-year residency period, which would make his earliest campaign the 2014 gubernatorial race. He once dallied with Republican Party politics but has asserted that he feels both the GOP and the Democrats have proved a disappointment, and that if he ran for office he would do so as an independent. “We need influential black leaders,” he said in a 2002 interview with McCallum in Sports Illustrated. “That's what I want to be. I've been given a special gift, and it's not just to have 50 million dollars in the bank when I die. I want to do something else, make a difference.”

Selected writings

(With Roy Johnson Jr.) Outrageous! The Fine Life and Flagrant Good Times of Basketball's Irresistible Force (autobiography), Simon & Schuster, 1991.

(With Michael Wilbon) I May Be Wrong but I Doubt It: Some Things I've Learned So Far (autobiography), Random House, 2002.

(With Michael Wilbon) Who's Afraid of a Large Black Man?, Penguin, 2005.

Sources

Books

Barkley, Charles, and Roy Johnson Jr., Outrageous! The Fine Life and Flagrant Good Times of Basketball's Irresistible Force (autobiography), 1991.

(With Michael Wilbon) I May Be Wrong but I Doubt It: Some Things I've Learned So Far (autobiography), Random House, 2002.

Periodicals

Associated Press reports, June 19, 1993; June 20, 1993; June 21, 1993.

Boston Globe, November 9, 1984.

Chicago Tribune, February 15, 1987; February 1, 1988.

Esquire, March 1992.

Hartford Courant, December 22, 1987.

Jet, May 25, 1987.

Los Angeles Times, May 8, 1985; February 22, 1987; January 10, 1988; January 17, 1988.

Newsweek, May 24, 1993, pp. 64-65.

New York Times, April 24, 1984.

New York Times Magazine, March 17, 1991, p. 26.

People, April 27, 1987, p. 76.

Philadelphia Daily News, May 13, 1986; May 14, 1986; May 15, 1986; December 22, 1987.

Philadelphia Inquirer, June 20, 1984; April 28, 1985; April 18, 1986; May 1, 1986; February 1, 1987.

Sporting News, January 18, 1988.

Sports Illustrated, March 12,1984; March 24, 1986, p. 32; January 11, 1988; August 10, 1992; November 9, 1992, cover story; March 8, 1993, pp. 25-27; April 12, 1993, p. 83; May 3, 1993, pp. 78-89; June 7, 1993, pp. 16-17; June 14, 1993, p. 84; March 11, 2002, p. 32.

Time, June 14, 1993, p. 68.

Washington Post, April 23, 1984; February 2, 1987.

—Glen Macnow, Mark Kram, and Carol Brennan

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Barkley, Charles 1963–

Charles Barkley 1963

Professional basketball player

At a Glance

Aimed High

Drafted by the NBA in 1984

Tensions Mounted with the 76ers

Hot Shot with the Dream Team

More Than Ready for Trade to Phoenix

The 1993 NBA Playoffs

Sources

Charles Barkley, the talented and controversial star of the Phoenix Suns, was voted the 199293 Most Valuable Player in the National Basketball Association (NBA). For years, the outspoken, combative Barkley languished in relative obscurity as his former team, the Philadelphia 76ers, failed to advance in NBA playoff competition. But his inclusion on the 1992 United States Olympic Team and his 1992 trade to the Suns provided Barkley with a national audience for both his fabulous basketball talents and his legendary attitude.

At six-foot-five and 250 pounds, Barkley is short and stout by NBA standards, but that has not stopped him from becoming one of the premier power forwards in the league. Known in his early years as the Round Mound of Rebounda cunning allusion to both his weight and his abilityBarkley has progressed through a decade of professional basketball while appearing to become stronger and more dominant each year. In 1991 New York Times Magazine reporter Jeff Coplon wrote that Barkley had reached the stage where he can outrun, outjump, outwork, outsmart or outmuscle anyone who lines up against him. At the same time, Sir Charles developed a vast reputation for speaking his piece and exercising his temper both on and off the basketball court.

Coplon described Barkley as a wild child who will say or do whatever crosses his trip-wired mind. Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Bill Lyon characterized the volatile player as a newly cork-popped magnum of champagne [who] spills all over the court, frothing and foaming.

