Sports Stars

Basketball

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Full Name: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Formerly known as: Lew Alcindor
Born: 8/16/47 in New York
High School: Power Memorial (N.Y.) College: UCLA
Drafted by: Milwaukee Bucks (1969)
Transactions: Traded to Los Angeles Lakers, 6/16/75
Height: 7-2; Weight: 267 lbs.
Honors: Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame (1995); NBA champion (1971, '80, '82, '85, '87, '88); NBA MVP (1971, '72, '74, '76, '77, '80); 10-time All-NBA First Team; Five-time All-NBA Second Team; Five-time All-Defensive First Team; Six-time
All-Defensive Second Team; 19-time All-Star; One
of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History (1996).

When Kareem Abdul-Jabbar left the game in 1989 at age 42, no NBA player had ever scored more points, blocked more shots, won more Most Valuable Player Awards, played in more All-Star Games or logged more seasons. His list of personal and team accomplishments is perhaps the most awesome in league history: Rookie of the Year, member of six NBA championship teams, six-time NBA MVP, two-time NBA Finals MVP, 19-time All-Star, two-time scoring champion, and a member of the NBA 35th and 50th Anniversary All-Time Teams. He also owned eight playoff records and seven All-Star records. No player achieved as much individual and team success as did Abdul-Jabbar.

Players 10 years his junior couldn't keep up with Abdul-Jabbar, whose strict physical-fitness regimen was years ahead of its time in the NBA. But if others have since emulated his fitness regimen, no player has ever duplicated his trademark "sky-hook." Although labeled "unsexy" by Abdul-Jabbar himself, the shot became one of the most effective weapons in all of sports. An all-around player, Abdul-Jabbar brought grace, agility, and versatility to the center position, which had previously been characterized solely by power and size.

Despite his incredible success on the court, it wasn't until the twilight of his career that Abdul-Jabbar finally won the universal affection of basketball fans. He was a private man who avoided the press and at times seemed aloof. "I'm the baddest among the bad guys," he once told The Sporting News.

But late in his playing days Abdul-Jabbar began to open up, and as his career wound to a close, fans, players and coaches alike expressed their admiration for what he had accomplished in basketball. During the 1988-89 season, his last, Abdul-Jabbar was honored in every arena in the league.

Miami Heat Coach Pat Riley, who coached Abdul-Jabbar for eight seasons in Los Angeles, once said in a toast recounted in Sports Illustrated, "Why judge anymore? When a man has broken records, won championships, endured tremendous criticism and responsibility, why judge? Let's toast him as the greatest player ever."

Abdul-Jabbar was born Ferdinand Lewis Alcindor Jr. in New York City, two years after the end of World War II. He was the only child of an overprotective mother and a strict father whose impassivity, some say, Alcindor grew to resent. Far and away the tallest kid in the Harlem school system, Alcindor was viewed as something of a freak by his schoolmates. After dominating New York high school basketball at the now defunct Power Memorial, he enrolled at UCLA and played for John Wooden's powerhouse Bruins.

Alcindor simply ruled the college ranks. After sitting out his first season because NCAA regulations prevented freshmen from playing at the varsity level, he was selected as Player of the Year in 1967 and 1969 by The Sporting News, United Press International, the Associated Press and the U.S. Basketball Writers Association. He was also named an All-American and the most outstanding player in the NCAA Tournament in 1967, 1968 and 1969. With Alcindor taking charge in the middle, Wooden and UCLA pocketed three national championships.

The Milwaukee Bucks were only in their second season when they made Alcindor the first overall choice in the 1969 NBA Draft. (The Bucks' first season had been forgettable, at 27-55 and it won the coin toss for the first selection over the Phoenix Suns.) The time was ripe for a new center to dominate the league. Bill Russell had just left the Boston Celtics, and Wilt Chamberlain, though still effective, was almost 35 years old. With Alcindor aboard in 1969-70, the Bucks rose to second place in the Eastern Division with a 56-26 record. Alcindor was an instant star, placing second in the league in scoring (28.8 ppg) and third in rebounding (14.5 rpg). He handily won NBA Rookie of the Year honors.

During the offseason the Bucks traded for their ticket to the NBA title: 31-year-old guard Oscar Robertson from the Cincinnati Royals. With a supporting crew of Bobby Dandridge, Jon McGlocklin, Greg Smith, and a young Lucius Allen, Milwaukee recorded a league-best 66 victories in 1970-71, including a record 20 straight wins. Alcindor won his first NBA Most Valuable Player Award and his first scoring title (31.7 ppg) while placing fourth in rebounding (16.0 rpg). Milwaukee went 12-2 in the playoffs and dispatched the Baltimore Bullets in only the second NBA Finals sweep in league history. Alcindor was named Finals MVP.

