Charles Barkley is known as much these days for the things he says, which are in equal parts, funny, outrageous, and baffling. Also, he’s a pretty lousy golfer. That being said, before he was a famous, beloved talking head on TV, the “Round Mound of Rebound” was one of the best players in the NBA. Chuck may not be your cup of tea on TV, but on the court he was dominant. He’s a look back at the career of Barkley, on and off the court.
Barkley was born in Leeds, Alabama, and actually was a late bloomer on the basketball court. In his junior year, he only stood 5’10’’ and didn’t even make the varsity team. However, prior to his senior year, he grew to 6’4’’ and his skills blossomed. And yet, there was still little interest in him from colleges. Barkley wasn’t really noticed until the state semifinals, and that’s because colleges were there to watch a different player. An assistant coach from Auburn was there, though, and noticed Barkley. That got Barkley to Auburn, a school not known for its basketball prowess.
While Barkley never looked like your traditional basketball star, that didn’t stop him from dominating on the court. Chuck played three seasons at Auburn, and he led the SEC in rebounding all three years. He also earned the nickname the “Round Mound of Rebound” while he was a Tiger.
Barkley’s junior season in 1984 was his best, and a huge year for the Auburn program. In addition to being named the SEC’s Player of the Year, Charles was able to take the Tigers to the NCAA Tournament. This was notable because Auburn had never made the tourney before. Auburn was upset in the first round, but Barkley had 23 points and 17 rebounds.
The 1984 NBA Draft was stacked. Hakeem Olajuwon went first, Michael Jordan went third, and later in the draft, John Stockton was selected. Going fifth overall to the Philadelphia 76ers? That would be Barkley.
Barkley’s first two seasons in Philadelphia went well, as his rebounding skills translated to the NBA quite well. He averaged over 11 rebounds per game as a rookie and almost 13 in his second season. However, Moses Malone was traded prior to Barkley’s third season, allowing him to grow as a player. Chuck averaged 14.6 rebounds per game, surprisingly his only rebounding title in his career. He also made his first of many All-Star Games.
The year after Malone was traded, Julius Erving retired. That made the 76ers truly Barkley’s team, and he exploded with that opportunity. He was more than just a round mound of rebound – though he did average 11.9 rebounds per game – as he scored a career-best 28.3 points per contest. For the first time, he made the All-NBA First Team and he also got his first cover of “Sports Illustrated.”
Barkley played three more seasons in Philadelphia, and they all went well from a personal standpoint. In the 1989-90 season, he finished second in the MVP voting, though he actually had more first-place votes than winner Magic Johnson. By the time he was done in Philly, he had made six All-Star teams and seven All-NBA teams. However, there were also issues. In 1990, Barkley got in a fight with Bill Laimbeer (a player who seemed to always be looking for a fight) and was fined a record $162,500. Then, in 1991, he infamously tried to spit on a fan who was heckling him (reportedly with racial slurs) but missed and spit on a girl nearby. This led to a one-game suspension. Also, Barkley ended up becoming friendly with that girl and her family.
You are well-versed in the 1992 Dream Team by this point, we assume. However, we have to mention it, because Barkley was one of the members of that iconic team. The Dream Team dominated, the United States won the gold medal, and Barkley got some fun quotes in there as well.
After the Olympics, Barkley was ready to join a new team. Chuck joined the Phoenix Suns, who were trying to rebrand themselves for the 1992-93 season. In his first game with Phoenix, Barkley had 37 points and 21 rebounds.
The move to the desert paid off for Barkley and the Suns immediately. Chuck averaged 25.6 points, 12.2 rebounds, and a personal-best 5.1 assists per game. This helped lead to Barkley finally winning an MVP, though some grumbled it should have gone to Jordan, and voters had just gotten tired of rewarding MJ.
Speaking of Jordan, he and Barkley would end up on a collision course in the 1993 playoffs. The Bulls were trying to finish off a threepeat, while the Suns were in their first NBA Finals since 1976. Barkley did his best in the Finals, averaging 27.3 points, 13.0 rebounds, and 5.5 assists. However, as you surely know, the Suns fells short, losing to the Bulls in seven games.
Barkley has sparked many controversies in his life. One of them came in 1993 when he made a Nike commercial in which he famously declared, “I am not a role model.” This led to a debate about who should be considered a role model, should athletes be considered role models, and do athletes like Barkley need to comport themselves as role models. To this day, that debate hasn’t been settled.
Not everybody from the 1992 Dream Team returned for 1996, even though the games were taking place in Atlanta. Barkley did sign up for another Olympics run, though. The USA won another gold, naturally, and this time Barkley led the team in scoring and rebounding.
Once again, Barkley was traded after an Olympics. Chuck headed to the Houston Rockets for the 1996-97 season, largely to try and win a ring alongside Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler. The Rockets, as you may recall, won the NBA title in 1994 and 1995.
Getting up there in years, Barkley wasn’t quite the dominant force he was in his prime. He also dealt with injuries during his time in Houston. That being said, in his first season there he averaged 13.5 rebounds per game, the second-highest average in his career. The Rockets made it all the way to the Western Conference Finals with three veteran legends on the squad, but the team fell to the Utah Jazz in six games.
While he was scoring less, over the next couple of seasons Barkley was still a double-double machine. In the 1999-2000 season, however, Barkley suffered a ruptured tendon in his quad that December. Many expected this to be the end of Barkley’s career. However, he refused to let his last game end with an injury. Chuck returned on April 19, 2000, to play in one more game. He got on the court, scored a basket, and was taken out of the game to a standing ovation. Barkley immediately retired on the spot.
After retiring, Barkley signed on to be a TV analyst for TNT. That’s a job he still has, and a job that has made him arguably even more famous than he was as a player. He has been, needless to say, polarizing. Some love him and think he’s hilarious. He’s even won three Sports Emmys for Outstanding Studio Analyst. Others can’t stand him. Barkley doesn’t seem to care much and doesn’t pay attention to everything. He outwardly says he won’t watch some teams and as many former athletes rail fruitlessly against analytics and “jump-shooting teams.” There have also been controversial statements and off-color jokes. And yet, for two decades now he has been a staple of TNT’s NBA programming.
Barkley has done more than merely being an analyst. He’s one of the NBA players who have his skills stolen by the Monstars in “Space Jam.” Barkley is also one of the athletes who has hosted “Saturday Night Live.” There have been multiple Barkley video games too. Oh, and since it doesn’t fit in anywhere else, he’s done some golfing at celebrity tournaments, mostly to show off his truly terrible golf swing.
Naturally, Barkley was inducted in the Hall of Fame in 2006, an obvious choice. He’s also had his number retired by Auburn and Philadelphia, and Phoenix has inducted him in his ring of honor. Barkley also was included on the NBA’s 50th Anniversary Team.
Barkley was an undersized power forward in an era of massive brutes and giant bodies dominating the court. Despite that, he was able to average 11.7 rebounds per game in his career while winning one rebounding title. Barkley won one MVP, made five All-NBA First Teams, and 11 All-Star Games. When he retired, he was one of four NBA players with over 20,000 points, 10,000 rebounds, and 4,000 assists. He was a polarizing player when he was on the court and that’s been true off the court as well. He’s done a lot for charity and given people a lot of laughs. He once threw a man through a plate-glass window and got a DUI in 2008. Barkley, all in all, has always authentically been himself. That has served him well at times and not so well at others. In the end, he was a great player who has made arguably as big of a cultural impact as any athlete.