COMMENTARY | Philadelphia 76ers legend Charles Barkley, who had his number 34 retired by the Philadelphia 76ers in 2001, turned 50 on February 20, 2013.
Looking back on Barkley's career, including his years with the Philadelphia 76ers, one thing stands out: his competitiveness, which showed for good and bad reasons.
Yes, stars like Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird -- all contemporaries of Barkley -- were all extremely competitive. Barkley, unlike the others however, let his emotions show just how competitive he was.
In a 2002 Sports Illustrated interview with Jack McCallum he admitted he always thought he was the best, with the eventual exception of Michael Jordan.
"I never walked onto a basketball court when I didn't feel like I was as good as anyone else out there. Except once. Game 2 of the 1993 NBA Finals in Chicago," Barkley said.
It's that competitive drive that made him believe he was the best, which paved the way for the success he enjoyed in his career.
How else can you explain the extraordinary rebounding numbers Barkley posted throughout his career, especially with his lack of height? With the ball in the air, Barkley -- who was listed at six-feet-six-inches, despite being quoted in a 2008 New York Times story by Noah Liberman as being measured at six-feet-four-inches and six-feet-five-inches -- had to fight and claw through the land of seven-footers in the post in order to pull down the rebound.
Barkley averaged 11.7 rebounds per game throughout his 16-year-career. His only rebounding title came in the 1986-1987 season with the Sixers when he averaged 14.6 rebounds per game. He ranks third in team history in most career rebounds (7,079).
Being the Round Mound of Rebound was an example of Barkley doing whatever it took to win. He admits, however, that his competitiveness clouded his better judgment sometimes though.
In that same McCallum piece Barkley talks about the incident with the 76ers when he got into a confrontation with a fan in New Jersey and accidentally spit on a young girl.
"It taught me a valuable lesson. It taught me that I was getting way too intense during the game. It let me know I wanted to win way too bad. I had to calm down. I wanted to win at all costs. Instead of playing the game the right way and respecting the game, I only thought about winning."
In retirement, Barkley has also admitted to other times when his competitive drive made him controversial, which he can laugh about now.
In an interview with "NBA on TNT" co-host Ernie Johnson for Barkley's birthday, Barkley told a story of how he purposely gained weight before meeting with the Philadelphia 76ers before the 1984 NBA Draft, hoping that they wouldn't select him because he was not happy with the contract they were going to sign him to, thinking he was worth more.In another birthday interview, this one for Comcast SportsNet alongside former Sixers coach Jim Lynam, Barkley says he would compare his teammates and a lack of a supporting cast to the rosters of the other teams. Barkley, wanting to win so terribly, constantly spoke out about the talent level of his team and eventually demanding his own trade from Philadelphia to Phoenix.
Perhaps if Barkley was playing and did these things today, the media would vilify him even more than he did when playing. But Barkley's honesty, humor, and overall success (despite never winning an NBA title) has endeared him to many a basketball fan.
His desire to win could do today's NBA, especially the current-Philadelphia 76ers, some good.
Players could learn from Sir Charles' ability to mesh with some of the best players in the history of the NBA, including teaming in Philadelphia with Moses Malone and Julius Erving as well as playing on the original Dream Team.
Players should absolutely take note of Barkley's tenacity on the court in terms of how he would seemingly corral every rebound and loose ball, no matter his physical limitations.
Whether you respect Barkley's honesty or chide him for the malcontent nature that dominated his playing days, there is no arguing that Barkley is one of the most competitive players of all time.
That desire to win has made him one of the most liked and best NBA players the NBA has ever seen. We also will never see another Charles Barkley in the league ever again.
Phil Shore lives in New Jersey and is the creator and editor of Shore Thing Sports blog. He's been published in The Boston Globe, Philly.com, FoxSoccer.com, LaxMagazine.com and New England Lacrosse Journal.
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