As a Chicago Bulls fan, I was frightened of the Phoenix Suns as the Bulls headed into the 1993 NBA Finals. I was just as frightened of the New York Knicks, the team Chicago barely beat the round before, but after downing the Knicks in the 1991, 1992 and 1993 playoffs, the Knicks were the (scary) devil Chicago knew.
Phoenix was not. And Charles Barkley was the reason why.
Because there was this feeling that the 1992-93 MVP had been nearly as good as Michael Jordan, in his inimitable inside-outside way, while playing with OK-to-terrible teams in Philadelphia in years prior. Now in Phoenix, Barkley led the Suns to the top of the West while playing with a fantastic supporting group including the potent Kevin Johnson, the all-around Dan Majerle, and a series of role players that could get up to no good on (in a good way) and off the court (not in a good way).
Apparently, Charles Barkley had the same thoughts, heading into the finals. And then Michael Jordan had to go break his heart.
You know, I'd always thought that I was the best player, to be honest with you. I always thought, Michael Jordan when he started winning, he just had more help than me. So, when I finally came to Phoenix, I had told the late, great Cotton Fitzsimmons, 'Hey dude, I'm the best basketball player in the world. We're going to the Finals.' And he said, 'That's why I traded for you.'
I actually thought I was the best. I thought Bird and Magic just had better players. So, I said, 'Listen dude, I'm going to the Finals this year. Dan Majerle, Kevin Johnson... That's what I need. We're going to the Finals.' He says, 'Well Michael's gonna be there.' I said, 'Cotton, I think I'm better than Michael Jordan.' He says, 'We will see when you get there.'
So, we actually got nervous before Game 1. We struggled. The pressure got to the guys on the team. I played decent, but then I think the other guys were nervous. So Game 2, I'm talking to my daughter.
She said, 'Dad? Are y'all gonna win tonight?'
I said, 'Baby, your dad is the best basketball player in the world. I'm going to dominate the game tonight.' And I remember... I think I had like 46, 47. I played great. And Michael had 52.
And I got home that night, and my daughter was crying, and she said, 'Dad, y'all lost again.'
I said, 'Baby, I think Michael Jordan's better than me.'
She said, 'Dad, you've never said that before.'
I said, 'Baby, I've never felt like that before.'
Geez, that's a little heartbreaking. That's quite a bit heartbreaking, actually. Sorry, Charlie.
People don't often lump in those Suns with the Knicks and Jazz as teams that were cruelly denied by Jordan in his prime, but they were just as good; and possibly during their peak in 1993, better than Utah or New York. Barkley's injured back got in the way of things working out for the Suns during Jordan's finals absences in 1994 and 1995, and Barkley's Rockets probably wouldn't have given Chicago the same run that Utah did had they managed to top Utah in the 1997 Western Conference finals. But those Suns were great, and so was Barkley.
Charles needs to know that on some nights, and this is saying quite a bit, he was better. And that he didn't have help in Philly that rivaled Jordan's. And that, frankly, that MJ had much better help in 1993. Nobody should ever go over that hill hating the fact that they weren't as good as Jordan, Charles. It's just unreasonable. Don't let that tear you up.