Charles Barkley never won an NBA championship. Here’s what left him empty-handed.

Charles Barkley never won an NBA championship. Here’s what left him empty-handed.


(dramatic music) – Charles Barkley was one
of the greatest players in the history of professional basketball. He was the height of a guard and accordingly nimble
with the ball in his hands. But he was also wide and
exceptionally powerful, able to fly in transition
or explode off the floor right under the basket. Those qualities helped make
him the shortest player ever to lead the league in rebounding. His supreme skill, alongside
prolific, versatile, extremely efficient scoring in his prime. Barkley became an All-Star in 1987 and remained one for a decade, earning all NBA First Team
honors five of those years. Soon after his first Olympic gold medal, Barkley won 1993 NBA MVP, beating out some legendary competition. Barkley’s individual greatness has been honored with two retired jerseys, plus a spot in the
Basketball Hall of Fame. Barkley has every individual achievement, every accolade you could dream of. But despite all that, he’s missing the ultimate
team accomplishment, an NBA championship. Why, despite his greatness,
did his teams never win at all? How exactly did Charles
Barkley end up untitled? (light music) Barkley entered the NBA
on a fortunate note. He was one of several
future Hall-of-Famers taken in the storied 1984 draft. But unlike first pick Hakeem Olajuwon and third pick Michael Jordan who were grabbed by the
sorts of losing teams you’d typically find
among the top selections, Barkley was picked by a contending team. The Philadelphia 76ers
didn’t lose their way into the fifth pick of the ’84 draft. They received it as
compensation for a trade with the miserable and
foolish Clippers in 1978. The squad Barkley joined was stacked with a Hall-of-Fame frontcourt tandem of Julius Erving and Moses Malone, supported by stars like Maurice Cheeks, Andrew Toney, and Bobby Jones. The Sixers were coming
off a relatively down year that ended with a playoff upset, but the season prior, they
had absolutely incinerated their playoff competition
to win the 1983 title. So the reigning SEC Player of The Year found himself among champions. Charles was the rare top-five pick who’d get to vie for a championship right from his rookie season. And the kid impressed coach
Billy Cunningham enough to earn a starting spot on
a team that won 58 games and cruised into the 1985
Eastern Conference Finals. Just one problem, the Celtics. Larry Bird and the defending
champs were just as stacked and sprinted to a 3-0 series lead before the Sixers figured out that they should be starting Barkley like they did in the regular season. The rookie rejoined the starting lineup and helped Philly to a game four victory, gobbling up 20 rebounds. But thanks to Bird’s
last-second steal in game five, the series and the season slipped away. No one could’ve known it at the time, but 1985 would be the last and best chance for that version of the
Sixers to win another title. They would never get another
crack at Bird’s Celtics. In ’86, the Bucks eliminated
Philly from the playoffs when Erving missed a
game seven buzzer-beater. Even if that shot went in, the Sixers surely would’ve
lost to the Celtics again. Malone was out for the whole
post-season with an eye injury. And that was the beginning
of the end in Philly. Barkley was improving rapidly. He became an All-Star for
the first time in ’87, but the once-champion Sixers
were crumbling around him. On draft night of 1986,
Philadelphia made two dismal trades. Jones retired in ’86,
Erving in ’87, Toney in ’88. So Barkley had chances to win an NBA title immediately upon entering the league, but the Sixers weren’t the
only powerhouse in the east and after they fell short, they dissolved. (somber music) Barkley had become a
superstar, a centerpiece, but so had his best
classmate Michael Jordan and Jordan’s team was headed
in a different direction. Even as Barkley began to
enter the MVP conversation, the stripped-down Sixers
had some down years to end the ’80s. Charles got his first taste of losing and of missing the playoffs. Barkley’s good friend Michael
experienced an opposite and more typical trend with the Bulls. Chicago’s rise paralleled
that of their young star, losing then playoff
success then contention. The Sixers knew they had to retool fast around the ascending Barkley. Philly accumulated a
young-ish, rhyming backcourt, a veteran front court, and eventually, one of the tallest human
beings on the planet. They were back in business. But the Bulls rebuild had that headstart and in consecutive second
round playoff match-ups, MJ’s squad kicked the
shit out of Barkley’s. Those Bulls were entering their peak and after defeating the Sixers in ’91, they’d go on to win MJ his
first of many championships. Charles, meanwhile, watched his championship aspirations fade. In 1991, the Sixers irritated
their 28-year-old star by failing to re-sign Rick Mahorn who had, with Barkley, formed the gritty, grimy elite rebounding tandem
