Charles Barkley came to the Houston Rockets as advertised. The former Philadelphia 76ers and Phoenix Suns star was his usual outspoken self when he arrived in Houston prior to the 1996-97 NBA season. He also made quite an impression before the regular season even started with an ejection in the final preseason game.
Charles Barkley ejected before the regular season began
Barkley brought some hype to Houston when the Rockets traded Robert Horry, Sam Cassell, Mark Bryant, and Chucky Brown to the Suns after the 1995-96 season. Teaming him with Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler was exciting and gave the team one more push for another NBA title. Houston won championships in 1994 and 1995.
In the final preseason game of that ’95-’96 season, Barkley played three minutes. It wasn’t by design. He was tossed from the game after fighting with Charles Oakley of the New York Knicks. The fight apparently set the tone for the night as Barkley’s teammate, Kevin Willis, and New York’s Patrick Ewing were also ejected for fighting.
“That’s the fastest I’ve ever been ejected,” Barkley said after the game, according to Sports Illustrated. “I wasn’t even around long enough to piss anyone off.”
Barkley said he had to throw a punch, which then carried a mandatory one-game suspension. He said Oakley committed a flagrant foul.
“If they give the same punishment to both of us,” Barkley said, “I’m going to lose what little respect I have for this league.”
For the record, the NBA suspended Barkley for the season opener and fined him $5,000. Oakley earned a two-game suspension and a $10,000 fine.
Charles Barkley also made quite an impression on the media
Barkley has always been a reporter’s dream. He’s one who always told it like it is. That held true when he was with the Rockets. Barkley’s arrival in Houston had the local media swarming to the Summit. Reporters were everywhere, even during that final preseason game.
Well, not everywhere. Rockets coach Rudy Tomjanovich gave his postgame press conference in front of three reporters. There were five or six rows of unoccupied seats in front of him, according to Sports Illustrated. “Very bizarre,” Tomjanovich said to the three writers.
Meanwhile, the media surrounded Barkley. He had TV broadcasters kneeling at his feet. In true Barkley fashion, he put on a show in the locker room.
“This is the easiest job I ever had,” one Houston reporter said. “I just write down whatever he says.”
He ended the media session with a little dig about the two fights in the game.
“Hey, Kevin,” Barkley said to Willis. “Patrick Ewing’s in the hallway. He’s waiting for you.”
Barkley needed a change after eight years with the Philadelphia 76ers
Barkley entered the NBA as a prized rookie in 1984, and he played like one. The fifth overall pick by the Philadelphia 76ers in the 1984 NBA Draft, Barkley averaged 23.3 points and 11.6 rebounds in his eight seasons in Philly. He grew tired of the organization’s moves. The trade of Moses Malone crushed him, and he wasn’t happy with the way ownership treated its players.
“(Owner Harold Katz) does things I don’t like,” Barkley told Sports Illustrated in the middle of his final year with the Sixers. “I don’t like the way he treated Rick (Mahorn). They left a message on his machine to call the Sixers (last year). He called and they said, ‘Rick, we’re going to release you.’ Hey, they can come to his house or he can come there, and they can tell him person-to-person. Rick was devastated.
“And then the thing with Maurice Cheeks. A TV guy says to Maurice, ‘Well, how do you feel about the trade?’ and Maurice says, ‘What trade?’ The guy says, ‘You’ve been traded to New York.’ And the tears came to his eyes. I’ll never forget that. It burns my heart every day. Here he was, one of the best point guards in basketball for 10 years, and they treat him like that. That’s ridiculous.”
Barkley left to play for the Suns and was the league’s MVP while guiding Phoenix to the NBA Finals in 1993. He was an NBA All-Star 11 times and was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2006.
Barkley never changed throughout his NBA career. Not even during the preseason.