In an era when sports superstars find it fashionable to shun the media, Barkley is a sound-bite darling. After any game, win or loss, he can be counted upon to offer opinions on just about everything from his performance to his teammates abilities to current political events. From time to time his comments cause a tempest, but he rarely apologizes or reconsiders anything he says. Barkley is adamant on one point: he does not consider himself a role model for youngsters. Political correctness is for government officials, not basketball players, in his opinion. I believe in expressing what you feel, he told the New York Times Magazine. There are people who hide everything insideand its guys like that who kill whole families.

Charles Wade Barkley was born in rural Leeds, Alabama (population under 10,000), ten miles outside of Birmingham. At birth he weighed just six pounds. He suffered from anemia and required a complete blood transfusion at the tender age of

At a Glance

Born Charles Wade Barkley, February 20,1963, in Leeds, At; son of Frank Barkley and Charcey Glenn (a domestic worker); married; wifes name, Maureen; children: Christiana. Education: Attended Auburn University, 198184.

Professional basketball player, 1984. Selected fifth in first round of 1984 National Basketball Association (NBA) draft; member of Philadelphia 76ers, 198492, and Phoenix Suns, 1992. Spokesperson for Nike (spots include mock opera segments and now famous one-on-one game with Godzilla); international endorsements include Japanese instant noodles; also lent his image to Claymation figure for public service ad. Author, with Roy Johnson, Jr., of autobiography Outrageous, 1991.

Selected awards: Recipient of Schick Award, 1986, 1987, and 1988; member of All-Star team, 1987,1988, 1989, 1990, 1991, and 1992; named to All-NBA first team, 1988, 1989, 1990, and 1991; named 198990 player of the, year by the Sporting News; named Most Valuable Player of the 1991 All-Star game; Olympic gold medal for mens basketball, 1992; named NBA Most Valuable player, 1993.

Addresses: c/o Phoenix Suns, P.O. Box 1369, Phoenix, AZ 85001.

six weeks. Barkleys parents were very young when he was born. They separated and divorced while Charles was still a baby. He was raised by his mother, grandmother, and a stepfather. Then, when Barkley was in grade school, his stepfather was killed in an automobile accident.

Aimed High

The emotional and financial setbacks the family faced did nothing to dampen Barkleys childhood ambitions. Coplon wrote: In the 10th grade, when Barkley stood a chunky 510 and failed even to make his high school varsity, he vowed to anyone whod listen that he was bound for the NBA. He shot baskets by himself into the night, seven nights a week; he jumped back and forth over a 4-foot high chain-link fence, for 15 minutes at a stretch. Barkleys mother, Charcey Glenn, told the Philadelphia Daily News: Other kids were getting new cars and nice clothes, but Charles never complained. Hed say, One of these days, mama, Ill buy you everything you want. Id ask him how and hed say, Basketball. Other boys signed on at the cement plant down the road, but Charles said he wasnt gonna do that kind of work. He said he was gonna make it in the NBA, nothing was gonna stop him, and he meant it.

As a high school junior, Barkley was named a reserve on the varsity team at his high school. Then, during the summer before his senior year, he grew from five-foot-ten to six-foot-four, from 220 pounds to 240 pounds. As a senior, Barkley starred for the Leeds High team, averaging 19.1 points and 17.9 rebounds a game and leading his team to a 263 record and the state semifinals. Nevertheless, the only college scholarship offer came from tiny Snead Junior College.

Heads began to turn during the state high school semifinal, when Barkley scored 26 points playing against Alabamas most highly recruited player, Bobby Lee Hurt. An assistant to Auburn University coach Sonny Smith happened to be at the game. The assistant quickly phoned Smith to report his discoverya fat guy who can play like the wind, to quote Smith in the Washington Post.

Smith recruited Barkley, who majored in business management at Auburn. With his unusual shape and style, Barkley was an immediate sensation. People concentrated on how much I weighed, not how well I played, Barkley remembered in People. I led the conference in rebounding for three years, but nobody knew it. I was just a fat guy who could play basketball well. The relationship between Barkley and Smith began amicably enough but became rocky as the budding star rebelled against the coachs strict discipline. When Smith scolded, Barkley pointed to the bottom line: as a junior he was named Southeastern Conference Player of the Year while helping Auburn to its second-best win-loss record in 25 years.

