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Charles Barkley has always been a man of substantial appetites. Some 30 years ago, well before a Hall of Fame playing career that would make him one of the most famous athletes in the world and one of the most sought-after voices in sports media, the so-called "Round Mound of Rebound" attempted to leverage that voracity into turning the tables on the NBA draft process and picking his own landing spot after leaving Auburn.
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Barkley shared the story of his initial interactions with the Philadelphia 76ers during a recent chat with Sports Illustrated's Richard Deitsch at the South by Southwest conference in Texas:
Back in my day we had a hard salary cap so you could not go over the salary cap like you can today and the Sixers had the No. 5 pick in the draft. I left college after three years and in fairness, I was fat in college. I played at 300 pounds. The Sixers called me a month before the draft and said, “We want you to get down to 285 pounds and come in before the draft.” So I get down to 283 and the night before we fly into Philly my agent said, “You do know if the Sixers draft you they are going to give you $75,000, right?” I said, “Dude, I didn’t leave college for $75,000. We have a problem.” He said, “You weigh about 283 now. What do you want to do? You beat their weight limit.” I said, “Let’s go out.”
So we went to Dennys and I had like two Grand Slam breakfasts. We went to lunch and I had like two big barbeque sandwiches. That night we went to a big steakhouse. The next morning I had two more Grand Slam breakfasts and when we flew to Philly, I weighed 302. I was like, Thank goodness, the Sixers are not going to draft me. So when you look at my face when commissioner [David] Stern says 'With the fifth pick in the draft, the Philadelphia 76ers select Charles Barkley,' I was like, 'Oh, sh--.' When people go back and look at me walking, and they see that awful burgundy suit, everybody else is happy and Charles isn’t happy. But it worked out great. The most important person in my basketball career was Moses Malone and he got me down to under 250 pounds and the rest is history.
In recent years, this has become one of Barkley's favorite anecdotes. He shared it during a television special celebrating his 50th birthday back in February 2013, and related it again (swapping "Red Lobster" and "hush puppies" in for "barbecue sandwiches") during a visit to "The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon" back in October, just before the start of the NBA season:
While we'll likely never find out the exact contents of Barkley's two-day food bender, the story about the Sixers' hard-capped $75,000 offer and Barkley's unhappiness about it finds support in this Aug. 15, 1984, New York Times story by Sam Goldaper:
Seconds into Monday night's game between rookies and the free agents from the Philadelphia 76ers and the Washington Bullets, Charles Barkley faked Joe Kopicki and shook the basket at Princeton University's Jadwin Gymasium with a crashing dunk.
Harold Katz, the 76er owner, watched as the 6-foot-6-inch, 275- pound Barkley, the team's top draft choice, make his effortless move, then he poked General Manager Pat Williams and said, "There he goes, he's at it again."
The manner in which Barkley scored was not surprising; in his three seasons at Auburn, many of his points came in similar fashion. What was surprising was that Barkley, the fifth player selected in the draft, had even come to the training camp, which is being conducted jointly by the 76ers, the [New York] Knicks, the [New Jersey] Nets and the Bullets.
The trend has been for unsigned high draft choices to stay away from training camps, as a bargaining weapon and to prevent the possibility of an injury. By allowing Barkley to attend, his agent, Lance Luchnick, has introduced a new bargaining tactic. The 76ers have lent a helping hand by insuring Barkley "for seven figures against injury," according to Williams.
"My guess," Williams said, "is that Barkley came to try and impress us that he is so valuable to the franchise that we will make the necessary modifications in our existing roster to open up more money for him to sign. Right now, because we are over the salary cap, we are permitted to only offer him a one-year contract at $75,000. I have told this to Luchnick over and over again. Now, he has sent him into camp to help convince us further how good Barkley is."
It worked out swimmingly. The Sixers wound up inking Barkley to a four-year, $2 million contract one month later, including a $150,000 signing bonus — double the initial capped-out total offer — spread out over the course of the deal.
Despite getting his way at the negotiating table, though, Barkley didn't open the season in Philly's starting five, thanks in part to his persistent (if reduced since draft night) girth. From Jesse Washington's February feature story on Barkley at The Undefeated:
"I was lazy," Barkley acknowledges at the Four Seasons. "First of all, you don't know you're lazy until you move to the next level. Your level of laziness is dictated by your level of success. Think about it. I'm 300 pounds, but I'm leading the SEC in rebounding. So, like, I don't fuckin' think I'm lazy."
Moses Malone did. When Barkley asked why he wasn't playing much, Moses told him "You're fat and lazy" and advised him to lose weight.
Barkley might not have listened to everybody, but he would (kind of, at least) listen to Moses. He earned his way into the starting lineup after 20 games and went on to average 14 points, 8.6 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 1.2 steals and one block in 28.6 minutes per game, establishing himself as one of the fastest-rising prospects in the game and charting a course for superstardom that would eventually land him in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. Sure, he might have gotten there sooner had he laid off on the Grand Slams, but something tells me Sir Charles doesn't have a whole lot of regrets about his pre-draft conditioning plan.
Hat-tip to Greg Paone of The 700 Level.
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