He came to an NBA champion Philadelphia Seventy-Sixers team as a wild-playing rookie from Auburn. He was thick, big and broad, a little undisciplined, never able to control his weight.
In his final year playing professional basketball, his team’s media guide listed him at 252 pounds but, as a rookie, he seemed closer to 350. His face was round and childlike. He was, for want of a better word, pudgy. It looked like he hadn’t yet quite lost his babyfat.
Next to the sleek, controlled and experienced pros he played with on the Sixers (e.g., Dr. J, Maurice Cheeks), he looked like a puppy who hadn’t grown into his paws.
One night during Barkley’s rookie season, thanks to the person I was dating at the time, I enjoyed the game from courtside seats. It was amazing to see these athletes play the game from that close; there’s nothing like proximity to make the game come alive.
I remember one play in particular.
I was speaking to the person next to me when I saw her eyes open very wide and she said the word “God” almost inaudibly. I looked to the court just in time to see the huge and growing form of Charles Barkley flying at me in pursuit of a loose ball. In my memory, it looked something like this, only moving way faster:
No time to move.
The next thing I knew – literally, the very next thing – he slammed into me at full speed, driving me into the court and destroying the chair I was seated in. And when I say destroyed, I mean collapsed it pancake-flat.
He pushed off my chest to get up and back into the game. A Spectrum employee came over to pull the chair off the floor and place a new one in the now-vacated space. I, of course, was still prone, only slowly regaining awareness. My friend helped me up and into the new chair and after a few minutes another Spectrum employee came over to give me a towel to wipe myself down (it had taken me a few minutes to realize just how wet I was). That was it.
I’ll never forget being full-out flattened by him but, to this day, Charles Barkley has never said a word.