76ers

Whether calling out Sixers or poking fun at himself, Charles Barkley is always candid

Whether calling out Sixers or poking fun at himself, Charles Barkley is always candid

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.


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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Shaquille O'Neal on playing vs. Allen Iverson: ‘I was such a fan … I kind of coasted that year in the Finals’

Shaquille O'Neal on playing vs. Allen Iverson: ‘I was such a fan … I kind of coasted that year in the Finals’

Shaquille O’Neal was at the height of his very substantial powers in the 2001 NBA Finals. He averaged 33 points, 15.8 rebounds and 3.4 blocks in the Lakers’ five-game series victory and was a simple choice for MVP.

However, the Sixers took a Game 1 that Philadelphia fans will remember for a long time, led by Allen Iverson’s 48 points. O’Neal revealed on The Adam Lefkoe Show podcast that he was perhaps a little lenient toward Iverson. 

I have a little confession. D-Wade [Dwyane Wade] probably knows this,” he said. “There were four guys that when we played them, I was such a fan, I would let them do what they wanted to do. White Chocolate [Jason Williams] — I wanted him to go to work — Vince Carter, AI and Tracy McGrady. Every time we played AI … I could have blocked his shot multiple times.

“I just didn’t want to. I kind of coasted that year in the Finals where we wanted to go 16-0. We let him hit us for [48]. Listen, Iverson, he had his heart on the line, he played hard, he did it his way. I was glad to go into the Hall of Fame with him. It’s unfortunate that a lot of these great players will be judged because they didn’t win [a championship]. But listen, he’s one of the greatest to ever do it.

Given O’Neal’s 44-point, 20-rebound Game 1 performance, the notion of him taking it easy on Iverson is difficult to buy. Still, it’s evident he has a deep respect for Iverson. Wade and Candace Parker are very much in the same boat — both players chose No. 3 for that reason.

At All-Star Weekend in February, Wade crossed paths with Iverson and the two shared an emotional moment weeks after the tragic death of Kobe Bryant.

“I couldn’t do anything but embrace and tell him how much I appreciate him, tell him how much I love him,” Wade said on the podcast. “As I’ve always said, it was [Michael] Jordan, Kobe and Iverson for me. Those are the three players that I modeled my game after — that’s who I wanted to be like. I wore No. 3 probably because of Allen Iverson. … I just thanked him. It was just a good embrace that we both needed at that moment.”

A two-time WNBA MVP and five-time All-Star, Parker had a unique story on the origin of her admiration for Iverson. Her older brother, Anthony Parker, began his professional career with the Sixers in the 1997-98 season.

“I remember one day my brother came home from a game and he handed me Allen Iverson’s finger bands,” Parker said. “I wore the Allen Iverson finger bands all the way through high school. … I was obsessed with him. I remember when I met him, he was the first person I met that he shook my hand and I had no words.”

Both Parker and Wade are convinced Iverson would have benefited from the way the NBA has changed since his retirement. They cited the load management movement as one factor — Iverson led the league in minutes per game seven times and played at least 39.4 minutes a night in each of his first 12 seasons. The two also believe that the league's shift away from big men and increase in pace would have suited Iverson’s game. 

“AI’s one of the greatest players of all time,” Parker said. 

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Non-stop drama, a high-tech mask and Joel Embiid's playoff debut

Non-stop drama, a high-tech mask and Joel Embiid's playoff debut

NBC Sports Philadelphia is re-airing Game 3 of the Sixers-Heat 2018 playoff series Sunday night at 7 p.m. on NBC Sports Philadelphia. 

At 26 years old, Joel Embiid has played 19 career playoff games. The lead-up to the first one was full of frustration, drama and angst.

Minutes after the Sixers’ 17-game winning streak ended with a loss to the Heat in Game 2, Embiid posted on his Instagram story, “F---ing sick and tired of being babied.” 

He’d been a glum observer from the sidelines that night, still out with an orbital fracture of the left eye he’d sustained in a collision with Markelle Fultz on March 28, and had seen his teammates cool off from three-point range and allow a 36-year-old Dwyane Wade to score 28 points. Embiid wanted to play, thought he should be permitted to and figured it couldn’t hurt to let the world know how he felt. 

Not for the first time — and certainly not for the last, either — Brett Brown found himself fielding awkward questions about how his players were being handled medically. 

“He just wants to play basketball," he said at the podium. “He wants to be with his team, he wants to play in front of the fans and he wants to see this through. When he’s not able to do that, he gets frustrated, and I respect his frustrations. … I do know the spirit he delivered that [Instagram story] you just talked about reflects my conversations with him.

"It’s completely driven by team, competitiveness, I want to play basketball, that type of feeling more than anything.”

Thanks to a high-tech, customized mask with goggles that was made of polypropylene and embedded carbon fiber filaments, Embiid was cleared for Game 3 in Miami, resembling the "Batman" villain Bane and the rapper MF Doom. The mask was an unavoidable nuisance — Embiid removed it from his face on free throws — but it allowed him to play basketball again, shifting the drama from social media to the court.

Embiid tossed the mask up in the air, spiked it on the floor and generally didn’t treat the device with much reverence. Head athletic trainer Kevin Johnson got a good amount of screen time as the Sixers’ medical staff ran repairs and ferried masks out to Embiid. Justise Winslow was not amused by the situation. When he saw the mask lying on the ground around the foul line at one point in the second quarter, he stepped on it, then unsuccessfully tried to break it with his hands.

"He kept throwing it on the ground. I don't know if he didn't like it or what,” Winslow, who was later fined $15,000 for the incident, told reporters. “I was talking to JoJo, we were smack talking, trash talking, going back and forth. No love lost.”

The back-and-forth with Winslow seemed to invigorate Embiid, though he probably didn’t require any additional fuel.

“Little do they know, I have about 50 of them,” he said to reporters in Miami. “It’s going to take much more than that to get me out of the series. It’s going to be a nightmare for them, too.” 

It was a casually bold prognostication, and also not an entirely outrageous one. The Sixers sprinted away from the Heat in Game 3, turning a two-point lead entering the fourth quarter into a 20-point win. They were, without a doubt, the better team when Embiid played.

We haven’t actually mentioned anything yet about how Embiid played. If he didn’t have a black mask shielding his face, the cliched (but accurate) description of his performance would be that he looked like himself. Embiid had 23 points in 30 minutes, seven rebounds, four assists and three blocks. He made three threes, drew 15 free throws and protected the rim well, limiting Heat players to 4 for 14 shooting on field goals he defended. 

Mask on or mask off, regular season or playoffs, he was clearly going to be the main story more often than not. 

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