In life's second act, Charles Barkley flips script

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In life's second act, Charles Barkley flips script

As during his playing days, Charles Barkley continues to thunder along, now with microphone in hand, as opposed to a basketball. He is paid to deliver opinions, and deliver them he does, even if on occasion he treats facts as he once did puny point guards, whenever they dared get in his way during one of his patented court-length rushes –- as something to be shunted aside, to be disregarded.

But nobody really seems to care, for it’s all part of the show, all part of his reinvention.

As great as his life’s first act was -- and let us never forget what a truly unique player he was -- there is much to like about his second act. We are reminded of that when he pops up on Turner Sports’ NBA coverage, whether in the studio each Thursday night, or, as was the case this past weekend, at the All-Star Game.

Other ways, too.

“Hey – Y’all still got them rats in here? Them rats as big as cats?”

That was Barkley a few weeks back, standing in the middle of a hallway in the bowels of the Wells Fargo Center and needling a nearby Sixers official at high volume, before he provided color commentary for TNT’s broadcast of that night’s game against the Spurs. He does such work on occasion these days; he said it is a welcome departure from his studio appearances. And on this occasion he had taken his act to an arena in which he had never actually performed as a home player (he was likely thinking of the Spectrum when he mentioned the rats), but where he had played his final road game, in December 1999, blowing out a quadriceps tendon as a bloated Houston Rocket.

In short order he visited Jeff Millman, the team’s longtime assistant equipment manager, in the laundry room; said hello to John Brong, who has guarded the door of the Sixers’ locker room, in one building or another, for 36 years (“Looking good, man,” Barkley said); huddled with Harvey Pollack, the ageless statistician (“You’ve done a lot of great things in your life.”); ribbed general manager Tony DiLeo while passing along best wishes to his wife (“Anna, right? How long she been stuck with you?”); posed for a photo with Ryan Lumpkin, a ballboy and the son of director of basketball administration Allen Lumpkin (“Stay in those books, man.”); and commiserated with Inquirer columnist Bob Ford (“I hope I don’t die. I can steal this money for a long time.”)

Again one was left to ponder the difference between the boorish Barkley of years past -- the one who infamously (and accidentally) spit on a little girl and was known for brawling with over-served barflies -– and this guy, who seemed so … so … likable. Again one was left to recall something his good friend Dave Coskey, the former Sixers publicist, always said about Barkley: While many athletes are bad guys who want the public to believe they are good guys, the Chuck Wagon is a good guy who wants everyone to believe he is a bad guy.

We see far more of the good guy than the bad boy these days. If his misdeeds once detracted from his accomplishments, the script has now flipped. Now people are more inclined, because of his essential decency, to cut him a break when he goes astray.

“There’s not a nicer person on this planet than Charles Barkley,” former Sixers president Pat Croce said one day last fall, as he sat in the office of his Villanova home. “He’s a special person.”

He turns 50 Wednesday, three days after his good friend Michael Jordan. TV specials have been scheduled to commemorate the occasion (see sidebar box for air times), but Barkley’s milestone has not quite inspired the lovefest heralding Jordan’s half-century. Sports Illustrated devoted most of its current issue to His Airness, and ESPN.com’s Wright Thompson –- as gifted a writer as you will find -– crafted a compelling profile, one that duly notes how restless Jordan has become since he retired for the third and (perhaps) final time, in 2003.

In the story there is the suggestion that Jordan, majority owner of the struggling Charlotte Bobcats, might want to play again -– yes, even at 50 -- for nothing else gives him quite so much fulfillment as being on the court. It is something he had also said during his Hall of Fame induction speech, in 2009. Clearly the itch is still there.

You will hear no such talk from Barkley, and not just because he was so terribly out of shape for so long; only recently has he lost 60 pounds, with the help of Weight Watchers (for which he has done some promotional work). There was some mention, a few years back, that he wouldn’t mind playing alongside Jordan when he made his ill-fated comeback with the Doug Collins-coached Washington Wizards, but that never materialized. These days Charles only talks about things like playing two-on-two with Kenny Smith, one of his studio partners at Turner, against the likes of Magic Johnson and Jalen Rose. Nothing came of that, either.

Barkley seems settled, content, aware of where he is in his life. It is in sharp contrast to Jordan, and perhaps the one and only time Barkley has gotten a leg up on him.

The court jester overshadowing the king. Imagine that.

Barkley, who maintains a summer home in Philadelphia (he winters in Arizona, the better to bludgeon golf courses in another state), was accorded a standing ovation during a first-quarter timeout of that Sixers-Spurs game, memories of his eight years with the Sixers having been refreshed by a highlight video. He played 16 seasons in all –- Phoenix and Houston were his other stops -- making 11 All-Star teams (not to mention the Hall of Fame) while becoming only the third man in NBA history to collect over 20,000 points, 10,000 rebounds and 4.000 assists. The others are Wilt Chamberlain and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, both of whom stood over 7 feet tall. Barkley was listed at a shade under 6-5.