nicknamed Thump and Bump. The ’91-’92 Sixers further
peeved their star with poor play and he lashed out repeatedly. Those jerseys can’t have helped. Barkley couldn’t afford to be patient, couldn’t waste his prime losing, so he agitated for a trade and got one. And here, again, was
some very good fortune. Barkley nearly went to the middling Lakers in the mid-season deal for
their best player James Worthy. Instead, Charles got dealt
at season’s end to the Suns, a very good team that gave up
relatively little to get him, probably because Barkley had
earned a bit of a reputation for badmouthing teammates, fighting, and on one occasion, spitting at fans. That is how a superstar in his prime ends up getting traded for Jeff Hornacek. Anyway, Suns owner/GM Jerry Colangelo deemed Charles worth the trouble and that utter fleecing
of the Sixers paid off. Barkley was brilliant enough
to win 1993 league MVP over his old ’84 classmates and he had the right people around him. Rookie head coach Paul
Westphal led the way, Kevin Johnson and Dan Majerle
made up a strong backcourt, supplemented by a healthy
mix of young talent and veteran presence. Barkley and Tom Chambers
restructured their contracts, so Phoenix could add bench depth
in the form of Danny Ainge. This team was serious
and Phoenix won 62 games, best in the NBA. That’s despite Johnson,
the star point guard, missing dozens of games
because of injuries related to an undiagnosed hernia he reported suffered
while trying to pick up rookie teammate Oliver Miller. Hernias would plague Johnson
the rest of his career and as far as I can tell, that Oliver Miller story
is completely true. In the playoffs, the top
seeded Suns came back from a first round scare
against the underdog Lakers. Miller played a big part
in the game five victory. Then they eliminated David
Robinson and the Spurs in the next round, thanks
to Barkley’s 28-point, 21-rebound performance in game six, which he punctuated with
a game-winning shot. Barkley was even more incredible in the Western Conference
Finals against the Sonics. He logged 44 points and 24 boards, and literally played Seattle
star Shawn Kemp off the floor in a decisive game seven victory. – [Announcer] Kemp falls off and Barkley goes to score more. – Phoenix earned their
first-ever trip to the NBA Finals where they would face… Oh, come on. Yeah, unfortunately, even
if you played out west, you eventually had to get
through Jordan to win a ring. So while Charles kept getting dinner with his pal Michael between games, the two resumed war on the court for the third post-season in four years. The war kinda seemed over
after the early battles. The Suns had home court advantage, but immediately squandered
it in the first two games. Jordan and Scottie Pippen diced up Phoenix’s defense with ease. Kevin Johnson was outplayed
by Chicago’s BJ Armstrong to the point that Barkley
admonished Phoenix fans for booing his point guard. Game two was pretty close at
least, thanks in large part to Barkley’s best
performance of the series. Ainge cut Chicago’s lead to three with a bucket from downtown
and a lane in the final minute, but he perhaps rushed his
final attempt to tie the game and Pippen swatted it out of the sky with one gangly, outstretched arm. So the Suns became the
first NBA Finals team to lose their first two games at home and it looked like the
series would end in Chicago. Barkley picked up a right
elbow injury in game two that had to be drained before game three and hampered his production somewhat. In an absolute marathon,
triple-overtime game, Charles missed a chance to break a tie before the final buzzer, then missed another game-winning
attempt in overtime. But at last, the costars stepped up. Johnson finally penetrated the
defense and scored 25 points, and Majerle was the hero. He hit the shot that tied
up the second overtime and in the third OT, buried
his sixth three of the night from way downtown off a feed from Barkley. Charles iced the game with a
very sneaky steal and lay-in, and suddenly the Suns had regained some of the ground they’d lost in Phoenix. All the talk after the
game was about defense, how Johnson and Majerle had stepped up to not just limit Pippen,
but slow down Jordan, which is funny because
Michael scoring 44 points counts as slowing him down. And it’s also funny because everyone knew Jordan would see those headlines and go on a rampage in the
next game, which he did. 55 points on just 37
shots, just disgusting. Even with all that, Johnson and Barkley kept Phoenix alive in game four. KJ found Barkley for a dunk
to cut Chicago’s lead to two with just a minute left. But after Barkley stole the ball to give Phoenix a game-tying opportunity, Pippen stripped Majerle, then Johnson just
fumbled the inbound pass. That gave Jordan this
chance to ice the game, which was a bad idea. I do not recommend doing that. A Barkley triple-double went for naught and the Suns sat on the
brink of elimination, down 3-1 with one more road game ahead. The city of Chicago prepared for riots if they won their third
straight title at home, but game five kept the streets quiet. Barkley was merely solid, but he did a fine job
