7 Things We Learned from Charles Barkley's Fascinating 50th-Birthday Interview
NBA Hall of Famer and bombastic commentator Charles Barkley turns 50 years old on Feb. 20, and based on the revealing interview that followed the festivities on NBA All-Star Saturday, he's heading into his second half-century without holding anything back.
The Chuckster was reflective, honest and even a little contradictory at times. But that's what we've all come to expect from him.
And even though Barkley's friend and co-worker Ernie Johnson was the man asking the questions, this was no fluff piece. Chuck had to face down some of his most infamous moments, and he even displayed a certain amount of unabashed disappointment during the uglier portions of his 50th-birthday retrospective.
Considering he's been a notable (and uniquely vocal) part of the NBA world for 30 years, it's hard to imagine there was anything new to learn about Barkley. But there were some especially compelling revelations in his wide-ranging interview.
Chuck's a Neat Freak
If you ever see Barkley cleaning his fingernails or organizing coffee cups on the set of TNT's Inside the NBA, blame his mom.
When Barkley was growing up, his mother worked as a maid. And according to him, she flatly refused to come home to a mess after a long day of cleaning other people's houses. Thanks to that edict, Barkley has forever been a neat freak.
It's hard to imagine anyone intimidating Chuck, but based on another anecdote that included his mom administering a whupping to a 14-year-old Barkley "for acting like a child," it's understandable that he didn't want to cross her.
In another interesting admission, Barkley informed Johnson that he actually didn't graduate high school because he flunked Spanish.
He told the story as a way to explain the moment when he decided that he'd take ownership over his life and be accountable for his own mistakes. Barkley related that he decided "this is the last night that I'm not going to control my own destiny."
That's a compelling resolution, but the more interesting tidbit here is that apparently, the only class Barkley flunked in his last year of high school was Spanish.
I would have guessed Geography, myself.
He Tried to Eat His Way out of Philadelphia
Apparently, Sir Charles thought his weight could be used as a weapon. In another interesting anecdote, Barkley recounted the time he tried to gain so many extra pounds that the Philadelphia 76ers wouldn't draft him.
After hearing that the Sixers were only planning to offer him a one-year, $75,000 deal, Chuck scarfed down a couple of steaks, plenty of sides and a mountainous stack of pancakes on the morning before his weigh-in with the Philly brass.
According to legend, Barkley gained something like 17 pounds (literally overnight) in an effort to avoid ending up a Sixer.
In the end, an undeterred Philadelphia front office cut a few players to make room for a $2 million deal with Barkley. And he ended up throwing his weight around for the Sixers after all.
Almost a Laker
Recounting one of the great "what if" moments in NBA lore, Barkley said in his birthday interview that he recalled his agent telling him the following in 1992: "It's a done deal. You're going to the Lakers."
Try to digest that for a moment.
It's almost impossible to imagine Barkley, who was in his prime in '92, heading to L.A. in a blockbuster deal.
Magic Johnson had just retired at that point, so Chuck would have been "the man" for one of the league's most visible teams. Imagine the trouble his mouth would have gotten him into in the media capital of the world.
But it wasn't to be. The Sixers pulled out of the deal at the last minute and eventually traded Barkley to the Suns.
Still, it's pretty incredible to think about how that deal would have impacted the legacies of both Barkley and the Lakers.
It wasn't all cheery anecdotes and revisionist history in Barkley's interview.
Perhaps he didn't intend to come off this way, but viewers of the special could hardly come away without thinking something along the following lines: Barkley was a malcontent.
The guy basically forced his way out of Philadelphia and Phoenix by openly complaining about being disrespected. He called out ownership groups for failing to get him enough help or trading away players he liked.
In times of trouble, Barkley never could shut up and get to work. His reaction was to create public dissent.
Instead of blaming his employers for mistreating him, it might have been more productive to change his own personality. For starters, he could have stopped spitting on fans, like he did in Philadelphia.
At some point, when things keep going badly, it's just wrong to assume that everyone else is the problem. Barkley's interview revealed the interesting fact that he hasn't quite figured out that his attitude might have been the real issue.
He Was a Realist
Even though Barkley displayed an oddly inconsistent opinion of himself during the interview (he vacillated between saying he thought he "sucked" and believing he was a great player), he was remarkably accurate in one assessment.
He believed Michael Jordan was better than him.
After telling the media in 1993 that he had talked with God and that the man upstairs wanted his Phoenix Suns to win the championship, Barkley revised the history of his divine conversation. He told Johnson, "I didn't realize He was wearing No. 23 for the Bulls."
From his mouth to God's ears.
He Went out on His Own Terms
In his final season with the Houston Rockets, Barkley blew out his quadriceps on a routine leap in the lane. When it happened, he claimed that he knew his career was over.
But he didn't want his last game to end with him being carried off of the court.
Barkley rehabbed the leg during the year, and managed to return for one final game, a meaningless contest against the Vancouver Grizzlies on April 19, 2000.
Though he was clearly at the end of the line, the Round Mound of Rebound managed to create one final NBA memory by pulling down an offensive rebound and laying the ball in. That play typified much of what made Barkley a great player, and it's appropriate that he made it his last.
Chuck retired after that game, going out on his own terms.