“He’s a Hall of Fame player, so people have to appreciate it, but he’s special among that group,” said Jim Lynam, who coached Barkley for part of his Sixers' tenure. “That’s how talented he was. And the word right there along with it is ‘unique.’ On Noah’s Ark, two of everything. Well, I’ve got news for you -- that partner fell off the edge of the boat. There’s one of him. One.”

Lynam was always in Barkley’s corner, defending him when he veered off the tracks (“Charles is Charles,” the coach would say, as a way of sidestepping particularly thorny questions) and building his offense around him. The joke among veteran beat writers is that those Sixers ran one play: “Turn Cholly.” But Lynam also challenged him, stoked his competitive fire. Mike Gminski, who played center for Lynam and with Barkley from 1988-91, recalled recently that the team was in San Antonio, and at the end of a game-day shootaround Lynam bet Barkley $100 he could score on him.

According to Gminski, Barkley took that action in a nanosecond. Lynam, talking smack, took the ball at the top of the circle.

“And Charlie’s all worked up,” said Gminski, who now lives in Charlotte and broadcasts ACC games.  “Jimmy throws him a little head fake, and Charlie goes flying up in the air, trying to block it. Jimmy takes a couple dribbles, lays the ball in, starts laughing and walks off the floor.”

Lynam, who now does TV work for Comcast SportsNet, would not confirm this story, though he did add, with the smallest of grins, “That I could get a basket without a great deal of difficulty on Barkley, I can confirm that.” Barkley did confirm it in a recent telephone interview with CSNPhilly.com, but quickly changed the subject, saying how much he enjoyed playing for Lynam.

They won an Atlantic Division title together in 1989-90, but things quickly went south. And in July 1992 Lynam, by then the Sixers’ general manager (and working at the behest of owner Harold Katz), sent Barkley to Phoenix for Jeff Hornacek, Andrew Lang and Tim Perry.

That came after Barkley, in his final season with the Sixers, was brought up on an assault charge after striking a man outside a tavern in Milwaukee –- a charge for which he was later acquitted.

Among other things.

And it came well after he accidentally spit on 8-year-old Lauren Conrad while aiming at a heckler during a game in the New Jersey Meadowlands, in March 1991. He paid the $10,000 fine, apologized to the girl and befriended her and her family –- the worst and best of Barkley, side by side.

Looking back, he has one overriding regret about his time in Philadelphia: “I should have got out of there two years sooner, because the seventh and eighth years were a waste of my time. … The Sixers were not a good organization at that time.”

But he stopped short of saying he was trying to orchestrate a trade.

“No, I didn’t try to get out,” he said. “It was frustrating, just hearing the rumors. My last three years, all I heard was [trade] rumors, every single day. … We went to the Sixers at the end of the (’91-92) season and said, ‘I like Philadelphia; it’s a great city. The fans treated me great. I’m not coming back here, ever, to play.’ Thank goodness they traded me over that summer. It would have gotten ugly, because I wasn’t coming back there.”

There are those close to the organization who remember it quite differently, those who say he frequently made it known he wanted out. (There are also those who remember that he wasn’t always the best teammate, as when he called the late Armen Gilliam “Charmin,” because he was so soft. But Barkley wouldn’t cop to that, either. “I never called Armen ‘Charmin,’ ” he said. “Never.”)

What he does know is that he was “a much better player” with the Sixers than he was in Phoenix, even though he was named NBA MVP in ’92-93, his first year with the Suns, while leading them to the Finals. There they lost, naturally, to Jordan’s Bulls.

“When I was MVP, I probably had five better years in Philadelphia than I did in Phoenix,” Barkley said. “I just had more help in Phoenix.”

Even now he wonders how his career might have played out had the Sixers stood pat in the 1986 draft and used the first overall pick on North Carolina center Brad Daugherty, rather than trading that choice to Cleveland while at the same time shipping Moses Malone to Washington. Those deals brought Roy Hinson, Jeff Ruland and Cliff Robinson in return, none of whom made a significant impact.

Even now Barkley has been known to joke about the time he was told the Sixers acquired Shaq, only to learn to his chagrin that it was Charles Shackleford, not Shaquille O’Neal.

Coskey is certain that the team’s struggles fueled Barkley’s discontent and led to some of his escapades. The Sixers’ chief publicist from 1986-88 and an executive from 1996-2001, he now serves as president of Longport Media in South Jersey. He and Barkley grew close during Coskey’s first stint with the team, and remain so; Charles even serves as godfather to the youngest of Coskey’s three sons.

“Charles,” Coskey said, “hit me as a person who would do anything in the world for you. He’s still that way. It’s a shame not everybody gets to see that side of him.”

Certainly Coskey has seen it often enough. There was the time a 76-year-old Trenton woman, Mary Walsh, called a Philadelphia radio station and ripped Barkley. He responded by inviting her to a game –- the Sixers sent a car for her and everything –- and presenting her with a dozen roses as she sat courtside.