In 1984 Barkley was invited to the Olympic trials, where he earned a spot on the preliminary squad before it was cut from 20 to 16 players. His flashy style and his 360-degree spinning dunks did not entertain Olympic coach Bobby Knight. Barkley was cut before the team left for Los Angeles and the Olympic games. At that point he decided to leave Auburn one year early to turn pro, applying for the NBAs hardship draft.

Drafted by the NBA in 1984

The 1984 NBA draft was one of the best in years. The first four players picked were Akeem Olajuwon, Sam Bowie, Michael Jordan, and Sam Perkins. The Philadelphia 76ers took the All-American Barkley with the fifth pick. At the news conference announcing the pick, Sixers general manager Pat Williams joked of Barkley, Hes so fat, his bath tub has stretch marks. More seriously, Williams told the Los Angeles Times: We were concerned about his weight and his work habits. He had a reputation for being hard to coach. He should have made the Olympic team, but he couldnt get along with Knight. There were people who said hed eat himself out of the league. But we went for the bottom line. We asked one question: Can this guy play? The unanimous answer was yes. Fine, wed start with that. The other stuff we could deal with later.

Barkley joined a fine, competitive 76ers team with a veteran core of Moses Malone, Julius Erving and Maurice Cheeks. He was thrilled at the opportunity to play with such renowned superstars. Their talents deflected pressure and publicity from Barkleys first season, when he averaged 14 points and 8.6 rebounds in part-time play and exasperated coaches and teammates with his aggressive on-court antics. Within months of his arrival Barkley was feuding with 76ers coach Billy Cunningham and alienating all but Philadelphias fans with his nonstop commentary during and after games. Even then Sir Charles firmly asserted his right to be himself. I dont have to please the public to win, I just have to do my job, he said in the Philadelphia Daily News. Like [Larry] Bird. Hes the most obnoxious man I ever played against. I never saw a player so cocky, but he backs it up. I can respect that. Even the fans who get on me, I think, respect me as a player. If they dont well, you know, some people are just ignorant.

Tensions Mounted with the 76ers

Barkleys insistence on freedom of expression soon marked him for controversy. As the 76ers slid toward mediocrity in the late 1980s, he made headlines for lashing out against his teammates. In 1987 he called the Sixers a bad team that has to play perfect to win. Enraged management fined him $3,000 for the remark. He was also finedfor a slightly more substantial amountafter he spit on a young fan during a game. On that occasion, Barkley had been heckled from the stands by opposing fans until he retaliated by spitting in their direction. He missed the hecklers and hit a girl, to whom he later apologized. Barkley answered his critics in the Sporting News: If I play with emotion Im a hotdog. Thats okay, because I know if I dont play with emotion, I wont play anywhere near my ability. If I play nonchalantly, I cant play right. Am I not supposed to play with emotion?

That emotion enabled Barkley to evolve into a power forward who could muscle past much taller opponents, a player who remained among the leagues top rebounders through several seasons. Even the declining fortunes of the 76ers did not mask Barkleys stunning ability to dominate games. He was determined to play his very best, both for his team and for himself. Esquire correspondent Mike Lupica wrote: There will always be a lot of mouth to Charles Barkley. But there is also a lot of talent, the kind of talent only a handful of players will ever have.

Hot Shot with the Dream Team

In 1992 Barkley was given a second opportunity to represent America at the Olympic Games. He was a member of the first United States Olympic mens basketball team that featured professional players. The so-called Dream Team, composed of the NBAs top stars, was the premier attraction in the 1992 Summer Games, and as usual Barkley drew the lions share of publicity. As Jack McCallum noted in Sports Illustrated, Barkley was the only member of the Dream Team to have elbowed an Angolan, drawn a technical [foul] for talking to the crowd, received gentle yet unmistakable rebukes from his teammates, been called on the carpet by the [United States Olympic Committee] and gotten alternately cheered and jeered in the pregame introductions. McCallum added: Barkley has earned a difficult and quite curious double distinction in Barcelona. He has become, at once, Americas greatest Olympic ambassador and its greatest potential nightmare, a man who can turn a grimace into a smile or vice versain an instant. Barkley was a scoring leader for a Dream Team that easily captured the Olympic gold medal.

