Although I’ve been to the historic city of Philadelphia only a few times, I’ve always enjoyed my visits. I still remember entering Independence Hall where the constitution was signed, touching the Liberty Bell (even though you’re not supposed to!), and doing the Constitutional Walking Tour. I also remember it for being the place I met the city’s former sports superstar, Sir Charles himself, Charles Barkley.
Barkley, who retired in 2000 as the fourth player in NBA history to achieve 20,000 points, 10,000 rebounds and 4,000 assists was selected to the All-NBA First Team five times and All-NBA Second Team five times. He appeared 11 times in the NBA All-Star Game and was named the All-Star MVP in 1991. In 1993, he was voted the league’s MVP and during the NBA’s 50th anniversary, named one of the 50 greatest players in NBA history. He competed in the 1992 and 1996 Olympic Games and won two gold medals as a member of the United States’ Dream Team. In 2006, Barkley was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame.
We met early on in his career around 1990. My business colleague and friend Barbara and I decided to experience the famed Philadelphia night life and were told the place to go was South 6th Street. We took the advice, jumped in a taxi, and asked the driver to drop us off in that area. We had the name of maybe one place, but really no plan but to just check out the area. Once there, we began popping in and out of several establishments. At one, as soon as we entered, I immediately recognized Charles Barkley. Not only was Barkley at this restaurant and bar (which I can’t recall the name all these years later), but also there that night was another member of the Philadelphia 76ers Rick Mahorn. Just a year earlier, Mahorn had won a NBA championship playing for the Detroit Pistons.
Barkley was standing around not far from the entrance near the bar area, so Barbara and I immediately went up to him and introduced ourselves. I explained we were from the Bay Area and that Barbara worked for a company that did cruises on the San Francisco Bay. I also told Barkley that she would be happy to hook him up with tickets on the Alcatraz Island cruise when he came to town to play the Bay Area team, the Golden State Warriors. Barkley was personable, friendly, and easy to engage in conversation. After five minutes or so, we gave him Barbara’s business card and then moved on to another place.
A few months later, I got a call from Barbara saying Charles Barkley called! He was in town and left us tickets behind the 76ers bench for their game in Oakland versus the Golden State Warriors. In fact, Barbara said Barkley even suggested the possibility of going out with us after the game. Wow! Being a sports fan like myself, this was really cool. During the game, we sat next to several of Barkley’s high-school buddies who he had also invited to the game. After, we walked to the area where the visiting team’s bus was parked. Once there, I couldn’t miss seeing the Warrior’s 7 foot, 7 inch center Manute Bol. I had never been in the presence, nor have I since, of anyone so tall. I remember seeing a very small girl crying when she saw him. His height could be startling. A few minutes later, I spotted Barkley and asked if he remembered Barbara and I. He said of course he did and told us he had a photographer from Sports Illustrated magazine following him around. We never did go out that night, but it was good to know he remembered us.
After, Barkley went on to play another 10 years before embarking on a successful television career. He’s done TV commercials, hosted Saturday Night Live, been on numerous talk shows, and is currently an analyst for the NBA on Turner Network Television (TNT). From meeting him twice, it’s enough to know he’s a genuine person. That attribute is what helps him connect with a television audience. His playing days are done, but as a television analyst and personality his career is far from over.