Stats: 23.3 PTS, 11.6 REB, 3.3 AST, 1.7 STL, 1.0 BLK, 57.6% FG
Accolades: 6-time all star w/ Sixers, 1990-91 ASG MVP, 4-time All-NBA first team, 3-time All-NBA 2nd team, 1984-85 All-Rookie team
I find it very easy to forget just how good Charles Barkley was during his playing days. A force of nature, as some have described him. The Round Mound of Rebound (though I personally feel this understates his impact). 11-times an all-star for his career, 6 with Philadelphia. Stood at a generous 6’6″ yet stands tall as one of the greatest power forwards* of all time.
*Power forward suggests he lacked perimeter skills, which wouldn’t be true. Even when he lost some athleticism, he still had that great passing ability and a more-than-passable jump shot.
Yet, most people today, including myself, know him for his antics on TNT. He is, undeniably, entertaining. He has no filter. I sometimes wonder what he’s thinking, if only because it’s a commercial break and I can’t hear him.
He’s also known for, among other things: his weight problems, his disjointed golf swing, his gambling problems, his promises that he would run for governor of Alabama, his so-called race with Dick Bavetta, and his not being a role model. Basically, despite being a basketball analyst (I would say NBA, but that ignores his, um, analysis of last year’s NCAA tournament) he’s known for everything he does or has done, except playing very good basketball in his day. And that makes it very easy to actually ignore his talent, his impact, and his legacy.
Charles’s talents could not be matched. He, like so many other NBA greats, is unique. Yes, there are more talented players in the history of the NBA. But no one brought as much to the table at his size, no one with his mix of talents ever stepped on the floor.
He could obviously rebound, given the nickname, despite his height. He may have been short, but with broad shoulders and a frame which bounced off opponents as if it were a trampoline, he found space. He could also, surprisingly given what he looks like now, jump out the gym. He even had good hands. And these things, while making him a legendary rebounder, all contributed to Chuck’s all-around game.
He could score seemingly at will. He was amazingly efficient – shooting 57.6% for his Sixers career. While he didn’t focus much on his jumper, he could hit it on occasion, and as he grew older he became a better and better perimeter shooter. Though the irony is, as he became a better shooter, his percentage dropped, because he took lower percentage shots (this applies mostly to his post-Philly days).
He was unstoppable on the break. Like LeBron today, you do not take a charge from Sir Charles if you are sane. And he wasn’t just running. He could lead the break, too. He could pass at his size and position better than almost anyone in history. He could make the outlet pass like no one’s business. Heck, he could make the fancy passes too, behind the back or even through the legs too.
While short, he wasn’t out-sized on defense, either. He could hold his own with almost anyone on the block, since he was so strong. While he wasn’t a great shot blocker, he averaged about 1 per game. And being small also had its advantages – he recorded more steals than almost any power forward I can think of.
The one regret for Charles is his lack of a title – he never won a title or even reached a finals with the Sixers. He led several playoff runs, with teammates like Julius Erving, Hersey Hawkins, Mo Cheeks, and Ron Anderson playing key roles. But he never made it all the way. He eventually complained his way out of the city, in true Chuck fashion, requesting a trade after a very disappointing season. He had a lot of talent around him too – after he left, everything went downhill. The Sixers became a laughingstock for years, eventually reaching the bottom for long enough to rebuild. That Charles left the franchise in the dumps only means so much though – you can argue there was nothing left that he could accomplish with the roster. What he actually contributed during his time – 6 playoff runs and amazing statistics – vaults Chuck up to number 4 on my list.