Before the 1971-72 season Alcindor converted from Catholicism to Islam and took the name Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, which means "noble, powerful servant." He was certainly a noble, powerful player, enjoying stellar years with Milwaukee. In 1971-72 he repeated as scoring champion (34.8 ppg) and NBA Most Valuable Player, and the Bucks repeated as division leaders for the second of four straight years. In 1973-74 Abdul-Jabbar won his third MVP Award in only his fifth year in the league and placed among the NBA's top five in four categories: scoring (27.0 ppg, third), rebounding (14.5 rpg, fourth), blocked shots (283, second) and field-goal percentage (.539, second).

Milwaukee returned to the NBA Finals in 1974 but lost to the Boston Celtics, who were led by 6-9 center Dave Cowens and a stable of guards who proved too quick for the 35-year-old Robertson. "The Big O" retired after the playoffs, ending the Bucks' string of division titles. The team plunged to last place in 1974-75 with a 38-44 record.

Despite his phenomenal success in Milwaukee, Abdul-Jabbar was unhappy due in part to the lack of people who shared his religious and cultural beliefs and wanted out. He requested that he be traded to either New York or Los Angeles, and Bucks General Manager Wayne Embry complied, sending Abdul-Jabbar to the Lakers in 1975 for Junior Bridgeman, Dave Meyers, Elmore Smith, and Brian Winters. The second Abdul-Jabbar dynasty was about to take shape.

Chamberlain had retired two years earlier, a fact that helped explain the Lakers' 30-52 record and last-place finish in 1974-75. Abdul-Jabbar helped bring about a 10-game turnaround in his first season in Los Angeles. His contributions (27.7 ppg, 16.9 rpg) won him yet another NBA Most Valuable Player Award, his fourth in only seven years in the league.

The following season Jerry West was hired as the Lakers' coach, and he guided the team back into first place with a league-best 53-29 record. Abdul-Jabbar (26.2 ppg, 13.3 rpg, .579 field-goal percentage, 261 blocks) was named Most Valuable Player for the fifth time in eight years, tying Celtics legend Bill Russell's record. But the Lakers were swept in the conference finals by the championship-bound Portland Trail Blazers, who had a fearsome big man of their own in Bill Walton.

Despite Abdul-Jabbar's best efforts, the Lakers finished in the middle of their division in each of the following two years. He continued to put up big numbers, although he missed 20 games in 1977-78 after breaking his hand in a fight with Milwaukee's rookie Kent Benson in the season opener. Young players Jamaal Wilkes and Norm Nixon looked promising, but Los Angeles nevertheless wallowed in mediocrity.

In 1979, using a first-round draft pick obtained from the Utah Jazz, the Lakers selected a 6-9 point guard named Earvin "Magic" Johnson from Michigan State. Johnson's arrival marked the beginning of a decade that would bring Abdul-Jabbar five more championship rings. With a blitzkrieg fast break that came to be known as "Showtime," the Lakers won nine division titles in the final 10 years of Abdul-Jabbar's career.

In Johnson's first season the Lakers won 60 games, and they lost only 4 of 16 postseason contests en route to the 1980 NBA Championship. In a moment that would link the two superstars forever, Johnson jumped center for the injured Abdul-Jabbar in Game 6 of the NBA Finals against the Philadelphia 76ers. Abdul-Jabbar had severely sprained his ankle in Game 5 after scoring 40 points to help the Lakers take the series lead. The 33-year-old center couldn't play in Game 6, so the 20-year-old rookie took Jabbar's position and went on to tally 42 points, 15 rebounds, and 7 assists, leading the Lakers to a 123-107 victory and the championship. For the season, Abdul-Jabbar (24.8 ppg, 10.8 rpg) further cemented his place in history by winning a record sixth MVP Award.

Abdul-Jabbar continued to average at least 20 points for the next six seasons. His rebounding average dropped to between 6 and 8 as years of pounding and battling for position began to take their toll. But he remained in remarkable shape, even in his late 30s when he was trim, muscular, and able to play 32 to 35 minutes per game at an age at which the vast majority of players had retired.

"He's the most beautiful athlete in sports," Magic Johnson told writer Gary Smith. In the final years of his career Abdul-Jabbar's fitness program became more important than ever. He practiced yoga and martial arts to keep his arms and legs strong and limber, and he meditated before every game to reduce stress.