The controversy continued in Philadelphia when Barkley returned to his pro game. He was unhappy with the lackluster 76ers and was anxious to be traded to a team that might qualify for high-level playoff action. At the same time, the 76ers front office had grown wary of the volatile superstar, whose statements were beginning to have embarrassing repercussions for the entire team. The Sixers might not have advanced far in post-season play in the NBA in the 1990s, but most Americans recognized Charles Barkley. He drew the wrath of feminists by describing one particular game as the kind that if you lose, you go home and beat your wife and kids. Statements like thatas well as his outspoken views on racism in sports, front office management, and his own worthassured Barkley plenty of ink in the nations newspapers.

More Than Ready for Trade to Phoenix

At the end of the 199192 basketball season, Barkley was traded to the Phoenix Suns. Nearing the end of his own career, he was overjoyed to find himself on a talented squad with real championship potential. Asked what he planned to contribute to the Suns, Barkley gave his characteristic blunt answer in Sports Illustrated: Im not as good as I was but nobody is as good at 30 as they were at 27. I mean, Im the only guy I know who could be top 10 in scoring, top 10 in rebounding and top 10 in field goal percentage and have a bad year.

Barkley meshed well with his new team and earned his first Most Valuable Player citation for the 199293 season. McCallum suggested in Sports Illustrated that Barkley won the MVP award not only because of his considerable talent and his stellar 1993 performance, but also because of the impact he had on the Suns as a team. Barkley proved to be the pivotal player Phoenix needed to advance to the NBA championships. He helped to motivate the other players, and he himself performed like a man with something important to prove. According to McCallum, Barkley took a successful team and made it a championship contender.

But even as the Suns made their push to the finals in 1993, Barkley was suggesting that he was ready to retire. I feel the end coming, he told Sports Illustrated. Ive had enough limelight, and Ive got enough money. No one seemed to take Barkleys threats very seriously. Suns coach Paul Westphal said in 1993 that he hoped Barkley would play at least until 1996 and perhaps longer.

The 1993 NBA Playoffs

The Suns faced the Chicago Bulls in the 1993 NBA playoff finals, with the spotlight on Barkley and his friend and opponent, Michael Jordanthe bad boy of the Bulls who is generally considered to be the greatest player in basketball. The Bulls won the first two games of seven and seemed intent on sweeping the championships, but, largely through the efforts of Barkley, the Suns managed to pull off two victories before losing the NBA title to Chicago in game six. The loss, which gave the Bulls their third championship title in a row, was hard for Barkley to take. Its just really difficult, you just hurt, he was quoted as saying in an Associated Press report.

Even without the NBA title, though, the Most Valuable Player award serves as a fine cap to Charles Barkleys unusual career. Lambasted for his weight, criticized for his brash statements, feared on court for his aggressive play, and heckled just about everywhere, Barkley has emerged as the one thing he never wanted to be: a role model for the rugged individualists of the 1990s. The majority of people in the world dont do what it takes to win, Barkley told the New York Times Magazine. Everyone is looking for the easy road. I made up my mind a long time ago to be successful at whatever I did. If you want to be successful, cant nobody stop you.

Sources

Books

Barkley, Charles, and Roy Johnson, Jr., Outrageous (autobiography), 1991.

Periodicals

Associated Press reports, June 19, 1993; June 20, 1993; June 21, 1993.

Boston Globe, November 9, 1984.

Chicago Tribune, February 15, 1987; February 1, 1988.

Esquire, March 1992.

Hartford Courant, December 22, 1987.

Jet, May 25, 1987.

Los Angeles Times, May 8, 1985; February 22, 1987; January 10, 1988; January 17, 1988.

Newsweek, May 24, 1993, pp. 6465.

New York Times, April 24, 1984.

New York Times Magazine, March 17, 1991, p. 26.

People, April 27, 1987, p. 76.

Philadelphia Daily News, May 13, 1986; May 14, 1986; May 15, 1986; December 22, 1987.

Philadelphia Inquirer, June 20, 1984; April 28, 1985; April 18, 1986; May 1, 1986; February 1, 1987.

Sporting News, January 18, 1988.

