Charles Barkley may not have been the ideal candidate to replace Julius Erving as captain of the Philadelphia 76ers. He said so himself. Barkley did things his own way and always said what was on his mind. He still does.
Whether it was working out or playing summer basketball, Barkley had an opinion, and it may not have been a popular one. Those brash opinions may have also been the reason why the Sixers wanted him to succeed Dr. J as their leader.
Charles Barkley reluctantly became a 76ers co-captain
Barkley spent the first eight years of his 16-year Hall of Fame career with the 76ers. The team drafted him with the fifth overall pick in the 1984 NBA Draft, and he was a six-time NBA All-Star with Philadelphia.
When Sixers icon Julius Erving’s career came to an end after the 1987-88 season, the team was struggling. Barkley pulled no punches about the team’s issues. His frustration was evident after an embarrassing 131-115 loss at the Los Angeles Lakers.
“The team is just bad,” he said in January 1988, according to Sports Illustrated. “Unless we play a perfect game, we can’t win, and that’s a bad situation to be in.”
Barkley was eventually named co-captain along with Maurice Cheeks. The former Auburn star had previously stated he wasn’t sure he wanted to be a captain of the team.
“I don’t know if I want to (succeed Erving as) captain of this team because none of these guys can take criticism,” he said.
Even Sixers coach Matt Goukas admitted Barkley was the team leader but wasn’t a typical captain.
“Charles is definitely our leader, but it’s not the normal type of leadership, because Charles isn’t your normal type of person,” Guokas said.
Charles Barkley has always done his own thing
Pat Croce, who then was the strength coach of the 76ers, said he wanted Barkley to do a little more weightlifting. Barkley didn’t want to.
“I lifted exactly one day the last two summers, and I just don’t like it,” he said. “I’m contemplating it, but I’m scared that it will mess up my game.”
When it came to playing basketball in the summer, Barkley wasn’t in favor of it. He actually said he didn’t do much working out at all in the summer.
“Actually, I didn’t do much working out at all,” Barkley said. “Played in three charity games, and that was about it for basketball. Summer ball’s too much of a letdown for me. Always has been. One day you’re playing against Larry Bird in Boston Garden, next day you’re playing against Sam Sausagehead on some playground.”
While he didn’t possess the off-the-court qualities a typical captain would, Barkley was the fearless leader on the court. Nobody wanted to win more. That alone made him the ideal candidate to replace Erving.
“I made up my mind last summer that if we were going to have a bad team, I was not going to be the reason,” Barkley said, according to Sports Illustrated. “I knew it was my turn to take over the team. Doc and I never talked about it, but I knew it.”
Barkley wanted to be a basketball player and nothing else
Barkley never enjoyed the hype and attention that came with being a professional basketball player. He always wished he had success on the court and a quiet life off it.
“I absolutely refuse to get caught up in this lifestyle,” he told Sports Illustrated. “It’s a roller coaster, and I don’t want to take the ride. Fans will turn on me in a minute.
“The best thing I can do for myself is win a lot of games and make a lot of money. I don’t want to be treated like a role model, and I don’t want to be treated like a god. I play hard on the court, and that’s all anybody can ask.”
John Nash, then the GM of the Sixers, said he believed Barkley did a lot of talking to put pressure on himself.
“Many times Charles just says things to put pressure on himself, to force himself to respond to challenges,” said Nash. “If you don’t understand Charles’s competitive nature, you don’t understand Charles.”