On April 5, 1984, in a game against the Utah Jazz played in Las Vegas, Abdul-Jabbar had perhaps his finest moment. Taking a pass from Magic Johnson, Abdul-Jabbar whirled and launched his trademark sky-hook toward the hoop. The shot drew nothing but net, giving Abdul-Jabbar career point No. 31,420, which vaulted him past Wilt Chamberlain as the NBA's all-time leading scorer.

The Lakers reached the NBA Finals eight times in the 10 seasons between 1979-80 and 1988-89. They won five titles, beating Boston and Philadelphia twice each and the Detroit Pistons once. The 1985 series against Boston was perhaps the most satisfying for Abdul-Jabbar. At age 38 the league's senior center was thought by many observers to be washed up. In Game 1 it looked as though they were right -- Abdul-Jabbar had only 12 points and 3 rebounds in his matchup with Robert Parish. The Celtics romped to a 148-114 win in what became known as "the Memorial Day Massacre."

During the next two days Abdul-Jabbar watched hours of game films and took part in marathon practice sessions that included over one hour of sprinting drills. Repeated attempts by Coach Pat Riley to persuade Abdul-Jabbar to take a break failed.

In Game 2, Abdul-Jabbar recorded 30 points, 17 rebounds, 8 assists and 3 blocked shots in a 109-102 Lakers win. Los Angeles went on to win the series in six games. In the Lakers' four victories Abdul-Jabbar averaged 30.2 points, 11.3 rebounds, 6.5 assists and 2.0 blocks. In one memorable sequence Abdul-Jabbar grabbed a rebound, drove the length of the court and swished a sky-hook. He even dove for a loose ball. "What you saw," Riley told Sports Illustrated, "was passion." Abdul-Jabbar was named Finals MVP.

Jabbar has said that the 1985 championship may have been the sweetest of his six. It was won on the floor of the Boston Garden and vanquished the ghosts of the arena and the Celtics, the team that defeated the Lakers just the year before and many other times during Russell's reign.

In 1986-87 the Lakers again beat Boston for the NBA Championship. Although Abdul-Jabbar played respectably, series MVP Magic Johnson was the star. During the regular season Abdul-Jabbar dipped below 20 points per game (17.5 ppg) for the first time in his career. At age 40 he signed a contract to play two more years. The following year the Lakers' victory over Detroit made them the first team since the 1968-69 Celtics to repeat as NBA champions.

In 1988-89, Abdul-Jabbar's final season, the Lakers returned to the Finals in a rematch against the Pistons. Abdul-Jabbar tallied season highs in Game 3 with 24 points and 13 rebounds, but with Johnson and Byron Scott both nursing injured hamstrings, Los Angeles was swept. In his final game Abdul-Jabbar recorded 7 points and 3 rebounds. During the regular season he shot below .500 from the field for the first time (.475) and averaged a career-low 10.1 points.

Abdul-Jabbar's retirement marked the end of an era for the NBA. He left the game as the games all-time scorer, which may never be surpassed, with 38,387 points (24.6 ppg), 17,440 rebounds (11.2 rpg), 3,189 blocks, and a .559 field-goal percentage from a career that spanned 20 years and 1,560 games. He scored in double figures in 787 straight games.

Several years after he retired Abdul-Jabbar told the Orange County Register, "The '80s made up for all the abuse I took during the '70s. I outlived all my critics. By the time I retired, everybody saw me as a venerable institution. Things do change."

Since retiring, Abdul-Jabbar has worked in the entertainment business, served as a "basketball ambassador," working in various capacities such as a coach and broadcaster as well as helped to fight hunger and illiteracy. In 1995 Abdul-Jabbar was elected to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

 

Nate Archibald

Full Name: Nathaniel Archibald
Born: 9/2/48 in New York
College: Texas El-Paso
High School: DeWitt Clinton (Bronx, N.Y.)
Drafted by: Cincinnati Royals, 1970
Transactions: Traded to N.Y. Nets, 9/10/76; Traded to Buffalo, 9/1/77; Traded to Boston, 8/4/78; Signed with Milwaukee, 8/1/83. Nickname: Tiny
Height: 6-1; Weight: 160 lbs.
Honors: Elected to Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame (1991); NBA champion (1981); All-NBA First Team (1973, '75, '76); All-NBA Second Team (1972, '81); Six-time All-Star; All-Star Game MVP (1981); One of 50 Greatest Players in NBA History (1996).

On his way to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, Nathaniel "Tiny" Archibald learned all about rising from desperate surroundings to extraordinary heights. It was an education that started early in life and served him well through a 14-year playing career that led him from the lowly Cincinnati Royals to an NBA Championship with the Boston Celtics.