Sports Illustrated, March 12, 1984; March 24, 1986, p. 32; January 11, 1988; August 10, 1992; November 9, 1992, cover story; March 8, 1993, pp. 2527; April 12, 1993, p. 83; May 3, 1993, pp. 7889; June 7, 1993, pp. 1617; June 14, 1993, p. 84.

Time, June 14, 1993, p. 68.

Washington Post, April 23, 1984; February 2, 1987.

Glen Macnow and Mark Kram

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Barkley, Charles

Charles Barkley

1963-

American basketball player

During a sixteen-year career in the National Basketball Association (NBA), forward Charles Barkley proved himself to be one of best basketball players of all

time, as well as one of the more controversial. An excellent rebounder despite his generous girth and unexceptional height, he was dubbed "The Round Mound of Rebound" while a player at Auburn University. As a pro, he became "Sir Charles" and was named league MVP for the 1992-1993 season, became a perennial member of the All-Star Team, and was rated as one of the top fifty players of all time by the NBA. None of these rewards, however, lessened his desire to play for a championship team, a goal that sent him from the Philadelphia 76ers to the Phoenix Suns to the Houston Rockets. Off the court, Barkley often made news with his verbal and physical sparring. After retiring in 2000, he became an analyst for TNT's Inside the NBA, where his wit and willingness to criticize make for lively viewing.

Growing Up

Born February 20, 1963 in Leeds, Alabama, Barkley weighed just six pounds at birth and suffered from anemia to the degree that he required a complete blood transfusion at six weeks. His parents Frank and Charcey Glenn Barkley divorced when he was still a baby. He was raised by his mother and grandmother. By the tenth grade, when he was a chubby five feet-ten inches and not yet a varsity player, Barkley had decided he was going to play in the NBA and make a great deal of money. His prospects improved when a growth spurt pushed him to six feet-four inches prior to his senior year. Subsequently, he starred on the Leeds High varsity team, averaging 19.1 points and 17.9 rebounds per game. When an Auburn University assistant coach saw Barkley score twenty-six points in the state semifinals, he recommended him to head coach Sonny Smith as fat but decidedly fast and talented.

At Auburn, Barkley broke the university record for blocked shots with 145. During his junior year he was named the Southeastern Conference Player of the Year. Barkley also came close to joining the U.S. Olympic team in 1984, being one of the last four players eliminated. Coach Bobby Knight of Indiana University was not a fan of Barkley's showy style of play, which included 360-degree spinning dunks. Shortly thereafter, the young player left Auburn a year early to join the NBA. He was the fifth player selected in the 1984 draft, behind Hakeem Olajuwon and Michael Jordan , and signed with the Philadelphia 76ers.

Dominant Rebounder

In Philadelphia, Barkley joined established stars Julius Erving and Moses Malone . He did well in his first season, averaging fourteen points and 8.6 rebounds per game. During the next two seasons, he evolved into a starter for Philadelphia and became the shortest player to lead the NBA in rebounding. In 1987 Barkley was named to the All Star team for the first time. Some analysts have connected Barkley's playing success with his unusual physique, saying that he was able block with his wide body and outrun bigger opponents. Barkley, however, credits his success to his greater competitiveness and emotion on the court.

Emotion, however, would sometimes get Barkley in trouble. He began to complain about his teammates, whom he lumped together as "a bad team that has to play perfect to win." The comment resulted in a $3,000 fine. During the 1991-1992 season, Barkley tried to spit on a heckler who sat court-side, but missed and hit a little girl. He apologized to the girl and gifted her family with season tickets, and was fined again. That same year, he was arrested for punching a man in Milwaukee, but was acquitted when a jury decided that the other man had started the fight. Amidst media coverage of such events, Barkley was chastised for not serving as a better role model for children. He responded that playing basketball well does not automatically make someone a hero. Felons and drug addicts can dunk, he pointed out. His own heroes were his mother and grandmother, whom he credited with showing him how to work hard.

Barkley continued to improve his game, but the Philadelphia team often struggled. In 1989 former Detroit Piston "Bad Boy" Rick Mahorn joined the 76ers and became part of a "Bump and Thump" partnership with Barkley. They helped the 76ers win the Atlantic division title, but the team lost to the Chicago Bulls and Michael Jordan in the second round of the finals. When Barkley missed fifteen games in 1990-1991 season, the team fizzled and missed the playoffs.

