Confidence oozed out of Charles Barkley. Sometimes it got to a point where he became delusional, but that quickly changed in 1993 when his Phoenix Suns faced Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls in the NBA Finals. Barkley was one heck of a player, but not quite on Jordan’s level. It took the 1993 NBA Finals to finally get Sir Charles to change his mind.
Charles Barkley made a major impact in his first year with the Phoenix Suns
After eight years with the Philadelphia 76ers, Barkley wanted out. He wasn’t happy after the team’s dismal 35-47 record and a missed postseason berth. The Sixers obliged and sent him to the Suns in exchange for Jeff Hornacek, Andrew Lang, and Tim Perry in July of 1992.
“I shoulda got out of Philly three years earlier,” Barkley said, according to a 2013 edition of Sports Illustrated. “I told Cotton (Fitzsimmons, the Suns coach turned exec who orchestrated the deal), “I’ll get us to the Finals, and I think I can beat Michael Jordan.”
It didn’t take long for Barkley to get them to the finals as Phoenix reached the NBA Finals during the 1992-93 season after finishing with a league-best 62 wins. He was named the league’s MVP after averaging 25.6 points and 12.2 rebounds per game.
He fulfilled his promise of getting the team to the finals. Now he had to do the other part and beat Jordan.
Charles Barkley believed he was better than Michael Jordan
Legendary coach Chuck Daly brought Barkley’s confidence level down a bit. It all happened at the 1992 Olympics when Barkley was part of the Dream Team. Daly was the head coach of the all-star group.
“Chuck Daly had told me in the summer (during the Olympics in Barcelona) that I was the second-best player in the world,” Barkley recalled to Sports Illustrated. “Who’s better than me? I said. ‘O.K., I knew the answer.’ But I really believed, at that time, I was better than Michael. That changed during this series.”
The Bulls took the first two games as Jordan scored 31 in the first game before he and Barkley each had 42 in Game 2. The Suns earned a 129-121 triple-overtime win in Game 3, despite Jordan’s 44 points. Chicago then went up 3-1 in the series behind Jordan’s 55-point effort.
Barkley and the Suns stayed alive with a road win in Game 5 before the Bulls eked out a 99-98 win in Game 6 to clinch the series. Jordan was named the NBA Finals MVP and made Barkley realize who was the better player.
Game 3 was one of the best NBA Finals games of all-time
The Suns dropped the first two games of the series at home. They desperately needed a victory in Chicago to avoid a possible embarrassing sweep. Barkley finished with 24 points and 19 rebounds, while Jordan led everyone with 44 points. Dan Majerle had the big night for the Suns with a team-high 28 points as Phoenix outscored Chicago 15-7 in the third OT to win 129-121.
“It was the most incredible game ever, just a magical night,” Majerle said, according to Sports Illustrated. “Chicago Stadium was one of those places you always remembered anyway. Coming up to the court from the basement, the crowd right on top of you, both teams fighting for their lives, making big shot after big shot.”
“It was the greatest basketball game I ever played in,” Barkley said.
Jordan realized it was a game for the ages but wouldn’t go the Barkley route.
“I can’t say the best game I ever played in was a game I lost,” he said. “I guess (Barkley) would say that.”