Before retiring at the end of the 1983-84 season, Archibald became the only player ever to lead the league in both scoring and assists in a season (34.0 ppg, 11.4 apg in 1972-73). At the time of his retirement, he also had 6,476 regular-season assists, which ranked ninth among the career leaders. He played in six All-Star Games. And in an era when the game threatened to become the exclusive domain of gargantuan players, the 6-1 Archibald proved that there would always be room for a speedy, smart and creative small man.

Born and raised in the South Bronx's Patterson housing projects, one of America's most ravaged neighborhoods, Archibald used his deftness with a basketball to steer clear of the drugs and violence that claimed many of his peers. Fate, fortitude and inspiration from unlikely places helped him persevere to become the pride of Patterson.

Not a man to forget his roots, Archibald continued to be a presence in the troubled neighborhoods of New York, helping to run community programs and homeless shelters and counseling kids on the street.

Archibald--who was nicknamed after his father, "Big Tiny"--grew up in a two-bedroom apartment, the oldest of seven children. At age 14 Archibald effectively became head of the household when Big Tiny left his family. Living in an environment that destroyed many close to him, Archibald easily could have succumbed to the temptations of the street.

"It's interesting," Archibald told Sport magazine in 1980, "how guys who are into drugs are always looking to get other guys involved, as if they want company when they go under. Me? I was always into basketball."

But basketball hardly seemed the natural course for the young Archibald. True, he had decent skills. But he was a small, painfully shy kid who lacked confidence on the court. He failed to make the basketball team his sophomore year at DeWitt Clinton High School and nearly dropped out of school.

Fortunately for Archibald -- and for all those who enjoyed his splendid NBA career -- a man named Floyd Layne, then a community sports director and later head coach for City College in Manhattan, entered the scene. Layne knew the DeWitt Clinton coach, who agreed to take another look at Archibald. The youngster made the team his junior year and by his senior season had made the All-City Team.

Although Layne and other supporters convinced Archibald to stay in school, his grades were not good. Consequently a major college scholarship was out of the question. Instead, he left New York for the first time in his life to attend Arizona Western Community College. After one year at Arizona Western he accepted a scholarship to the University of Texas at El Paso, where he averaged 20.0 points over three seasons.

Archibald starred during postseason collegiate All-Star Games. He scored 51 points in the 1970 Aloha Classic and averaged nearly 40 points in five postseason exhibitions.

The Cincinnati Royals, coached by former Celtics great Bob Cousy and run by General Manager Joe Axelson, made Archibald the second pick of the second round in a strong 1970 NBA Draft that also included Bob Lanier, Rudy Tomjanovich, Pete Maravich, Dave Cowens, Sam Lacey and Calvin Murphy.

So boyish-looking was the young Archibald that the first time Cousy and Axelson laid eyes on him in a Memphis hotel they mistook him for a bellhop. But in the coming seasons Archibald proved that he could deliver far more than any bellboy, even at a wispy 6-1 and 160 pounds.

He earned a spot in Cincinnati's starting lineup as a rookie when veteran guard Flynn Robinson held out in a contract dispute. Archibald responded by averaging a respectable 16.0 points on a marginal team that ended the season with a 33-49 record. His defense was spotty, however, and he tended to overhandle the ball, thereby creating turnovers.

The following season, with Archibald continuing to turn the ball over with alarming frequency, Cousy and Axelson reportedly considered trading him for the big man the team badly needed. The Royals instead traded Norm Van Lier to the Chicago Bulls for 6-10 Jim Fox. When Royals captain and scoring leader Tom Van Arsdale went down with an injury a short time later, the making of a Hall of Famer was underway.

Archibald, now in the role of floor leader, played a solid first half in 1971-72. The decision to leave him off the Eastern Conference All-Star Team so upset Archibald that he cranked up his production to 34.0 points per game for the rest of the year, finishing his second season with a 28.2 scoring average. He finally received recognition at the end of the year when he earned a berth on the All-NBA Second Team. Still, the Royals finished with a disappointing 30-52 record.

Before the 1972-73 season, the Royals packed up and moved to Kansas City-Omaha, where they became the Kings. It was as a King that Archibald assumed his place among NBA royalty, becoming an All-Star for the first time.

That season established Archibald as one of the best second-round draft picks ever. In 80 games, he averaged 34.0 points and 11.4 assists, becoming the only player ever to lead the league in both categories in a single year. Archibald had finally made it -- he was a star. He was named to the All-NBA First Team at season's end.

The year was not all roses, however. The franchise foundered on its way to a 36-46 record. But more significantly, the harsh reality of Archibald's family roots came back to haunt him in the midst of his success. One younger brother was arrested for robbery, another on drug charges. Archibald flew home on one trip and found one of his brothers incoherent and hallucinating because of a drug overdose. Two of his brothers eventually came to live at Archibald's Kansas City home, where they righted their lives, and another brother underwent drug rehabilitation with Archibald's help.

