Geographic Connection to Pennsylvania: Philadelphia, Philadelphia County
"The Round Mound of Rebound" played for the 76ers from 1984 to 1992.
Awards: Basketball Hall of Fame, Olympic Medal
Charles Wade Barkley, born February 20, 1963, cast a new image of the National Basketball League. As one of the shortest power forwards in the league, yet the most outspoken, Barkley's skills dominated many players. His type of play was more concerned with rebounds instead of points, but he received numerous accolades throughout his career. He played with the Philadelphia 76ers from 1984 to 1992. He retired from basketball in 2000 and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2006. In his later life, the former athlete still maintains celebrity status with his acts of charity and his novice experience as a sports television broadcaster.
Charles Barkley, one of the most well-known yet controversial players in the National Basketball Association (NBA), overcame adversity from the instant he was born on February 20, 1963, in Leeds, Alabama, to Charcey Glenn. As a baby, Barkley suffered from anemia and required a blood transfusion at the age of six weeks. Barkley's parents were very young when he was born and, while he was still a baby, his parents separated and got a divorce. Barkley's mother later remarried his stepfather. Throughout grade school, his mother, stepfather, and grandmother raised him. A tragic automobile accident would later take his stepfather's life.
Barkley let nothing stand in his way as his emotional and economic disadvantages persevered into his teen years. As a heavy 5'10" child, he fell short in his efforts to make his high school varsity basketball team. This minor setback did not hinder the determined young player; everyday Barkley trained for his next chance to make the squad. When junior year came about, Barkley earned a spot on the high school's reserve team. During the summer before his senior year, he had a major growth spurt, growing to 6'4", though still small for a power forward. With Barkley's new body, he averaged 19.1 points and 17.9 rebounds a game. These led his team to a 26-3 record and to the Alabama state semifinals. During the state semi-final game, Barkley had 26 points and Auburn University assistant coach, Sonny Smith, recruited the young player.
While playing for Auburn junior year, he was named Southeastern Conference Player of the Year while helping the school to its second-best win-loss record in 25 years. In 1984, Barkley was invited to come to the Olympic trials where he made the preliminary squad, but was cut by the coach, Bob Knight, after a few snide remarks made by Barkley about the coach. Barkley left Auburn early after his junior year to enter the NBA draft where he was the fifth overall pick by the Philadelphia 76ers.
Barkley joined some of the most well-respected players in basketball history: Moses Malone, Julius Erving, and Maurice Cheeks. With concerns about Barkley's "uncoachable" reputation and heavy-set body structure, playing time for the rookie was limited as were his statistics: 14 points and 8.6 rebounds per game. This became an issue as the novice player bumped heads with head coach, Billy Cunningham.
Problems with Barkley's overconfident attitude continued to rise. Remarks made during and after games sparked conflict among teammates and with the Philadelphia fans. While alienating himself from the city and team, Barkley said, "I don't have to please the public to win, I just have to do my job." Luckily for Barkley, he was one player who could back these statements up through his outstanding playing abilities.
Barkley became even more controversial for his views on the status of players in society. He was well known for his view of separating basketball players from role models. Barkley asked rhetorically, "A million guys can dunk a basketball in jail; should they be role models?" He further opined: "I think the media demands that athletes be role models because there's some jealousy involved. It's as if they say, this is a young black kid playing a game for a living and making all this money, so we're going to make it tough on him. And what they're really doing is telling kids to look up to someone they can't become, because not many people can be like we are. Kids can't be like Michael Jordan." Mixed reactions came from the public on Barkley's viewpoint. Some felt that Barkley was being irresponsible for not caring about being a role model and others that respected Barkley's forthrightness.
For a second chance as an olympian, Barkley joined the United States "Dream Team" in the 1992 Summer Olympics. This new setting gave the talented player a chance to create controversy at the international level. Barkley created this new spotlight by elbowing an Angolan player and drew a technical foul for talking to fans. He received mixed reactions at these games as fans cheered and booed his entrance onto the court. Barkley was a key asset to the Dream Team as he racked up the most points on the squad and brought home a gold medal.