passing out of doubles, like this setup for the Johnson and-one that put the game away for good. Besides another brilliant Jordan outing, the main silver lining for the Bulls was veteran sharp-shooter John Paxson. He’d been silent earlier in the series, but came alive for four three-pointers. This was an unfortunate bit
of foreshadowing for Phoenix. But with a game five victory, the Suns had miraculously
regained home court advantage. The always-chatty Barkley
got especially bold. He told reporters the Suns were
destined the win the series, that it was what God wanted, and he openly considered
retiring when they did so. He relished the idea of going out on top like the NFL’s Jim Brown did and doing so after winning
Olympic gold, NBA MVP, and a championship in the span of a year would be quite a way to leave the game. The series returned to Phoenix
for the final two games. It wouldn’t go that long. While Jordan and Pippen were
merely good in game six, the big story was
Chicago’s outside shooting. They broke Phoenix’s
recently set team record for three-pointers in a Finals
game by bearing 10 of them. Four of those deep buckets
came from BJ Armstrong, but the most devastating one came from the hands of Paxson. With the Suns up two down the stretch, Barkley kinda overplayed
Pippen, which required help, and left Paxson open to
grab Chicago the lead with just seconds remaining. On their next and final possession, Phoenix failed to find Barkley posting up and Johnson couldn’t get a
clean shot off at the buzzer. Time expired and Michael
Jordan’s Bulls secured their third straight championship. Two of those rings came
at Barkley’s expense. His 90s Sixers never had as much talent as they did in the early ’80s and his Suns came up short
in some huge moments. But more than anything else, Charles Barkley entered
his 30s without a title because Michael Jordan and the Bulls were indomitable, inevitable. Stung by that narrow Finals loss and still relishing stardom, Barkley didn’t see himself
in the right place to retire. Jordan, however, did. Exhausted, mired in controversy
about his gambling habit, and mourning the tragic
death of his father, MJ shocked the NBA by
leaving to play baseball. The Bulls’ dynasty stopped in its tracks. A new window opened for
Barkley to grab his ring, but a new hand reached
out to slam it shut. Maybe more than one hand and one of the hands is actually a back. Jordan’s absence in ’94
and late return in ’95 gave the rest of the NBA two cracks at winning a championship. Both those championships are
held by the Houston Rockets, not Barkley’s Suns. Yet, on both of those playoff runs, the Rockets nearly lost to Phoenix. So what happened? The first thing you need to
know is that Hakeem Olajuwon, another 1984 draftee,
was fucking unbelievable by this point in his career. Jordan’s baseballing days coincided with two of Olajuwon’s best seasons. He stayed mostly healthy. He commanded the paint
for an elite defense. His height and peerless grace
made him an unstoppable scorer and if you focused too much on that, he had become very good at passing to an improving cast of teammates who had the green light
to fire away from outside. Hakeem made the Rockets a mighty foe. A second, very important
variable was Barkley’s health. His back had given him trouble before, even during his MVP year, and his ’93-’94 season
began with a pinched nerve in training camp that left
him supine on the floor, unable to move. Aching and still grumpy, Barkley once again contemplated
retiring at season’s end. He tore his right quadriceps
tendon in January ’94 and honestly, that might have
been a blessing in disguise because the month-long
absence gave him time to rest his back and get
right for the playoffs. And he did look sharp in the first round. Phoenix’s sweep of the Warriors included a 56-point Barkley
performance in game three. – [Announcer] Barkley played two more. He’s got 56 points. – [Narrator] He got Rolfing treatment immediately after that series. That was the same first
round in which the league’s best regular season team,
the Seattle SuperSonics, lost to the Nuggets in a historic upset. Houston and Phoenix were the
next best teams in the west, so their second round match-up
felt likely to produce the eventual Western finalist. After two games, that was
clearly going to be Phoenix. They twice overcame
ungodly Olajuwon numbers and double-digit deficits. A record-setting 20-point
fourth-quarter comeback forced overtime and in game
two, the Suns eventually won. Phoenix thus stole both of the
first two games in Houston. Johnson played great,
Majerle rained threes. The bench, which now included veteran big man AC Green, came through. Even the hobbled Barkley
stepped up to drop 34 and 15 in the second game. The Arizona Republic foresaw
their local team winning not just the series, but the whole thing, while the Houston Chronicle,
on a now-infamous sports page, saw fit to dub their hometown Choke City. Charles said that if the Suns