An injured Achilles tendon cut Archibald's 1973-74 season short at 35 games, and he averaged only 17.6 points. Tiny recovered in 1974-75, playing all 82 games and leading the team to its first winning record (44-38) since 1966. He averaged 26.5 points and 6.8 assists to reclaim a spot on the All-NBA First Team. More importantly, the Kings made the playoffs for the first time in Archibald's career. They lost in the Western Conference Semifinals to the Chicago Bulls in six games.

The following season Archibald posted similarly impressive statistics (24.8 ppg, 7.9 apg in 78 games) and again was named to the All-NBA First Team. Unfortunately, his performance was wasted on a 31-51 team that had no one to complement Archibald's talent.

Archibald was traded to the New York Nets prior to the 1976-77 season, a campaign that marked the beginning of the three most difficult years of his career. Just 34 games into the Nets' schedule, Archibald sustained a severe foot injury and missed the remainder of the season. At year's end he was shipped to the Buffalo Braves. He tore an Achilles tendon before the 1977-78 season and never played a game in a Braves uniform. Again he was traded, this time to the Boston Celtics before the 1978-79 campaign.

The transition to Celtics Green was anything but smooth. Archibald was 20 pounds overweight after the layoff, his play was slow and clumsy and his role was ill-defined. He had difficulty playing alongside Jo Jo White, and he carried on a running public feud with player-coach Dave Cowens over playing time. The once-glorious Celtics struggled to a 29-53 record.

After the 1978-79 season rumors of Archibald's exit abounded. "The sad part," one NBA general manager told Sport magazine in 1980, "is that I'm not sure anyone would have taken Tiny. Heck, he was 30 years old, had a bad reputation and a huge contract. He seemed to have lost his game." Archibald, it appeared, was finished.

As the press prepared Archibald's basketball obituary, the Celtics were busy assembling the ingredients for a return to greatness. Under new owner Harry Mangurian and new coach Bill Fitch, the team boasted rookie Larry Bird, fiery sixth man M. L. Carr and a rejuvenated Cowens at center. All the Celts lacked was someone to run the team on the floor.

Meanwhile, back in the South Bronx, where Archibald returned each summer to help and counsel troubled youngsters, Tiny was drawing on an unlikely source of inspiration on the Patterson playgrounds.

"Here I was," Archibald recalled, "coming off the most frustrating year of my career, and it was the kids who were counseling me. They kept saying, 'Don't worry, Tiny. Don't get down. You can do it. The Celtics need you.' I'll never forget them for that."

Archibald returned to Boston for the 1979-80 season in a far different role. The Celtics didn't need him to score as he had on the Cincinnati and Kansas City-Omaha teams of the early 1970s -- they had Bird, Cowens and Cedric "Cornbread" Maxwell for that. So Archibald emerged not as the flashy scorer of old but as a controlled, efficient playmaker, running the offense like a general.

His scoring average (14.1 ppg) was the second lowest of his career, but his 671 assists were his highest since his league-leading 910 in 1972-73. Archibald was again named an All-Star. The result for the Celtics was one of the most dramatic one-year revivals in league history: they posted a 61-21 regular-season record before losing to Philadelphia in the Eastern Conference Finals.

The 1980-81 season marked the height of Tiny's resurgence. He averaged more than 35 minutes while directing a disciplined Boston offense to a 62-20 record. Along the way he picked up the All-Star Game MVP Award and finished fifth in the league in assists with 7.7 per game. He was also named to the All-NBA Second Team at season's end.

Most importantly, after 11 up-and-down seasons in the NBA, Tiny Archibald finally claimed an NBA Championship. After the Celtics won a seven-game showdown against the 76ers in the Eastern Conference Finals, they went on to defeat the Houston Rockets in six games in the NBA Finals.

Archibald had a productive 1981-82 season as the Larry Bird era entered its third year. The Celtics went 63-19 but lost to Philadelphia and Julius Erving in seven games in the Eastern Conference Finals. Archibald's 8.0 assists per game were fourth best in the league.

The following year, the 34-year-old Archibald's numbers began to drop. In 66 games, he averaged only 27.4 minutes and 6.2 assists. The Celtics were swept from the playoffs by the Milwaukee Bucks in the conference semifinals.

Archibald signed with the Bucks as a free agent for the 1983-84 season. He retired that year after playing in only 46 games.

Archibald's contributions over his 14 years in the NBA were huge: 16,481 points, 6,476 assists and six NBA All-Star Games. He was rewarded with election to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1991.

