Seemingly lost among his colorful and controversial comments both during and after he retired from the game was the fact that Charles Wade Barkley was one of the greatest players in the National Basketball Association’s 64 year history.
Born and raised in Leeds, Alabama, Barkley stood at 5’10” and weighed 220 pounds when he failed to make the Leeds High School basketball varsity team.
But after growing six inches during the summer, Barkley earned a starting position as a senior, a year in which he averaged 19.1 points and 17.9 rebounds per game in the process of leading the team to a 26-3 record and a berth in the state high school semifinals.
Described by an assistant coach as “a fat guy who can play like the wind," Barkley was recruited by University of Auburn’s head basketball coach Sonny Smith, who would further along Barkley’s development into one of the most complete players to ever step on a basketball court.
Although he struggled to control his weight, Barkley led the Southeastern Conference in rebounding in each of his three seasons at Auburn, ultimately earning him the nickname “The Round Mound of Rebound,” due to skills that belied his height and overweight frame.
In Barkley’s three year college career, he averaged 14.8 points on 62.6 percent field goal shooting, 9.6 rebounds, 1.6 assists and 1.7 blocks per game, all while playing center at an undersized 6’4”.
As a result, Barkley was selected by the Philadelphia 76ers with the fifth overall pick in the 1984 NBA Draft, a class that included Hall of Famers Hakeem Olajuwon, Michael Jordan and John Stockton.
Throughout his entire 16 year career, playing for the Sixers (1984-1992), Phoenix Suns (1992-1996) and Houston Rockets (1996-2000), Barkley would never have a season when he averaged less than 14 points and eight rebounds per game, as he would go on to post career numbers of 22.1 points and 11.7 rebounds per game while shooting 54.1 percent from the floor.
Barkley’s banner year came during the 1992-93 season, his first season in Phoenix, when he was selected to play in his seventh consecutive All-Star Game, led the Suns to the NBA’s best record (62-20) and won the league’s Most Valuable Player award.
But Phoenix would fall short in their bid to win the NBA Championship at the hands of the Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls, despite Barkley’s 27.3 points, 13.0 rebounds and 5.5 assists per game, which included a triple-double in Game 4. This would be the closest Barkley would come to winning a championship ring.
However, nothing would stop “Sir Charles” from continuing to climb the ranks of professional basketball’s greats.
On Feb. 19, 1996, Barkley pulled down his 10,000th career rebound in a Suns’ overtime victory against the Vancouver Grizzlies, becoming the 10th NBA player to compile 20,000 points and 10,000 rebounds in league history.
By the time he retired in 2000, Barkley became a member of another distinguished list, ranking as one of only four players in NBA lore to have 20,000 points, 10,000 rebounds and 4,000 assists (Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Karl Malone).
With two Olympic gold medals, 11 All-Star selections and additional acclaim as one of the league’s all-time top 50 players, Barkley was enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2006.
In a 2007 issue of SLAM Magazine ranking NBA greats, Barkley was ranked among the top 20 players of all-time. The issue also featured an interview with Hall of Famer Bill Walton, who commented on Barkley's career.
Walton stated, "Barkley is like Magic [Johnson] and Larry [Bird] in that they don't really play a position. He plays everything; he plays basketball. There is nobody who does what Barkley does. He's a dominant rebounder, a dominant defensive player, a three-point shooter, a dribbler, a playmaker."