Though achieving All-Star status from 1987-1991, and Player of the Year honors in 1989-1990, tensions persistently grew after Barkley's first year with the Sixers. After comments reflecting the team in a negative image, Barkley was fined for more than $3000. One of the most notorious and talked about moment in Barkley's career is known as the "Spitting Incident." This occurrence ignited when a fan yelled racial remarks at Barkley and in return Barkley spat at the fan, missing him and hitting a little girl. Macnow and Kram quote Barkley's response in the Sporting News as, "If I play with emotion I'm a hotdog. That's okay, because I know if I don't play with emotion, I won't play anywhere near my ability. If I play nonchalantly, I can't play right. Am I not supposed to play with emotion?" In the social aspect, Barkley apologized to the girl and became life long friends with her and her family. For the basketball associating, the act plagued a harmful hype that reflected on the 76ers, and Barkley was traded to the Phoenix Suns, at the end of the 1991 to 1992 season.
With a blank slate playing for the Suns, Barkley was a perfect fit to the missing piece of the puzzle. His skills meshed well with his teammates, making them a real championship contender. Barkley's first season with Phoenix in 1992 to 1993, showed that Barkley was maturing, not only as he reached a peak in his performance as a player, but as he helped motivate the other players. This time of personal growth eventually helped him earn the league's Most Valuable Player award.
With talk of retirement to the press, Barkley stayed focused to pursue his goal of a NBA National Championship. In 1993, Barkley met his biggest challenge when he faced friend and challenger, Michael Jordan on the Chicago Bulls. The two-year title defending Bulls initially took a quick two game lead in the series of seven. Barkley did not back down as he led his team through retaliation by winning the next two games of the series. To Barkley's deep regret, Chicago took the series in game six in a blockbuster ending, winning by one point.
The 1993 to 1994 season, as announced by Barkley, was supposed to be his final year of play before his retirement from the league. However, Barkley had a change of heart and in 1996 was traded to the Houston Rockets where he finished out his final years in the league. During Barkley's last years as a Rocket, he participated in the films He Got Game and Space Jam along with other former basketball players. Barkley retired from the NBA due to a torn quadriceps tendon in 2000 as one of four players in NBA history to attain 20,000 points, 10,000 rebounds and 4,000 assists throughout his career. In 2006, Barkley was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.
Since Barkley's retirement from basketball, the star has continued to hold his place in the public eye. His book, I May Be Wrong but I Doubt It was published in 2002. In his book, he addresses weighty issues with a light touch and prefers to stir people to think by making them laugh. There's nothing Charles Barkley shies away from here—not race, not class, not big money, not scandal, not politics, not personalities, nothing. Barkley signed on to host a talk show on TNT in 2003 called Listen Up! In 2004, he was a part of the movie, The Year of Yao. He currently works for the network as a studio analyst for "Inside the NBA". He also remains married to his wife, Maureen Blumhardt, with whom he has one child.
Barkley is a known philanthropist and demonstrated his charitably in many cases. As a regular at Saloon restaurant, Barkley struck up a friendship with busboy, Christian Abate. Abate, majoring in education at Temple University, ran into financial troubles and had to take leave from his studies. When Barkley asked Abate about school, the unfortunate circumstance was revealed to Barkley. Barkley made an offer to pay his tuition and by the end of the meal, Abate accepted. The commitment to education is important to Barkley as he has given one million dollars to his high school in Alabama, a million to Corningstone High School in Alabama, and another million to Auburn University.
Along with Barkley's present endeavors, he has experienced a gambling problem. He admits that he has lost an estimated ten million dollars in gambling. Barkley told ESPN News, "My agent has really worked with me to try to get it where I can go and gamble and have fun. That's easier said than done." Barkley acknowledges that he has a gambling problem, but he can afford it. Barkley makes it clear that he will remain aware of this difficulty and will try to gain more control over it, but he will not completely give it up. Trouble didn't stop with his gambling addiction; on New Year's Eve in 2008, Barkley was arrested on a DUI suspicion in Scottsdale, Arizona, with a blood-alcohol content double the legal state limit. He was ordered to spend 36 hours at Tent City Jail and undergo an alcohol-treatment program. After successfully completing his time, he was released.
He has also often mentioned the possibility of running for the governorship of Alabama in 2014.
I May Be Wrong but I Doubt It. (with Michael Wilbon) New York: Random House Trade, 2003.
Who's Afraid of A Large Black Man? (with Michael Wilbon) New York: Penguin, 2005.
Space Jam. Dir. Joe Pytka. Warner Bros. Pictures International, 1996.
He Got Game. Dir. Spike Lee. Touchstone Pictures, 1998.
The Year of Yao. Dir. James D. Stern. Fine Line Features, 2004.