CAMDEN, N.J. — Charles Barkley had listened to current and past members of the Sixers organization praise his career and character early Friday afternoon, given a gracious speech, smiled and posed alongside the new statue of himself on Legends Walk at the team’s practice facility. He’d then stepped aside to take questions from the media for 10 minutes or so, at which point a Sixers public relations official said Barkley was answering his last question of the day.
“Go ahead, guys. Couple more questions,” Barkley said. “No rush.”
He kept talking — about his career, his legacy, the statue — for about 20 more minutes.
Barkley, a Hall of Famer who made six All-Star teams and averaged 23.3 points and 11.6 rebounds during his eight seasons in Philadelphia, does not favor diplomatic answers. With how candid he is, you have little doubt his praise, when he gives it, is genuine. Take, for instance, what he said about his statue.
The Charles Barkley statue, the latest addition to Legends Walk at the Sixers’ practice facility.— Noah Levick (@NoahLevick) September 13, 2019
Barkley said he thinks it’s “amazing.” He did joke he doesn’t ever think he’s been that skinny. pic.twitter.com/0lqijx053f
Listen, man, let me tell you something — that guy [Chad Fisher] is very talented. Very talented. I got no complaints with that statue — it looks amazing. I got a statue at [Auburn] a couple years ago and my first response was, ‘What the f--- is that?’ I was like, ‘What the f--- is that?’ It’s a true story. This was the preliminary. And I was like, ‘Yo, dude, that don’t look nothing like me. It’s awful.’ … Shout out to the sculptor, it’s fantastic.
Though Barkley did his best to answer every question posed to him, he sometimes went off the rails a bit, straying to whatever was near the top of his mind. He marveled often at the fact that he was “paid millions of dollars to play a stupid game of basketball,” observing that he’d never had a “real job … and I’m not looking for one.”
“I’m one of the luckiest people in the world,” Barkley said. “I look at these guys on the 76ers right now, they’re the luckiest people in the world. They get to play basketball, they get to travel the country, they get to travel the world, they make a ton of money. They should always be in a good mood. I was in a good mood making what I was making. I’d be in an ecstatic mood if I played today.”
Barkley had plenty of praise for his former coaches and teammates — Hall of Famers Billy Cunningham and Bobby Jones were among those in attendance — but he wasn’t bashful about criticizing the organization.
He didn’t back away from his claim that the Sixers were the “stupidest organization in the history of sports” for having Joel Embiid play through a back injury in January, and he called the team’s decision not to select Brad Daugherty first overall in the 1986 NBA Draft “the biggest mistake the Sixers ever made."
While he’s not hesitant to call out others, Barkley has a charming knack for self-deprecation. He recounted Friday that the late Moses Malone, whose statue is next to Barkley’s, was right to call him “fat and lazy” as a rookie. Barkley also acknowledged he was “a little crazy” up until a 1991 incident in which he was suspended a game and fined for spitting at a fan in the stands and using abusive language.
I was mad at everybody, to be honest with you. I was mad at every critic who said that I was too short, and I was trying to stick it to them. I was mad at my dad for not being in my life. I was mad at Ms. Gomez for flunking me in Spanish. And then the best thing that happened to me was probably the spitting incident … because I was suspended and I was sitting in that hotel room. I was like, ‘You need to calm down and just play basketball.’ Your dad wasn’t there — let that go. Ms. Gomez didn’t flunk you in Spanish — you flunked Spanish. You don’t have to stick it to Ms. Gomez or your dad. Just play good basketball.
Barkley’s time as a player with the Sixers wasn’t often neat and tidy. He had the greatest team success of his career after being traded to the Phoenix Suns, winning the MVP award and making the NBA Finals in his first season outside of Philadelphia.
He said Friday he’d still have preferred to play his career in one city. Barkley, who spends his summers in Philadelphia, knows that its sports fans are passionate and not hesitant to share their opinions.
It’s a quality Barkley understands well.
“This is not an easy city,” he said, “but it’s an amazing city to play in because if you bust your hump, they’re giving to give you nothing but love. Now, if you don’t bust your hump, you’re going to think, ‘Charles Barkley, you suck.’ You’re going to think that’s your middle name.”
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