Charles Barkley’s NBA Career Was Saved by a Brutally Honest Teammate

Charles Barkley has dealt with plenty of demons in his life, but none more fundamental than the issues he had with his weight. His stout build was useful when it came to claiming post position and claiming rebounds, but learning how to manage his body was a must if he was going to fulfill his Hall of Fame potential.

Barkley got the help he needed from a fellow basketball legend when he was drafted by the Philadelphia 76ers. As a result, Barkley had an incredible career, and he remains thankful for the mentorship of one of the best Sixers of all time.

Charles Barkley stretching before a 76ers game
Charles Barkley stretching before a game | Bruce Bennett Studios via Getty Images Studios/Getty Images

“The Round Mound of Rebound” dominates despite his weight

It didn’t matter that he was an overweight power forward with the height of a wing player. Once the game tipped off, Charles Barkley was a force of nature. He found ways to harness his considerable heft to his advantage.

Barkley’s stocky physique helped him dominate in the low post and become one of the best rebounders in NBA history. He was such a natural athlete that no one cared that Barkley’s body was far from chiseled, especially while he played at Auburn University. A scout who saw him in high school provided a perfect summation of his style at the time: “A fat guy who could play like the wind”.

Over the course of his three-year career at the school, Barkley averaged 15 points on 68% shooting and 10 rebounds a game. After his junior year, he declared for the 1984 NBA Draft. However, once he hit the league, Barkley learned that being a professional meant more than just being able to collect a paycheck. 

Charles Barkley’s career takes off thanks to the help of a Hall of Famer

Barkley was selected fifth overall by the Philadelphia 76ers. He joined a team with a number of respected NBA veterans, such as Julius Erving, Maurice Cheeks, and Moses Malone. Malone, in particular, had a profound effect on the trajectory of Barkley’s career.

Barkley arrived at training camp weighing nearly 300 pounds. He was so out of shape that his playing time was initially limited despite being a top draft pick. Barkley went to Malone to ask why he wasn’t playing. He received this piece of blunt, but truthful, criticism:

“I pulled Moses aside and asked him, ‘Why am I not playing more?'” Barkley recalled on Sunday.

Malone turned, looked him up and down and declared, “You’re fat and you’re lazy, that’s why. You can’t play basketball if you’re not in shape.”

Barkley took the words to heart. The next morning, he and Malone began meeting up at the gym an hour before practice and got to work. They soon added training sessions before and after team workouts as well. By the time Malone was done mentoring Barkley, he had slimmed all the way down to 255 pounds.

Now that he was in better shape, Barkley saw his playing time increase. He started the final 60 games of the season, averaging 14 points and eight rebounds a game, earning a spot on the NBA’s All-Rookie Team.

Charles Barkley becomes an unforgettable star

Malone was traded to the Washington Bullets in 1986, but his influence on Barkley lasted for his entire career. Barkley ended his time with the Sixers ranked fourth in team history in total points, third in scoring average, third in rebounds, eighth in assists, and second in field-goal percentage.

After stints with the Phoenix Suns and the Houston Rockets, he retired as the fourth player in NBA history to achieve 20,000 points, 10,000 rebounds, and 4,000 assists. He’s arguably the best player to never win an NBA title. 

Barkley never took Malone’s advice for granted. He referred to Malone as his dad up until Malone’s death in 2015. Malone was a terrific player in his own right, but his impact on the game is most remembered by what he did for Barkley. He loved him until the very end. 

“When he got into the gym with his teammates, he was one of the best guys in the world.”

“I’m crushed he’s gone. He was my guy. Forever.”