Although Archibald stopped contributing on the basketball court, he certainly did not stop contributing elsewhere. After his brief stint with the Bucks, he returned to New York City to run basketball schools for underprivileged kids and to work as athletic director at the huge Harlem Armory homeless shelter until it closed in 1991. He was honored for his work with the city's youth by then New York City Mayor David Dinkins in 1993.

Charles Barkley

Full Name: Charles Wade Barkley
Born: 2/20/63 in Leeds, Ala.
High School: Leeds (Ala.)
College: Auburn
Drafted by: Philadelphia 76ers (1984)
Transactions: Traded to Phoenix Suns, 6/17/92; Traded to Houston Rockets, 8/19/96 Height: 6-6; Weight: 252 lbs.
Honors: NBA MVP (1993); All-NBA First Team
(1988, '89, '90, '91, '93); All-NBA Second Team (1986, '97, '92, '94, '95); All-NBA Third Team (1996); 11-time All-Star; All-Star MVP (1991); One of 50 Greatest Players in NBA History (1996); Olympic gold medalist (1992, '96).

There are four players in NBA history who have compiled at least 20,000 points, 10,000 rebounds and 4,000 assists: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain, Karl Malone and Charles Barkley. But when the conversation turns to the exploits of Barkley, many people think first of the always entertaining, sometimes outrageous running commentary on basketball and life he provided throughout his celebrated 16-year NBA career.

However, as a player he was the greatest anomaly in basketball history. Listed at 6-6, but probably actually closer to 6-4, he played power forward as well as anyone, often dominating players half a foot taller.

Barkley brought vitality, attitude and a host of skills to professional basketball. He was viewed as an oddity -- an undersized power forward with rebounding as his only discernible basketball skill -- when he entered the league with the nickname "Round Mound of Rebound."

Undeterred, Barkley quickly buried that backhanded compliment once he began playing for the Philadelphia 76ers. It was not rare to see the neophyte Barkley grab a rebound among a crowd, then rumble downcourt with the ball and finish with a monster slam. In a half-court offense, he could fill the basket from the paint or the perimeter. And on the defensive end, he would play the passing lane for a steal or block a center's shot.

His awe-inspiring play demanded full respect and earned him a new nickname: Sir Charles.

"Barkley is like Magic [Johnson] and Larry [Bird] in that they don't really play a position," Bill Walton said in a SLAM magazine issue ranking NBA greats. "He plays everything; he plays basketball. There is nobody who does what Barkley does. He's a dominant rebounder, a dominant defensive player, a three-point shooter, a dribbler, a playmaker."

A perennial All-Star and All-NBA selection during his career, his pinnacle may have been winning the NBA Most Valuable Player award in 1993, his first season with the Phoenix Suns. Although he made a career of outmaneuvering and outsmarting bigger players while also overpowering smaller opponents, few expected anything close to that of the chubby player from Auburn.

In his three-year college career, Barkley averaged a not-so-spectacular 14.1 points per game. However, he had averaged 9.6 rebounds per game and thus was known for his heft and his hunger for caroms. He was the Southeastern Conference Player of the Year in 1984 but didn’t make the U.S. Olympic basketball team that summer.

He entered the 1984 NBA Draft as a junior and was taken by the 76ers with the fifth overall pick. Barkley joined a veteran-laden team with stars such as Julius Erving, Moses Malone and Maurice Cheeks -- players who took Philadelphia to the 1983 NBA championship. Yet, Barkley averaged 14.0 ppg and 8.6 rpg and earned a berth on the NBA All-Rookie Team.

Barkley spent eight seasons in Philadelphia, but the team's best showing during his tenure was in his first year, when the Sixers went 58-24 in the regular season and advanced all the way to the 1985 Eastern Conference Finals, where they lost to the Boston Celtics in five games. After several disappointing early-round playoff defeats, the Sixers failed to make the postseason in 1991–92 and Barkley wanted out of the City of Brotherly Love.

Barkley's time in Philly brought headlines and headaches. The incidents were many, such as the infamous spitting incident during a game against the New Jersey Nets where Barkley's expectorant, aimed at a heckler, landed on a young girl at the Meadowlands Arena.

But Barkley, consistent with his paradoxical nature, developed a friendship with the girl and her family. Similarly, he revealed that kinder side of his personality when he offered room and board to Scott Brooks, a young rookie whom had just made the team. But never shy of telling the world how he saw it, Barkley was seemingly always in the eye of a storm of controversy. Barkley -- whose words were sometimes satirically searing, at other times superfluous -- stirred a mini-firestorm when ads began airing in which he rejected the pro athlete as a role model paradigm.

