Charles Barkley: The best player to never win a championship?

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Having a jersey retired is considered as one of the biggest honours in the career of an NBA player, so to have this bestowed upon you twice, shows just how special Charles Barkley was during his 16 years in the league. 

The first of his jersey retirements came 15 years ago today, on March 30, 2001, by the Philadelphia 76ers who drafted him in 1984, in the same historic draft class as Michael Jordan and Hakeem OIajuwon. 

Selected fifth overall, Barkley initially joined a roster that included stars such as Moses Malone, Julius Erving and Maurice Cheeks, who had won the NBA championship in 1983. Nonetheless, Barkley went on to become a dominant force in the NBA during his eight seasons in the city of brotherly love.

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His accolades as a player speaks for themselves; NBA MVP, 11-time All-Star, five-time All-NBA First Team, All-Star MVP, NBA rebounding leader.

Many of his achievements were accomplished in a Sixers uniform where he became a star and the face of the franchise. His stardom and celebrity led to success off the court too. 

His performances for the Sixers saw him appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated for the first time as well as having his own signature shoe collection with major sports brand Nike. 

During his career, Barkley was something of an enigma, an undersized power forward who could do it all. He would routinely dominate players of a bigger size in that position in a number of ways. But there was one aspect of the game he owned; rebounding. This skill earned him the nickname "Round Mound of Rebound."

Speaking about Barkley in an interview with SLAM magazine, former NBA champion Bill Walton said: "Barkley is like Magic [Johnson] and Larry [Bird] in that they don't really play a position. He plays everything; he plays basketball. There is nobody who does what Barkley does. He's a dominant rebounder, a dominant defensive player, a three-point shooter, a dribbler, a playmaker." (via

The time Barkley spent in Philadelphia was full of ups and downs, though. He was a very outspoken and aggressive character and was involved in his fair share of controversies as a result. He was involved in an altercation with Detroit Pistons center Bill Laimbeer in 1990, which resulted in a record $162,500 fine. This was followed by the infamous spitting incident with a heckling fan in 1991. 

It was an incident he opened up about once he'd retired and expressed his guilt for what had happened. 

"I was fairly controversial, I guess, but I regret only one thing—the spitting incident. But you know what? It taught me a valuable lesson," Barkley said. "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."

On a more positive note, in his final year with the 76ers in 1991-92, Barkley opted to wear the number 32 jersey instead of his usual 34 in a touching show of support for Magic Johnson, who had confirmed at the beginning of that campaign that he was HIV-positive. The number was retired by the franchise but they agreed to unretire it for Barkley to wear.

In his first seven years in Philly, Barkley made the playoffs but the team consistently fell short and couldn't make it over the finishing line. In his eighth year the team failed to make the playoffs and he decided it was time for a change. He was duly traded to the Phoenix Suns ahead of the 1992-93 season. 

The Philadelphia organisation and Barkley didn't end on the best of terms but after his career came to a premature end in 1999 after suffering a ruptured quadriceps tendon in his left knee, ironically against the 76ers, it didn't deter them from deciding to retire his number 34 jersey.

"My years in Philadelphia were very special to me," Barkley said after the announcement by the Sixers. "To have my jersey retired, hung next to some of the greatest players of all time . . . Wilt Chamberlain, Julius Erving, Maurice Cheeks, I consider this an incredible honor."

The Alabama native's 16-year stint in the NBA solidified him as one of the greatest players to ever grace the court, but he has had to live with one negative aspect that he is reminded of every day; he didn't win a ring.

He enters that unwanted list of the best players to have never won a championship that includes the likes of Patrick Ewing, John Stockton, Karl Malone and Allen Iverson. 

In 2006, however, Barkley entered a more favourable list that every player dreams of as he was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. He was later inducted again in 2010 for his role as a member of the USA 'Dream Team', winning gold medals in 1992 and 1996.

Since 2000 Barkley has been a studio analyst covering the NBA for TNT and is today considered one of the best analysts around. He was recognised for this in 2012 when he won a Sports Emmy Award for "Outstanding Studio Analyst" for his work on TNT.

His unscripted views, mixed with humour and considerable knowledge of the game, make him a voice that people warm to and tune into on a regular basis. He is instrumental in making "Inside the NBA" one of the most watched sports programmes in America. 

The 53-year-old may not have won a title, but he has gone on to win the hearts of many NBA fans around the world and has become synonymous with the NBA in multiple ways.

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