With weeklong retrospectives, star-studded parties, and the requisite fawning and nostalgia that accompanied the 50th birthday celebration of a certain poorly dressed team owner from North Carolina, another former NBA great hitting the half-century milestone seemingly went overlooked.
Maybe it’s because Charles Barkley should have never made it to the NBA in the first place. I mean, why was a 6’4” (generously listed as 6’6”) 300+ pound country boy from Auburn University, by way of tiny Leeds, Alabama, not protecting some potential NFL first round pick’s blind side? Instead, the pudgy small town kid bounded his hefty frame up and down the college basketball landscape, collecting rebounds and nicknames–”The Round Mound of Rebound” never gets old–like DMX collects speeding tickets.
After terrorizing the SEC for three years, Barkley took his talents to South Philly, and an NBA that was not ready for what he would bring to the table, both on and off the court. In addition to being a fat guy in a league full of greyhound lean speedsters, Barkley defined having no filter long before girls with too much makeup found Instagram. He spoke his mind to anyone that would listen. He was direct, confident, and often crass. Barkley had no time for sugar coating or worrying about being offensive. He famously discarded the “role model” tag that may as well be a contract stipulation for each American professional athlete seeking big money and endorsement deals.
Oh, he also managed to play some basketball as well. With the Philadelphia 76ers, and later in his MVP campaign with the Phoenix Suns, Barkley rebounded and scored with reckless abandon. There were few things more exciting to watch, during his prime, than Sir Charles leaping over a seven-footer for a rebound, turning on a dime, and taking the ball coast to coast like a derailed train for a foundation cracking slam. He was an 11 time all-star selection, named All-NBA 11 times (first and second team five times apiece), and won the league’s MVP trophy in 1993.
After a handful of unsuccessful years in Houston, a battered and toothless Barkley mercifully announced his retirement, and stepped in front of the microphone full time. The progression was natural as he was a 13-time All-Interview team winner as a player as well. His funny, sincere, no nonsense approach on camera, has made my Thursday nights a joy between the months of November and June each year since he joined TNT’s Inside The NBA.
So here’s to Chuck. May your waistbands be elastic; your poker chips stack high to the ceiling, and your golf swing invisible to those of us with any reverence for that horrible boring game. You are a legendary character and player, and I wish you fifty more years of greatness.