"I don't create controversies. They're there long before I open my mouth. I just bring them to your attention," Barkley once stated. Nonetheless, Sixers ownership got off the Barkley roller coaster by accommodating his desires for a trade when he was sent to Phoenix for Jeff Hornacek, Tim Perry and Andrew Lang.

Like the mythical bird for which the city is named, Barkley found new life in Phoenix. In his magical first season with the Suns, he won the NBA MVP while leading Phoenix to the league’s best record of 62-20 and a berth in the 1993 NBA Finals. The Suns lost to Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls in a memorable six-game series.

Although over the next two seasons Barkley struggled with nagging injuries, he maintained a high level of play. The Suns reached the conference semifinals in 1994 and 1995, but lost to the Houston Rockets, the eventual NBA champs. And after four seasons in the Valley of the Sun, Barkley's time had set in Phoenix and he was traded to the Rockets.

Paying homage to that maxim, "If you can beat 'em, join 'em," Barkley was rejuvenated again when he joined the Rockets. But the chance to grab that elusive championship ring never materialized with the similarly aging superstars Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler. After announcing that his fourth season in Houston would be his last in the NBA, his time on the hardwood ended sooner than expected ... and ring-less.

On Dec. 8, 1999, he suffered a ruptured quadriceps tendon in his left knee, which sidelined him until the final game of the season. Ironically, this injury occurred against his former team, the 76ers, in Philadelphia, the town where years earlier he had entered the collective basketball consciousness of NBA fans.

But back in 1984-85, that career-ending injury was far away. Barkley was the only Sixers player to appear in all 95 regular and postseason games that season. The Sixers cruised through the first two rounds, beating the Washington Bullets 3-1 and sweeping the Milwaukee Bucks in the Eastern Conference Semifinals before losing to Boston. Barkley averaged 14.9 points and 11.1 rebounds during the postseason run.

In his second season, he dispelled the notion of a sophomore jinx with another impressive NBA campaign. Despite the presence of Malone, a man who had won six of the previous seven rebounding titles, Barkley finished the season not only as the Sixers’ best rebounder, but also as the second-best in the league, averaging 12.8 boards. He also finished as the team’s second-leading scorer with 20.0 ppg. For his efforts, he was named to the All-NBA Second Team.

Charles was definitely in charge in the 1986 playoffs. He averaged 25.0 points on .578 shooting from the field and 15.8 rebounds in the Sixers’ 12 playoff games. However, Philadelphia was eliminated by Milwaukee 4-3 in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.

Despite being just 23 years old at the start of the 1986-87 season, Barkley was thrust into a leadership role when Malone was dealt to Washington and Erving retired at the end of that season. Although he missed 14 games during the year with spleen and ankle injuries, Barkley earned his first NBA rebounding title with an average of 14.6 boards per game. He was also tops in offensive rebounds (5.7 per game), third in field-goal percentage (.594), and 15th in scoring (23.0 ppg).

Barkley was selected to play in his first NBA All-Star Game and was named to the All-NBA Second Team for the second straight season. The team finished in second place in the Atlantic Division, 14 games behind Boston. The 76ers lost to Milwaukee 3-2 in a first-round playoff series where Barkley averaged 24.6 points and 12.6 rebounds.

Barkley’s fourth year, his first as co-captain of the Sixers, proved to be one of his most productive seasons. He finished fourth in the NBA in scoring (28.3 ppg), sixth in rebounding (11.9 rpg), third in field-goal percentage (.587) and was named to the All-NBA First Team for the first time in his career. It was a bittersweet season, however as he also missed the playoffs for the first time.

Barkley was a true superstar by the end of the 1988-89 season. He was named to the All-NBA First Team for the second consecutive season and made his third straight All-Star Game appearance. Starting at one forward spot for the East squad, Barkley scored 17 points in the midseason classic. During the regular season he averaged 25.8 points and 12.5 rebounds, good for eighth and second, respectively, in the NBA. But the New York Knicks swept Philadelphia in the first round of the playoffs.

Despite the team's sagging prospects of winning a NBA title, Barkley's individual recognition rose. In 1990, he finished second in MVP voting behind Magic Johnson, was The Sporting News and Basketball Weekly Player of the Year as well as being named to the All-NBA First Team for the third straight year.

He posted numbers befitting a MVP: 25.2 points and 11.5 rebounds per game and a .600 field-goal percentage, to rank sixth, third and second, respectively. Philadelphia won 53 regular-season games but lost to the Chicago Bulls 4-1 in the Eastern Conference Semifinals although Barkley averaged 24.7 points and 15.5 rebounds during the playoffs.

