Did Charles Barkley demand to be traded? Thirty years later, he still says the Sixers beat him to the punch
Barkley, who was traded by the Sixers in 1992, maintains that he never asked to be moved to Phoenix and remains baffled by the Ben Simmons saga: "It’s one of the craziest things I’ve seen."
It’s been nearly 30 years since Charles Barkley wanted out.
Then a 29-year-old six-time All-Star forward who averaged 23.1 points and 11.1 rebounds for a 35-47 Sixers team going nowhere, Barkley says he’d had enough.
But unlike a certain 25-year-old three-time All-Star guard sitting out this season for Doc Rivers’ team after vowing never to return, Barkley insists he never took the road traveled by Ben Simmons and made those feelings public.
“I’d been through two years of rumors and was sick of it,” Barkley said recently whiletaking a break from his duties as a studio analyst for TNT’s “Inside the NBA.” “Every week there was a different rumor I was going to a different team.
“I enjoyed my time there, but after two years of rumors I’d just had enough. I gave everything I had in Philly. I never wanted to leave Philly. But if anyone told you I demanded to be traded that’s a 100% lie.”
While one media member who covered the team at the time believes there may be some revisionist history at work here, that’s been Barkley’s story and he’s stuck to it since the June 17, 1992, trade that sent him to the Phoenix Suns for All-Star guard Jeff Hornacek, center Andrew Lang, and power forward Tim Perry, the former Temple standout. The deal seemed to make sense at the time for the Sixers, who selected Southern Miss forward Clarence Weatherspoon a week later with the No. 9 pick in the draft. However, the new mix never quite meshed.
Jim Lynam had just moved into Gene Shue’s general manager’s chair after 4 ½ years coaching Barkley, and he said owner Harold Katz knew the franchise needed change. “Charles, for better or worse, had expressed his thoughts,” recalled the 80-year-old Lynam, who now works as a Sixers analyst for NBC Sports Philadelphia. “He said, ‘We have to get better. We don’t have enough. Are we headed in the right direction?’
“At some point of time we came to the conclusion — right or wrong — we weren’t in position to be a serious contender.”
At the same time, Barkley had reluctantly come to the conclusion he’d reached the end of the line in Philly. While in Milwaukee standing trial for an off-the-court incident where he’d gotten in a fight with a fan — for which he was exonerated — he and his attorney, Tom Sullivan, crafted a letter stating their case.
But the letter was never sent. “One night at dinner my attorney asks me, ‘What do you want to do?’” Barkley said. “I said, ‘I’m never going to play there again. I’ve been dealing with this same BS for two years and I’ve just had enough.
“We decided we were going to send a letter to the Sixers that Monday saying that I’m not coming back to training camp, and let’s try to handle this the cleanest way possible. I didn’t want to alienate the fans.
“But I get a call that Sunday — I’d been traded. They beat me to it.”
Lynam’s a bit hazy on the deal’s details. While he regretted losing Barkley, he pointed out that the deal, or rather, the Sixers’ many losses that followed, led to the organization eventually landing Allen Iverson.
“In Charles’ case, he was dead right,” said Lynam, who went 194-173 after taking over midseason in 1987-88. “He had some stellar play left in him.
“He was never better than that year in Phoenix [where Barkley won the MVP and helped guide the Suns to the NBA Finals]. Unfortunately, in our case, obviously we did not get enough in return. ... So you lose a player of Barkley’s talent and really don’t replace him at a comparable level. But in my mind trading Charles Barkley — if you connect all the dots — led to Allen Iverson.”
That’s only because the Sixers continued to sink low enough in the ensuing four seasons to “earn” the right to the first pick in the ‘96 draft. In contrast, a re-energized Barkley averaged 25.6 points and 12.2 rebounds for the best-in-the West 62-20 Suns that first season in Phoenix. Barkley made the Suns a force to reckon with, even though they never quite made it to the NBA’s mountaintop after losing to Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls in the Finals.
“All I wanted was a chance,” said the 58-year-old Barkley. “The next two years after that, we had a 2-0 lead in the [Western Conference semifinals] but lost to the Rockets [who would go on to win back-to-back championships] in seven games. So I had three chances to win a championship at the end of my career. That’s all I could ask for.
“It was easy for me because you have to understand the diversity I brought to the table was great. I was content to go and get a bunch of rebounds. Things don’t work when guys need the ball. But I was content to get my 10-12 rebounds, because I knew I’d still get 20 points.”
Not only that, but since Barkley’s dissatisfaction with the team that selected him fifth in the 1984 draft never became public, he’s remained a beloved figure.
“I think they realized this is not Charles’ fault,” said Barkley, whose career essentially ended when he blew out a knee in a Dec. 8, 1999, game here while playing as a member of the Rockets. “You don’t go from being a nobody to being MVP. Philly fans always treated me great. One thing about Philly, if you just give them all you got, they always appreciate it
“That is one thing I can compare to Ben Simmons. He can never come back to Philly. He’s burned so many bridges, I think it’s over. I didn’t want to do that. I just didn’t want to alienate Philadelphia fans.”
There are some parallels between Barkley and Simmons: particularly Sixers general manager Daryl Morey determining Simmons’ trade value. “Ideally you wanted a star back,” Lynam said. “There was no doubt Charles was a superstar, so if you’re going to trade a superstar you want a superstar back.
“To Morey’s point, and I think he’s right, you want comparable value. Again, people can argue, what’s your house worth? It’s worth what somebody’s willing to pay for it.
“Morey has his own ideas what Ben Simmons’ value is and he’s not going to take pennies on the dollar to hasten a trade. I think if we had it to do over again, we would’ve been a bit more patient and ridden it out to try to get more comparable value, but I don’t know if we could’ve done it.”
That was nearly 30 years ago, and neither the Sixers nor the Suns have won an NBA championship since. Philadelphia’s last best chance, of course, came with Iverson leading Larry Brown’s crew to the 2001 Finals against Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant.
Who knows what might’ve happened had Barkley stuck around? Would the Sixers have continued in free fall under Doug Moe, who lasted just 56 games before the tenures of Fred Carter, Johnny Davis, and John Lucas? Would the Sixers have needed Brown to arrive on the scene in 1997 to snap a six-year string of losing seasons? Or maybe it would’ve all turned around and there’d be a few more championship banners hanging from the Wells Fargo Center rafters?
Which leaves one nagging question: Thirty years from now, what will they be saying about the Ben Simmons and 2021-22 Sixers and the fallout that ensues?
“I don’t have any clue what happens with this Simmons thing,” Barkley said. “It’s one of the craziest things I’ve seen in my 36 years in the NBA. I don’t understand how he can be mad at the Sixers because they want him to get better at basketball. Your employer has the right to ask you to get better at your job.
“They asked him to get better. He took his ball and went home. lf somebody’s paying you 40 million, instead of taking the challenge, you say, ‘I don’t want to play here anymore?’”