Michael Jordan Charles Barkley
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“Michael and I laughed about that 10 years, 20 years later, ” said Barkley, whose final NBA game came 15 years ago Sunday. “They say we played golf together everyday, and we never played golf. They said we had dinner together every night, and we never had dinner. So we always found it funny that people said we spent every night together. We never saw each other during the Finals.”
Recently, I asked former Suns reserve Tim Kempton (now the team’s radio broadcaster) about the 1993 NBA Finals, and he said that his recollection had Barkley and Jordan together, a lot. And since Barkley was the team’s leader, there was no one in the locker room to tell him he should cool his friendship with Jordan.
“The relationship with Charles and Michael, we thought it was a little bit covered up, ” Kempton told Sporting News. “The relationship between Charles and Michael and as much time as they spent together — at the Biltmore, playing golf, going out at night — it wasn’t broadcast much. I don’t know if that was because it was Michael and the people covering it at that time did not want to talk about that relationship or what. To this day, really, it has not been talked about as much, what Michael and Chuck were about and their relationship.”
The problem, Barkley said, was that none of that actually happened.
Barkley can remember distinctly, he said, where the rumors about his time spent with Jordan began. He was sitting at home, watching television, when a broadcast from a news helicopter shoed Michael Jordan at a Phoenix-area golf course, playing a round. With him, the broadcast reported, was Barkley. The fact that he was golfing with Jordan, Barkley said, came as a surprise to him as he sat in his living room.
“I guess Michael was playing golf somewhere and was playing with somebody who looked similar to me, ” Barkley said, “and a helicopter flew over and said … that’s Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley playing golf. And to this day, every time I think about it, I just die laughing. They couldn’t get too low, but they had Michael Jordan and they said we were playing golf.”
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Another teammate from those Suns, big man Mark West, shrugged off the suggestion that Barkley’s friendship with Jordan was a problem, especially because it would be difficult to complain about Barkley’s play that NBA MVP-winning season. But he did say that when push came to shove, Barkley might have been a little more reluctant to push and shove Jordan.
“Charles was the kind of guy — he was a people person, ” West told Sporting News. “He was a competitor when he stepped on the floor, at least for us. We won 62 games and couldn’t have gotten to the Finals without him. I would say, his friendship probably kept him from hitting Michael as much as he might have someone else. Because Charles would knock somebody else on their ass coming to the bucket like that. If he hit Michael, I don’t think he hit him as hard as he hit somebody else. But that’s—we have to live with that.”
But Barkley insists that facing a renowned trash-talking friend such as Jordan (though they’ve since had a falling out) only made him more competitive.
“This notion that we were too friendly, I have always laughed because, first of all, it has never been true, ” Barkley said. “Never been true. I just laugh every time I hear that. And anybody who knows Michael Jordan, there is no person you want to beat more than anybody in the world. He is going to let you know about it every day of your life, you are going to hear about it till the day you die. We never hung out at all in the Finals.”
Yet the perception has been there. If you saw a Phoenix news broadcast showing Barkley and Jordan enjoying a round of golf, you might have spent the last 22 years thinking they spent too much time together in the Finals. Barkley said he is accustomed to such misunderstandings.
“Man, listen, one thing about me, I made some mistakes and I did some things in my life, but I never did half the stuff they said I did, ” he said. “There’s so much stuff out there — I always laugh, I never respond to it, I always laugh because I haven’t done half the stuff they said I did in my life.”