couldn’t get it done now, it would be their own fault. But after playing 50 minutes in game two, Barkley’s spine was mush and he played poorly back in Phoenix. Johnson was brilliant
in the next two games, but Vernon Maxwell
turned a Houston comeback into a full-on blowout in game three and Kenny Smith complemented Olajuwon with outside shooting to
even the series in game four. The Rockets returned to Houston with home court advantage restored. Charles refused to give excuses, but his gritty 30-point game
five performance unfortunately coincided with Johnson’s
worst game of the round and a scoreless night for Majerle. The Suns got blown out and
fell behind in the series. Though Phoenix pushed
it to a seventh game, they had no prayer stopping
Hakeem in the clincher. Olajuwon was amazing
and rookie Sam Cassell played a huge game off the bench. Barkley was so frustrated
by pain and failure that he simply started shoving
people in the final seconds and got ejected rather than
wait for the final buzzer. Charles was ready to walk
away from the sport a loser if doctors determined his
back would need surgery, but he recovered enough to stick around. He and the Suns had another
injury-riddled season in ’94-’95 but once again, pulled it together for a first-round sweep of the Blazers and once again, took a
second-round series lead over the Rockets. This time, they were the higher seed and handled their home games to go up 2-0 behind big nights from
Barkley and Johnson. Barkley served up an 0-for-10
dud in a game three loss, so he let Johnson take the reins and dominate every aspect of a
game four victory in Houston. A squad that Barkley dubbed
Butt-Kicking Incorporated felt like this particular
butt was just about kicked. The Rockets were grouchy,
shorthanded, and badly beaten up. AC Green went so far as to
guarantee series victory and that seemed like an even safer bet when Houston newcomer Clyde Drexler fell victim to a stomach flu and offered Olajuwon basically no support during game five in Phoenix. But despite another huge game from KJ, the Suns just gave that one away. Barkley was one of several players to miss key free throws down the stretch, allowing Olajuwon to send the game to OT where the deflated Suns
would fall apart for good. The Rockets took care of game six at home and suddenly, the Suns,
after all that talk, faced another game seven. And they actually led big
at halftime of that one. Barkley was once again suffering,
this time from knee pain that required multiple
mid-game injections, but Johnson took over. Phoenix had a chance to
put the game out of reach when foul trouble benched Olajuwon for a bunch of the third quarter. But Houston’s Kenny Smith kept the minute and Olajuwon returned
for a masterful fourth. With seven seconds left and the game tied, Houston bench player Mario Elie got the ball in his
favorite spot and buried one of the ballsiest
three-pointers in NBA history, followed by the famous kiss of death. Ironically enough, the
team that had missed key free throws in game
five sealed their fate when Ainge banked in what was meant to be an intentional miss down two
points in the closing seconds. If only he’d had the same luck on his final prayer from half court. – [Announcer] And the Houston Rockets are going back to the
Western Conference Finals. – So the ’95 Suns blew it again in even more humiliating fashion. While the Rockets plowed forth
to win another championship, Charles, physically and mentally broken, said this time, he really would retire. He didn’t, but maybe he should have. The Suns began to fall
apart the following seasons, so while preparing for the ’96 Olympics, Charles made a stink
and got himself a trade to join Hakeem in the Rockets. He hoped to ride their coattails to grab one of those trophies before injuries took him down for good. But as some people
foresaw, all Charles did was make an old, slowing
team older and slower. Houston’s best shot at doing anything with a core of aging
legends went up in smoke when John Stockton eliminated them with a game six buzzer-beater in 1997. Barkley spent his remaining
years injured and inferior. And as they transitioned into a new era, the Rockets never came
close to contending. It probably didn’t matter
since Jordan’s Bulls were back to destroying everyone. After years of retirement
threats, what really ended Barkley’s career was a
ruptured quad in 1999. The 37-year-old returned
the following April for a six-minute stint
and a single basket, just so he could go out on his own terms relatively speaking. And yeah, Barkley went out ring-less. His Sixers peaked before he arrived. His prime coincided with that of Michael Jordan and the Bulls, and his best shot to unseat their dynasty contains some really bad breaks. Untimely injuries and another monster from the ’84 draft class made
for devastating collapses during Jordan’s absence. By the time Barkley began
unabashedly chasing a ring, that team and his own body were long gone. Thankfully, we have so many
other ways to measure greatness. In a team sport, one
player can only do so much and Charles Barkley did just
about everything he could.