In 1992 Barkley was named to the "Dream Team" representing the United States in the Olympics, when the rules were changed to allow professional players. At the competition in Barcelona, Spain, he led the U.S. team in scoring but was also a source of embarrassment when he elbowed a thin player from Angola and then threatened to boycott the awards ceremony. Along with Michael Jordan, he objected to wearing uniforms made by Reebok when he was a paid spokesman for Nike.

Chronology

1963 Born February 20 in Leeds, Alabama
1981-84 Stars in basketball at Auburn University
1984 Cut during U.S. Olympic basketball team trials
1984 Selected fifth in the NBA draft by the Philadelphia 76ers
1989 Marries Maureen Blumhardt
1989 Daughter Christiana born
1992 Selected for the first Olympic "Dream Team"
1992 Traded to the Phoenix Suns
1993 Awarded NBA Most Valuable Player Award
1996 Traded to the Houston Rockets
1996 Selected as one of the 50 greatest players in NBA history
1996 Appears in motion picture Space Jam
2000 Retires from professional basketball
2000 Joins cast of TNT's Inside the NBA

Awards and Accomplishments

All-NBA first team 1987-88 to 1990-91, 1992-93; second team 1985-86, 1986-87, 1991-92, 1993-94, 1994-95; third team 1995-96
1983-84 Named Southeastern Conference Player of the Year
1985 Named to NBA All-Rookie Team
1987-88 First year named as NBA All Star
1992, 1996 Member U.S. Olympic team
1992 Named NBA Most Valuable Player
1996 Named one of the 50 greatest players in NBA history
1999 Achieved 12,000th career rebound, 23,000th career point, and 4,000th career assist

Heads to Phoenix

After campaigning to be traded, Barkley became a member of the Phoenix Suns beginning with the 1992-1993 season. That year, the Suns had the best record in the NBA and Barkley won the MVP award. The team met the Chicago Bulls in the NBA finals, where they lost the series in Game six. The next year, Barkley considered retiring when he hurt his back in training camp. But the idea of trying again for the NBA title lured him back. However, the Suns would lose to Houston in the Western Conference semi-finals. During the 1995-96 season, Barkley experienced regular knee pain, but still managed to average 23.2 points and 11.6 rebounds per game. When the Suns lost in the first round of the playoffs, Barkley was outspoken about his desire to play for a better team.

Reluctantly Retires

The last three years of Barkley's career were spent with the Houston Rockets. He was happy with the change, but would spend less time playing because of injuries. During the 1996-1997 season he was named one of the NBA's top fifty players of all time. Not only was he near the top of the NBA's all-time scoring list, he was one of only four players in league history to accumulate at least 20,000 points, 10,000 rebounds, and 3,500 assists. A torn quadriceps tendon reinforced Barkley's decision to retire in 2000. It was a difficult parting for the player, who would later be tempted to follow the example of Michael Jordan coming out of retirement.

In 2000, Barkley found an arena where his strong opinions and often humorous style of expressing himself were quite welcome. He became a commentator for TNT's Inside the NBA, working with co-analyst Kenny Smith and host Ernie Johnson. In his opinion, the job required little more than being himself. "Prepare for my work? Hell, I played sixteen years. I can tell you who can play and who can't," he remarked in Time. His contributions helped make the program one of the most highly regarded studio sport shows and earned him a contract extension in 2002 that was reported to be worth 1.5 million per year.

Barkley for Governor

Barkley's new contract also gives him a spot on CNN's Talkback Live, where he comments on current news issues during the NBA season. The assignment reflects Barkley's strong interest in social and political issues. He said in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that he would not represent a Republican or Democratic viewpoint, but rather would express his own opinions. However, for several years he has talked about running for governor of Alabama as a Republican. Barkley has always been outspoken on the subjects of race and class. He hates the commonly held idea that sports are the only route to success for young blacks. In Sports Illustrated he summarized his political motivation by saying, "I want to be able to tell people that there's no difference between white folks and black folks." Barkley has criticized other black athletes, including his friends Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods , for not speaking out. He says he is different because he is willing to be ridiculed.