The following season, Barkley garnered MVP honors at the 1991 NBA All-Star Game in Charlotte as he led the East to a 116-114 win over the West. He scored 17 points and hauled in 22 rebounds, the most rebounds in an All-Star Game since Wilt Chamberlain’s 22 in 1967. Barkley was also named to the All-NBA First Team for a fourth straight year. But again, the 76ers lost 4-1 to the Bulls in the Eastern Conference Semifinals with Barkley contributing 24.9 points and 10.5 rebounds per game in eight postseason contests.

His eighth season in Philly was his last, and it didn't include a trip to the postseason. But Barkley finished his 76ers career ranked fourth in team history in total points (14,184), third in scoring average (23.3 ppg), third in rebounds (7,079), eighth in assists (2,276) and second in field-goal percentage (.576). He led the club in rebounding and field-goal percentage for seven consecutive seasons each and paced Philadelphia in scoring for six straight years.

The summer of 1992 was a memorable one for Barkley. On June 17, almost immediately after being legally cleared of criminal charges resulting from an earlier barroom brawl, Barkley was traded to Phoenix, renewing his hope for an NBA title. Later that summer, he was the leading scorer with 18.0 ppg for the Dream Team at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, Spain.

In Barkley's first season with the Suns, the team had the NBA's best record and he became only the third player to win league MVP honors in the season after being traded. For the year, Barkley averaged 25.6 points and 12.2 rebounds to rank fifth and sixth, respectively. The nine-year veteran then carried Phoenix all the way to the NBA Finals. Chicago defeated Phoenix 4-2, but Barkley was brilliant, averaging 26.6 points and 13.6 rebounds in 42.8 minutes per game in the postseason. He also scored 44 points and hauled down 24 rebounds in Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals against the Seattle SuperSonics.

Injuries would befall Barkley for the remainder of his career. Because of an aching back, Barkley vowed that the 1993–94 season would be his last. Despite suffering through the worst injury problems of his career to date, he still managed 21.6 points and 11.2 rebounds per game and shot .495 from the floor. He was selected to play in his eighth consecutive NBA All-Star Game (which he opted out of because of a torn quadriceps tendon in his right leg).

Barkley appeared in only 65 games and the Suns bowed out in the Western Conference Semifinals, losing to the Rockets in seven games. In July, perhaps feeling that he still had things to accomplish in his pro career, Barkley announced that he would fight through his chronic back pain and play the following season.

Barkley showed that he was still one of the NBA’s best in 1994–95. He began the season on the injured list but returned to lead the Suns to a Pacific Division title with a 59-23 record. In demolishing the Portland Trail Blazers in the first round of the playoffs, Barkley averaged 33.7 points and 13.7 rebounds in a three-game sweep.

In the conference semifinals, the Suns jumped to a 3-1 lead over the defending NBA champion Rockets but lost in seven games. It was the second time in as many years that the Suns bowed to the Rockets after going up 3-1. Barkley averaged 22.3 points and 13.3 rebounds in the series, but a leg injury hampered his performance in Game 7.

After one more season in Phoenix, which ended with Barkley averaging 23.2 ppg and 11.6 rpg but a 41-41 team record and a first-round playoff loss, he was traded to Houston.

Barkley was the Rockets' second-leading scorer that first season behind Olajuwon, with a 19.2 ppg and a resurgent 13.5 rpg, the second best of his career. Injuries limited him to just 53 games, but the team had a 57-25 record and made it to the Western Conference Finals, where it fell to the Utah Jazz in six games.

The trio of Olajuwon, Drexler and Barkley would play together one more season in 1997-98 -- but at diminishing returns. Barkley's production slipped to 15.2 ppg and 11.7 rpg and the team played to a mediocre 41-41 record. This rare constellation of superstars had a short two-year life span as, after losing in five games to Utah in the first-round, Drexler walked away into retirement.

One last gasp for that ring was breathed into Barkley when, before the 1998-99 season, the Rockets acquired Scottie Pippen, the owner of six rings earned with Chicago. Barkley played 42 games in the lockout-shortened season and the Rockets went out in the first round of the playoffs to the Los Angeles Lakers. The mixture of Barkley and Pippen proved to be oil and water. In the offseason, the two exchanged harsh words through the media and Pippen was dealt to the Portland.

Barkley returned for his announced farewell season, but it ended prematurely because of a ruptured quadriceps tendon in his left knee. For the next two years, speculation continued that Barkley would return to the court. However, he remained on the sidelines for good.

Barkley remains an integral part of the game as a critically acclaimed and popular studio commentator on TNT's coverage of the NBA.


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