100 thoughts on “Charles Barkley never won an NBA championship. Here’s what left him empty-handed.

  1. I pretty much enjoy all of these videos, but…

    Howard Katz and the Sixers front office were horrible in the mid 80’s and squandered an opportunity to be a dynasty. This fact cannot be understated.

    Also, Jeff Hornacek was a money player. Not as good as Barkley on the court or in the bar or in a street fight perhaps, but he was no scrub. Ask anyone who ever checked him on the court. If anyone was overrated, it was “Thunder Dan” who had just a few good years.

    You also fail to mention conditioning. Barkley’s was inconsistent. When young Barkley could play while not conditioning since he was such an elite athlete. Later in his career that changed. He went hard with workouts leading to his MVP season. He even got Oliver Miller into shape. That was the biggest factor in their playoff run.

    The health issues at the end of Barkley’s career resulted from all of the drinking and not ever staying in shape at the beginning of his career.

    You can’t overstate his dominance though. I stood next to Barkley at an event one summer and looked him eye to eye. And I’m only about 6’ 3”. The way he imposed his will on leave he league is matched only by a few. Guys like “Truck” Robinson, Larry Johnson and maybe Zion in the future, if he can stay healthy.

  2. All these episodes of Rewinder, all these new series, and not enough Jon Bois and not enough If/Then. Y’all’re still doing great, but it’d be cooler if you got into contact with where the hell Jon is and if you could do some more If/Then.

  3. Great video. This is an excellent premise for videos from this channel. Great idea and keep them comin
    -Allen Iverson, Barry Sanders, Barry Bonds, Ken Griffey Jr., Dan Marino, Phillip Rivers/Ladanian Tomlinson, Stockton & Malone, Reggie Miller, Patrick Ewing (…pretty much everyone Jordan beat, which includes this video lol) Brian Dawkins, Wes Welker, Michael Vick, Randy Moss, Terell Owens, Tony Gonzales, Tony Romo

  4. The actual reason most of the all time greats from the era walked away empty handed can be summarized in two words: "Michael Jordan".

  5. saw Shaq play growing up. but seeing him disrespect an old player I didn't know. I decided to search Chuck up. Chuck definitely faced a bigger struggle without caving in.Jordan saw him as a worthy opponent so that puts into perspective how good he is. Also its fun to see him poke fun at Shaq for having Kobe to carry him lol , its just so effective on his sensitive ass.

  6. Karl Malone and John Stockton should go together.
    Patrick Ewing
    Reggie Miller
    Cleveland Cavaliers of late 80s/early 90s
    Elgin Baylor (do you go that far back?)
    Pete Maravich

    Other sports:

    NFL: Dan Marino, Randy Moss

    MLB: Ken Griffey Jr, Ichiro Suzuki, Sammy Sosa, and if you go way back, Ted Williams

    NHL: Marcel Dionne, Eric Lindros

    Soccer: various European legends could win tophies in Europe but not in North America (Thierry Henry, Steven Gerrard, David Villa, Wayne Rooney, Zlatan, etc), an interesting phenomenon

  7. Starting 5 of the All-Titleless team of the Jordan-dominant 90's:

    C: Patrick Ewing
    F: Karl Malone, Charles Barkley
    G: John Stockton, Reggie Miller

  8. I feel sorry for Charles.Such a great player. Such an exceptionally talented individual.However,not everyone goes on to be a Champion.

  9. Can you make a similar video relating to the warriors dynasty and LeBron's playoff opponents? Both sides will be the cause for a multitude of NBA stars not winning an NBA championship.

  10. Damn, when i watch this, my mind imagining charles barkley story is as same as Russel Westbrook. MVP, Went to the finals once, Had a great teammates….

  11. All these arguments are valid with out a doubt but the real reason Charles never won a championship is very simple. He was oversensitive. He would argue with the referees, he would pick up fights with players and the crowd, he would react to anything going on in the court, he would get overly pissed off when he would miss a free throw, he would say smart ass remarks to the press. All these break a player's concentration and don't keep him in a relatively flat stage emotionally during crucial games. It was like he accepted a certain role and he had to behave as that role to keep it entertaining.

  12. Seems to me that when he was in the East, he was simply never on as good a team as the Celtics, Pistons, or Bulls (whichever one was relevant in a given year), and so there really wasn't any reason to wonder why he didn't get to the Finals. It's not like any of those were his to win and he blew it; he just wasn't on a good enough team.

    Then: 1993, too much Jordan; 1994 and 1995, too much Hakeem. Those really could've gone either way, but they went the other way. If the Suns could've won game 7 in each of those years, we'd be asking why Hakeem never won a championship. Sometimes it really is just how the ball bounces.

  13. Carmelo Anthony should get an untitled episode. couple of others could include: A.I, T-mac, Chris weber just to name a few.

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