When it comes to carving out a colorful and successful basketball career, Charles Barkley has done it all. He’s been a college star and a brilliant pro, to the point where his enshrinement in the hoops hall of fame was a slam dunk.
Despite all those accolades, it’s what Barkley has done since retiring from the NBA that’s garnered most of the attention and made him a huge celebrity. His commentary and opinions on the NBA, along with his annual appearances during March Madness, are both controversial and universally respected.
Life After Basketball
Charles Barkley was also a successful Olympian, and he was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame in 2010. But his biggest success was yet to come.
One of the springboards to that success as one of the greatest talking heads in sports history was Barkley’s reaction to the idea that sports stars should be considered role models.
The controversy occurred in the 1990s, but it followed Barkley forward as he began his announcing career with TNT. The fact that he gave straight opinions and never shied away from controversy or offending people made him especially attractive to both fans and the networks that hired him.
Barkley is now considered a leading member of basketball’s “old guard” that upholds the old-school values of both the NBA and college basketball. His central role is with TNT as the key member of a panel show with fellow ex-players Kenny Smith and Shaquille O’Neal. Many of their opinions are considered the gospel when it comes to today’s game, and they’re both respected and disdained by many of today’s best players.
It truly is an amazing legacy and given his prominence and the level of celebrity he’s achieved beyond the world of basketball, there’s no telling Barkley what impact will have as he continues to carve out his unique path in life.
So let’s review. There are several phases to Charles Barkley’s unique basketball life, and some of what happened extend well beyond the court itself.
One of the central elements of Barkley’s basketball persona is his pride in his southern roots. He was born in Alabama and was a high school star, but his basketball journey really started at Auburn University.
Barkley was only 6’4″, which is short for a center and occasional power forward, but he led the SEC in rebounding in all three of his seasons there. He fashioned his unique game despite ongoing weight problems, which led to nicknames like the “Crisco Kid” and “The Round Mound of Rebound.”
No one was really sure if the undersized Barkley would be able to replicate that success at the next level, but the man who would eventually become known as “Sir Charles” had few doubts about his basketball talent.
Barkley tarnished his reputation by taking money from his agent while he was still technically classified as an amateur at Auburn, but that didn’t stop the Philadelphia 76ers from drafting Barkley as the fifth pick in the 1984 draft.
That pick changed both the 76ers and also altered the face of the NBA as a whole. Barkley quickly added some serious scoring skills to his already legendary rebounding prowess, and the 76ers became an annual threat to win it all.
Barkley became a star, and when Julius Erving retired several years later he became the face of the franchise as well. Despite his individual achievements, though, the 76ers were unable to break through and win a title, and Barkley became something of a scapegoat for the near misses.
The controversy began to follow Barkley closely during this phase of his career, but that controversy would also shape and hone the personality that would eventually make him a talking heads legend whose reputation extended far beyond broadcasting.
He was reviled for spitting on a fan who was heckling him by using racial slurs during a game in 1991, and especially demonized when his spit hit a young girl who was sitting nearby.
Barkley was also involved in a serious bar fight that nearly led to charges, but it was that combativeness was part of his unique charisma.
Frustrated with 76ers management, Barkley eventually demanded a trade, and he was accommodated and dealt with Phoenix. He subsequently finished his career in Houston, but the ring he so badly wanted continued to elude him, and that missing jewelry is considered one of the few shortcomings of his amazing career.