Barkley manages to be entertaining, maddening, and thought-provoking all at once. His super-sized persona matches both his figure and his phenomenal career in professional basketball. Standing half-a-foot shorter than many of his adversaries on the court, he became a leading rebounder. While struggling to keep his weight under 300 pounds, he nevertheless outpaced them as well. A tiny handful of players have better records in rebounding, scoring, and assists. The NBA star has explained that his accomplishments come from being willing to work hard and truly wanting to succeed. Barkley joked at his retirement from basketball, "Just what the country needs: another unemployed black man." But with his growing presence on television and political aspirations, it should be fascinating to see what Charles Barkley does next.

CONTACT INFORMATION

Address: Turner Broadcasting System Inc., 1 CNN Ctr., Atlanta, GA, 30348. Phone: (404) 827-1700.

Career Statistics

Yr Team GP PTS FG% 3P% FT% RPG APG SPG
HOU: Houston Rockets; PHI: Philadelphia 76ers; PHO: Phoenix Suns.
1984-85 PHI 82 1148 .545 .167 .733 8.60 1.9 1.16
1985-86 PHI 80 1603 .572 .227 .685 12.80 3.9 2.16
1986-87 PHI 68 1564 .594 .202 .761 14.60 4.9 1.75
1987-88 PHI 80 2264 .587 .280 .751 11.90 3.2 1.25
1988-89 PHI 79 2037 .579 .216 .753 12.50 4.1 1.59
1989-90 PHI 79 1989 .600 .217 .749 11.50 3.9 1.87
1990-91 PHI 67 1849 .570 .284 .722 10.10 4.2 1.64
1991-92 PHI 75 1730 .552 .234 .695 11.10 4.1 1.81
1992-93 PHO 76 1944 .520 .305 .765 12.20 5.1 1.57
1993-94 PHO 65 1402 .495 .270 .704 11.20 4.6 1.55
1994-95 PHO 68 1561 .486 .338 .748 11.10 4.1 1.62
1995-96 PHO 71 1649 .500 .280 .777 11.60 3.7 1.61
1996-97 HOU 53 1016 .484 .283 .694 13.50 4.7 1.30
1997-98 HOU 68 1036 .485 .214 .746 11.70 3.2 1.04
1998-99 HOU 42 676 .478 .160 .719 12.30 4.6 1.02
1999-00 HOU 20 289 .477 .231 .645 10.50 3.2 .70
TOTAL 1073 23757 .541 .266 .735 11.7 3.9 1.54

SELECTED WRITINGS BY BARKLEY:

(With Roy S. Johnson) Outrageous!: The Fine Life and Flagrant Good Times of Basketball's Irresistible Force, Simon & Schuster, 1992.

(With Rick Reilly) Sir Charles: The Wit and Wisdom of Charles Barkley, Warner Books, 1994.

Inside the NBA

In his new role as basketball analyst, Charles Barkley is one of the main reasons that Inside the NBA has earned rave reviews. Writing for Sports Illustrated, Jack McCallum suggested that the TNT program was so "absurdly good" that it defies analysis. The show is energized by the trash-talking exchanges of Ernie Johnson, Kenny Smith, and Barkley, with a heavy reliance on the unpredictability of Barkley's wit and venom. Sometimes the humorous exchanges escalate into slapstick, such as when Barkley did weekly "Fat Trak" weigh-ins and when he lost a bet with Smith over whether Houston's Yao Ming could score nineteen points in a game. Barkley lived up to his promise to kiss Smith's ass, which turned out to be a donkey hired for the occasion. Despite the former NBA star's controversial views on subjects ranging from international players to gender roles and race, he is becoming more popular than ever as a broadcaster.

(Michael Wilson, editor) I May Be Wrong, But I Doubt It: Some Things I've Learned So Far, Random, 2002.

FURTHER INFORMATION

Books

Sports Stars, series 1-4. UXL, 1994-98.

Periodicals

McCallum, Jack. "Citizen Barkley." Sports Illustrated (March 11, 2002): 32.

Tyrangiel, Josh. "It's Charles in Charge." Time (November 26, 2001): 94.

Wolfley, Bob. "CNN Offers Sir Charles and the World." Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. (July 26, 2002): 02C.

Other

Platt, Larry. "Charles Barkley." Salon.com. http://dir.salon.com (May 30, 2000).

Sketch by Paula Pyzik Scott

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