Charles Barkley wasn’t playing to the crowd when talking about how much he believes in the current 76ers. On the day that he became the eighth former Sixer to have a sculpture unveiled in his honor at the team’s practice facility, Barkley let it be known that he has the highest expectations for this coming season.
“I already picked the 76ers to win the championship next year, so no pressure,” he said during a stirring acceptance speech before the unveiling of his statue. “I mean that sincerely.”
Why the Sixers?
“The Sixers got everything,” Barkley said in an interview with reporters afterward. “I am putting my faith in Ben and Joel.”
Of course, Barkley, who is among the most popular basketball analysts for Turner Sports, was alluding to the Sixers’ two all-stars, point guard Ben Simmons and center Joel Embiid.
“I am a big Ben Simmons fan,” said Barkley, who joined Billy Cunningham, Wilt Chamberlain, Maurice Cheeks, Julius Erving, Hal Greer, Moses Malone, and Bobby Jones on the 76ers Legends Walk. “I want him to do like Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan, keep working at his game and become a very good shooter. If he keeps working on his jump shot he will be one of the best to ever do it.”
His expectations are just as high for Embiid.
“I expect Joel to be in the MVP conversation,” said Barkley said, who averaged 23.3 points, 11.6 rebounds, 3.7 assists, and 1.7 steals in 37.3 minutes per game in his eight seasons with the Sixers and was a six-time All-Star during that time. “I think he got mad at me last year because I suggested his conditioning wasn’t up to par -- because it wasn’t.”
Barkley said he would like to see Embiid go on a swimming program.
“I know they try to be careful with him because he is injury-prone, and that is why I think swimming would be great for him,” Barkley said.
Barkley said that players who can take constructive criticism, not just on the Sixers but in the entire league, will excel.
He used his own story as an example and paid tribute to Malone, calling him “the most important person in my basketball life.”
Barkley asked Malone early in his rookie year why he wasn’t getting to play more, and Malone didn’t mince words.
“He said, ‘You are fat, and you are lazy,’ ” Barkley recalled.
Barkley said he didn’t understand what Malone was talking about, so the late Hall of Fame center, who led the Sixers to the 1983 NBA title, clearly spelled it out.
“He said, ‘Which part [don’t you understand]? The fat part or the lazy part?’” Barkley said.
Malone told Barkley that he couldn’t play basketball at 300 pounds and had to get in shape.
So the two worked out before and after practice, and Barkley dropped 50 pounds, and a Hall of Fame career was on its way.
Barkley said that if Simmons improves his shooting and Embiid his conditioning, the sky is the limit for this year’s team.
“Let’s be realistic. The Sixers were probably a bounce of a basketball away from being a champ last year,” Barkley said, alluding to Kawhi Leonard’s game-winning shot in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals at Toronto. In that game, the champion Raptors eliminated the Sixers with a 92-90 win.
Barkley talked about Embiid’s reaction to the loss, when he was sobbing uncontrollably.