Barkley at 50: Sixers didn’t really want Barkley
by Jason Wolf, USA TODAY Sports
Charles Barkley was shorter than most power forwards, wider than most small forwards and as controversial, outspoken and aggressive a player as the NBA has ever seen.
In between various fines and arrests and decreeing that sports figures weren’t suitable role models, Barkley authored a 16-year Hall of Fame playing career that delivered nearly every achievement and accolade short of a league title.
“Sir Charles” relied on his remarkable strength and agility to become an 11-time All-Star, an 11-time All-NBA selection and the 1993 NBA MVP, which he won in his first season with the Phoenix Suns after demanding a trade following eight seasons in Philadelphia. He also finished second in league MVP voting in 1990.
“Charles was about 6-4, he weighed 290 and he could take the ball off the backboard and go the length of the floor,” said then-Sixers general manager Pat Williams, recalling the player he selected out of Auburn with the fifth overall pick in the 1984 draft. “There’s never been anybody quite like him, really.”
But as the 1983-84 NBA season drew to a close and what became the legendary 1984 NBA draft approached, Barkley wasn’t the 76ers’ first option.
He wasn’t even Plan B.
The Sixers had been poised to select either Michael Jordan or Hakeem Olajuwon with one of the first two picks, at least until the Houston Rockets allegedly tanked the final month of the season to get into the coin flip.
Back then, in the final season before the NBA instituted the draft lottery, the worst team in each conference called heads or tails for the right to pick No. 1 overall. The Rockets lost 18 of their final 24 games, including nine of their last 10, to finish with one more loss than the San Diego Clippers, thereby securing the worst record in the Western Conference.
Philadelphia owned the perennially struggling Clippers’ first-round draft pick that season, which it had received by trading World B. Free six years earlier.
“It was a good long-term annuity,” said Williams. “… And the entire year we were in the coin flip, but in the last month, Houston went on that incredible losing … [For more on Barkley at 50: Sixers didn't really want Barkley, click here.]