CAMDEN, N.J. — With Charles Barkley having a statue unveiled on Legends Walk at the team’s practice facility Friday, there were plenty of living legends in attendance.
Former teammates like 2019 Hall of Fame inductee Bobby Jones and the ever-present World B. Free were there. Barkley’s first NBA coach and Hall of Fame player Billy Cunningham was on hand to say a few words.
The craziest may have been a story about Barkley almost not even being a Sixer.
When we were getting ready to draft, it was probably the best draft I can ever remember," Cunningham said. "It was Michael Jordan, [Hakeem] Olajuwon, Sam Perkins, etc. And [then-Sixers owner] Harold [Katz] loved Charles Barkley. But the story before that was we had the No. 1 pick from the Clippers and a week or 10 days before that — Bill Fitch was the coach of Houston and the reason you have the lottery today is because of this — they dumped every game, which allowed them to get Olajuwon. So Charles, you might not have been sitting here if they didn't dump those games. We might have had Olajuwon or Michael Jordan here.
The next person to speak was current Sixers head coach Brett Brown, who has plenty of experience with … well ...
I can't believe that Coach Fitch dumped games to get high draft picks. Can you believe that, somebody, to get high draft picks, dumping games? I don't know what you're talking about.
After the laughter quieted down, Brown spoke frankly about Barkley’s legacy. Brown mentioned Barkley’s impact on his current team as it came out the other side of The Process.
While the idea of the Sixers getting to draft Jordan or Olajuwon would’ve been incredible, who knows if their careers would’ve wound up the same. Barkley landed in Philly and there may not have been a better place for him or a better player for the city of Philadelphia.
Barkley was fearless, both on and off the court. He never backed down from a challenge on the floor and wasn’t afraid to speak his mind off it.
Fierce competitor — the attitude he played with, the hustle, it screamed out Philly. It is Philly,” Sixers general manager Elton Brand said. “And your DNA is still currently in this team today. When I'm thinking of team building, I'm thinking of heart. Players that don't back down, that are fierce. A player that's going to be selfless and try to win. So when I pursue a championship this season, you're still here — your DNA is still in this organization and in this current team.
Brand, like Barkley, was considered undersized for the power forward position at 6-foot-8. All Brand did was get drafted No. 1 overall, win Rookie of the Year, become a two-time All-Star and have a 17-year career. At 6-foot-6, Barkley became a Hall of Famer and was one of the greatest power forwards to ever play the game.
All of that started for Barkley in Philly as he played alongside Julius Erving and Moses Malone. Barkley credits Malone with helping mentor him and forcing the man affectionately known as the Round Mound of Rebound to lose weight.
Barkley’s hope is that the Sixers are doing that now with holding Joel Embiid accountable for his health. He also hopes that people in the organization are doing that for Ben Simmons, who Barkley said is "going to be one of the best to ever do it" if he improves his shot the way he saw Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan did.
Barkley still loves his former team and believes they’re a legitimate championship contender with their two young All-Stars leading the way.
The Sixers have everything. I put a lot of faith in Ben and Joel. Listen, let's be realistic, and you guys know this — the Sixers were probably a bounce of the basketball from being the champs last year. … Now, they're on everybody's radar. Joel was crying after the game, which let me know, hey, we all cry after games like that. But now I gotta get better. I love the addition of Al Horford. I love the addition of Josh Richardson. The Sixers got everything in place. Everything in place.
Part of the foundation Brand and Brown have built is based on the rich history of the franchise. Sure, other teams may have more titles but what the Sixers have is nothing to gloss over. This is the franchise of Wilt Chamberlain, Hal Greer, Cunningham, Dr. J, Moses, Maurice Cheeks, Jones, Barkley and Allen Iverson.
None of that is lost on Brown.
The statues that you see, I use often with our players to have a look at what you pass as you enter our practice facility. To be able to come into our practice facility and look up and see the banners that this organization has had the privilege of calling a 76er is truly breathtaking for me. Some of the people in the room — Doc's not here, Wilt has passed, A.I. — you can keep going. You go to many programs and you're just not having that history right in front of you. We appreciate, maybe more than you know, your legacy and what your brought to this organization.
Barkley talked about how all of the coaches and players that helped him from the projects in Leeds, Alabama, all the way to Houston, deserve credit.
Your life isn't just about you. Every player, coach from Leeds High School, Auburn, eight years with the 76ers, four years with Phoenix, four years in Houston — every coach and player I've ever played with gets a little piece of this sculpture.
And with Barkley’s legacy still present with the Sixers, a piece of a championship would be his as well.
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