Barkley's No. 34 Will Be Retired In March

Posted: January 06, 2001

Pat Croce says that Charles Barkley "is the Lenny Bruce of athletics," and that Barkley would be perfect as the host of late-night TV's "Politically Incorrect."

Croce, the 76ers' president, says it with a joy in his voice, with a passion for the former Sixers star unswayed by the controversy that so often surrounded Barkley in his eight seasons in Philadelphia.

The Sixers will retire Barkley's No. 34 jersey March 30 at halftime of the scheduled game against Golden State. That banner will join those of former players Hal Greer, Billy Cunningham, Bobby Jones, Julius Erving, Wilt Chamberlain and Maurice Cheeks, and legendary public-address announcer Dave Zinkoff.

He will meet the media earlier that day at a luncheon at the First Union Center that will be open to the public. The price of admission hasn't been determined, but proceeds will go to Sixers Charities.

Barkley's only request of senior vice president Dave Coskey was that his wife, daughter, mother and grandmother be included.

"Charles was outrageous and outlandish with some of the things he said, crossed all barriers, the way Bruce did," Croce said. "But I'm proud and happy that he's doing this in Philadelphia. He left an indelible imprint on the franchise, was fun to be around, fun to watch, fun to know."

Barkley arrived from Auburn as the Sixers' first-round draft choice in 1984, described by the late, great super scout Jack McMahon as the first player of his dimensions (6-47/8, anywhere from 250- to 300-plus pounds) who would become a superstar in the NBA. He spent the first eight of his 16 seasons with the Sixers, representing them six times in the All-Star Game, scoring 14,184 regular-season points, fourth in the history of the franchise. He then played four seasons each for Phoenix and Houston, retiring last season after appearing in just 20 games.

In a touch of irony, he suffered a severe knee injury in his final appearance in Philadelphia with the Rockets, but - as only he could - still convened an entertaining, sometimes uproarious postgame press conference.

He averaged 23.3 points and 11.6 rebounds in 610 regular-season games as a Sixer, 22.4 points, 13.1 rebounds and 4.2 assists in 51 playoff games. He produced 10 of the Sixers' 19 triple-doubles since 1979-80.

"I hated seeing him in another jersey," said Croce, the strength and conditioning coach for most of Barkley's time as a Sixer, and has since become part owner of the team.

Croce hates seeing Barkley weighing his current 337 pounds as a Turner Broadcasting analyst, more than 40 above his playing weight, but has seen Barkley balloon upward before. Croce has seen the crash diets, too.

"In the early days, it was everything but pulling teeth to get him to do anything but play ball," Croce recalled. "But when he did, you saw the grace, speed, agility and talent that made him special. I kept telling him that if he did the other things, weight-training, conditioning, he could be a great, great player for a long time."

Barkley did it anyway, helping the United States win Olympic gold medals in 1992 and 1996, becoming the All-Star Most Valuable Player in 1991, the league's MVP in 1993 and being named one of the 50 greatest players in league history. In 1986-87, he became the shortest player in modern history to win a rebounding title.

"I wish he could come back and play a year for us," Sixers coach Larry Brown said, laughing, "but he's a little too big."

Barkley wore a Sixers jacket during the 1996 ceremony in Cleveland commemorating the league's 50th anniversary.

"My years in Philadelphia were very special to me," Barkley said in a statement. "Now, to have my jersey retired, hung next to some of the greatest players of all time - Wilt Chamberlain, Julius Erving, Maurice Cheeks - I consider this an incredible honor."

Barkley campaigned to leave the Sixers after the '91-92 season, dissatisified with management during the stewardship of then-owner Harold Katz. He was traded to the Suns for Jeff Hornacek, Tim Perry and Andrew Lang.

"Time heals all wounds," said Coskey, a close friend of Barkley. "When he looks back now, he considers Philadelphia a special place. "It's where he started his career, where he still maintains a home. It's a place he refers to all the time, a place where he has a lot of friends. The people running the team now are all his friends."

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