By Lance Tominaga, ESPN Honolulu Web Editor.
In college, Charles Barkley had a number of colorful nicknames: The Love Boat; Boy Gorge; Ton of Fun; The Incredible Bulk; Crisco Kid; Sir Cumference; Chuck Wagon; The Good Time Blimp; The Great Wide Hope; and, of course, The Round Mound of Rebound. Oversized and underappreciated, few basketball observers predicted that Barkley, who was 6-foot-6 and 285 lbs. at the time, would become an NBA MVP and Hall of Fame legend. But Barkley has always defied the odds, even becoming more famous in his life after basketball.
Here are a dozen cool facts about Charles Wade Barkley:
♦ Barkley was born on Feb. 20, 1963 in Leeds, Alabama. He shares the same birthday as Rihanna, Cindy Crawford, Justin Verlander, Mitch McConnell and the late Kurt Cobain. According to an ESPN.com article, Barkley was the first black baby to be born in a segregated, all-white town hospital because his grandfather worked there as a janitor.
♦ As a junior at Leeds High School, Barkley was only 5-foot-10 and 220 lbs. Over the next summer, however, he grew six inches and became a starter on the varsity basketball team. As a senior, Barkley averaged 19.1 points and 17.9 rebounds per game, leading the Green Wave to the state semifinals.
♦ Barkley signed to play at Auburn, where he would average 14.8 points, 9.6 rebounds and 1.7 blocks a game over three seasons. He also 68.2% from the field. During his junior season in 1984, he led the Tigers to their first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance.
♦ After declaring for the NBA Draft, Barkley was invited to try out for the 1984 U.S. Olympic Team, which was coached by then-Indiana head coach Bob Knight. Although he quickly became the darling of the national media covering the tryouts – “I don’t eat much,” he told reporters, “I just eat all the time” – Barkley didn’t make the final cut, missing out on the opportunity to play with Michael Jordan, Patrick Ewing, Chris Mullin and the rest of the gold medal-winning national team.
♦ Shortly before the NBA Draft, Barkley intentionally put on an additional 20 pounds over a two-day span – ballooning to over 300 pounds – to avoid being drafted by the Philadelphia 76ers, who had the No. 5 overall pick but were saddled with salary cap issues. The Sixers drafted him anyway, adding him to a star-studded lineup that already included Moses Malone, Julius Erving, Bobby Jones, Andrew Toney and Maurice Cheeks. As a rookie, he would average 14 points and 8.6 boards a game, earning him a spot on the All-Rookie Team.
♦ With Malone serving as his mentor, Barkley developed better training habits and shed a lot of his excess weight. As a result, he blossomed in his second year in the league, averaging 20 points and 12.8 rebounds. He was named to the All-NBA Second Team for his efforts.
♦ Although he became a perennial All-Star, Barkley was never able to lead the 76ers to the NBA Finals. His final season with Philadelphia was the 1991-92 campaign, after which he asked to be traded. He was initially traded to the Los Angeles Lakers for James Worthy, but the deal was called off after a few hours. Barkley was eventually traded to Phoenix in exchange for Jeff Hornacek, Tim Perry and Andrew Lang.
♦ Barkley was part of the first-ever U.S. Olympic “Dream Team” in the summer of 1992, joining Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and other NBA greats. The team dominated the Games and easily captured the gold in Barcelona. Barkley led the team in scoring, averaging 18 points on 71.1% shooting. He would win gold again in the 1996 Games in Atlanta, leading the U.S. in scoring, rebounding and FG percentage (an incredible 81.6%).
♦ Barkley’s first year with the Phoenix Suns was his most successful. He averaged 25.6 points, 12.2 boards, 5.1 assists, 1.6 steals and 1 block per game, earning his first (and only) league MVP Award. That season, he also led the Suns to the NBA Finals, where they would fall to Jordan and the Chicago Bulls in six games.
♦ After four seasons with the Suns, Barkley was traded to the Houston Rockets, where he joined NBA All-Stars Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler. In his Rockets debut, Barkley grabbed a career-high 33 rebounds. Injuries had begun to take their toll, however. On Dec. 8, 1999 in Philadelphia, he ruptured his left quadriceps tendon, an injury that most thought would end his career. On April 19, 2000, in a home game against the Vancouver Grizzlies, Barkley stepped foot on the basketball court for the first time since the injury and scored a putback basket. He then returned to the bench, received a standing ovation and announced his retirement after the game. “I can’t explain what tonight meant,” he told reporters afterward. “I did it for me. I’ve won and lost a lot of games, but the last memory I had was being carried off the court. I couldn’t get over the mental block of being carried off the court. It was important psychologically to walk off the court on my own.”
♦ Barkley’s career NBA stats: 16 seasons (1,703 games), 23,757 points (22.1), 12,546 rebounds (11.7) and 4,215 assists (3.9). He shot 55.8% from the field in his career. When he retired, he was only the fourth player in league history to amass at least 20,000 points, 10,000 rebounds and 4,000 assists. He was an 11-time All-Star and 5x All-NBA First Team, 5x All-NBA Second Team and 1x All-NBA Third Team. He is a 2x inductee to the Basketball Hall of Fame (2006 as an individual, 2010 as a member of the 1992 Dream Team. His number 34 jersey has been retired by the Auburn Tigers, Philadelphia 76ers and Phoenix Suns.
♦ Barkley has been a NBA studio analyst for the TNT Network since 2000. To date, he was received three Sports Emmy Awards for “Outstanding Studio Analyst.”
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