Charles Barkley's body of work speaks for itself

FILE PHOTO It's a slam dunk: Charles Barkley is one of the greatest Sixers ever.
FILE PHOTO It's a slam dunk: Charles Barkley is one of the greatest Sixers ever.
Posted: February 08, 2013

15th in a Series of 25

THE FAT KID from Leeds did all right for himself.

Charles Barkley, once a 300-pound curiosity, went from Alabama to Springfield, Mass., in what seemed like one giant lunge.

He is one of the greatest players to ever play the game and will easily appear on a Sixers' Mount Rushmore. But try thinking of an iconic moment that captured him, that defined him.

After all, most of his wow moments were not the ones you would want to be remembered by, like spitting on a little girl in New Jersey (with whom he became friendly later on), tossing someone through a window and beating up on that poor Angolan player at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona.

But his body of work on the hardwoods during a Hall of Fame career is iconic enough.

Drafted out of Auburn with the fifth pick in the 1984 draft, Barkley's lasting legacy would become one of a player who got more out of a 6-4 body than anyone before him, becoming the shortest player to ever lead the NBA in rebounding. He also led the league in offensive rebounding for 3 straight seasons (1986-89).

He was the second player to record 23,000 points, 12,000 rebounds and 4,000 assists. The first player to do so was Wilt Chamberlain. Being second to Wilt is like being first anywhere else.

In 1996, when the 50 greatest players in NBA history were announced, Barkley was on the list.

In his rookie season, he showed his raw ability during an exhibition game. He dribbled down the court full throttle, and got in the air about 20 to 25 feet from the basket. With no place to go, he threw the ball off the backboard, caught it and went in for a slam. While you couldn't see his reaction, we are sure that coach Billy Cunningham cringed, knowing Barkley did everything wrong but still got a positive result. Maybe it was no coincidence that Cunningham resigned the following spring.

After a solid learning-process rookie season in which he averaged 14.0 points and 8.6 rebounds, Barkley took off. In each of his next 11 seasons, he averaged at least 20 points a game; he averaged at least 10.1 rebounds a season for the rest of his 16-year career.

By the time he completed his eighth season in Philly, he was among the franchise's Top 10 in every offensive category except free-throw and three-point shooting percentage. He was second to Chamberlain in field-goal percentage (.576), third in rebounds (7,079), third in steals (1,007), fourth in points (14,184), fifth in blocked shots (606), and third in scoring average (23.3, behind Wilt and Moses Malone. Note: Allen Iverson hadn't been drafted yet).

But after a 35-47 record, he wanted out. The Sixers weren't winning a championship any time soon and he was not being surrounded by players who were going to help him win one. So on June 17, 1992, the Sixers shipped him off to Phoenix for Jeff Hornacek, Andrew Lang and Tim Perry, three starters from a team that won 53 games that season. Only problem was that all three were role players who filled their roles to perfection in Phoenix; none made a difference here.

"Charles has said he wants to be on a contender, and in all honesty, if we had kept Charles, I'm not sure we could strike that posture," said Jim Lynam, the Sixers' general manager at the time. "We had to make changes.''

Barkley flourished in Phoenix, winning the league MVP award and taking the Suns to the NBA Finals in his first season.

But his impact on the Sixers' franchise should not be ignored. He was the one who had to carry the team after Malone was traded on that ill-fated draft day in 1986, and after Bobby Jones and Julius Erving retired, after Maurice Cheeks was traded, and after Andrew Toney was forced to retire following foot injuries.

All that being said, Charles was not an easy person to coach. Actually, he could be a huge pain in the butt. But he was a talent who this city embraced.

Maybe it was fate, but his next-to-last game as an NBA player came against the Sixers at the Center on Dec. 8, 1999, when he was a Houston Rocket. He stepped on Todd MacCulloch's foot and ruptured his left quadriceps tendon.

And on March 30, 2001, the Sixers gave him the ultimate compliment, retiring his No. 34 jersey.

When Barkley was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2006, he addressed Kay McMahon, the widow of legendary Sixers scout and assistant coach Jack McMahon.

"Mrs. McMahon, I loved your husband and he was right about two things," Barkley said. "He said I'd be a really good player, and - even though the Sixers said I was too short - he said that didn't matter. The other team wouldn't be able to stop me. He was right on both counts."

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