And there was the time, much more recently, when Coskey asked Barkley to do the introduction for the highlight video of his middle son’s high school basketball team. Coskey gave him some of the players’ names, figuring Charles’ commentary would spice up the year-end banquet.

Barkley went the extra mile, though, recruiting his fellow studio hosts at TNT to record a full-fledged video about a team they had never seen.

“You had adults [at the banquet] falling on the floor, laughing,” Coskey said. “It was Charles being Charles. It did not take a great amount of time, but it took some time to do that. I’m not sure he realizes the lasting impression he has. There were 200 people at a banquet, and they all walked out Charles Barkley fans.”

That’s the guy Coskey has always known. And it’s the one the rest of us are seeing more and more often these days.

Sixers trade Kendall Marshall to Jazz for center Tibor Pleiss, draft picks

Sixers trade Kendall Marshall to Jazz for center Tibor Pleiss, draft picks

The Sixers on Friday traded point guard Kendall Marshall to the Utah Jazz for center Tibor Pleiss, two future second-round picks and cash. 

Both second-round picks are in the 2017 NBA draft. The Jazz have four second-rounders — their own, as well as the ones belonging to the Warriors, Knicks and Pistons. The Sixers will receive the highest and lowest of those four picks.

The Sixers are likely to waive Pleiss. The team made a similar move in July, waiving center Sasha Kaun two days after acquiring him in a trade with the Cavaliers.

Marshall, who was later waived by the Jazz after the deal, was likely to be cut by the Sixers. The team signed guards Gerald Henderson, Jerryd Bayless and Sergio Rodriguez this offseason. The deal gives the Sixers future assets and cash while unloading a player signed by the previous front office.

Marshall was one of the few free agents Sam Hinkie added, signing a deal for the 2015-16 season and options for the next three seasons.

It looked initially like Marshall would be the starting point guard last season. However, Marshall, was hurt to begin the season and struggled when he got on the court. He played just 30 games and started six, averaging 3.7 points per game in 13.3 minutes. His field goal, three-point and free throw percentages all regressed from his 2014-15 season with the Bucks.

Pleiss was originally a second-round pick by the Nets in the 2010 NBA draft. The German center's rights were dealt in three separate deals, eventually ending up with the Jazz last offseason. He signed a multi-year deal and spent the 2015-16 season bouncing between the Jazz and their D-League affiliate. He averaged 2.0 points per game in 6.8 minutes. 

NBA Notes: City officials declare Kobe Bryant Day in Los Angeles

NBA Notes: City officials declare Kobe Bryant Day in Los Angeles

LOS ANGELES -- Lakers fans packed Los Angeles City Hall chambers to witness the mayor and other officials declare Kobe Bryant Day in honor of the retired NBA superstar.

Councilman Jose Huizar said Wednesday's declaration is the city's way of thanking Bryant for his excellence on the court and philanthropic efforts across Los Angeles.

Bryant attended with his pregnant wife and their two daughters. He called the experience "surreal" and jokingly said someone would have to explain to his unborn daughter why "daddy has a day named for him."

Fans cheered and chanted Bryant's name as he was presented a framed proclamation by Mayor Eric Garcetti and council President Herb Wesson.

Bryant played his entire 20-season career with the Lakers, leading them to five NBA championships.

Lakers: No. 2 pick Brandon Ingram, vet Yi Jianlian signed
EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- The Los Angeles Lakers have signed top draft pick Brandon Ingram and Chinese NBA veteran Yi Jianlian and re-signed center Tarik Black.

Ingram was the No. 2 overall pick in this summer's draft. The Duke product's rookie contract is expected to be worth more than $23 million over four years.

The 28-year-old Yi hasn't played in the NBA since 2011-12 with Dallas. The former No. 6 overall draft pick by Milwaukee spent five seasons in the NBA, averaging a career-best 12.0 points and 7.2 rebounds for New Jersey in 2009-10.

Yi spent the past four seasons with the Chinese Basketball Association's Guangdong Southern Tigers. He is an eight-time MVP of the CBA, winning four championships.

The 6-foot-11 Yi averaged 20.4 points per game for China at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics.

Black has averaged 5.3 points and 5.2 rebounds in two seasons with the Lakers.

Timberwolves: Towns chosen as face of 2K mobile app
MINNEAPOLIS -- Minnesota Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns has been tabbed to be the face of 2K's mobile companion application to NBA 2K17 video game, which is set to launch on Sept. 8.

The reigning rookie of the year will be the icon cover athlete for MyNBA2K17, the latest in a series of high-profile endorsements for Towns. The NBA 2K franchise has been the No. 1 selling NBA video game for the last eight years.

"I've been a dedicated NBA 2K fan since I was young, and being selected as the face of MyNBA2K17 is an incredible milestone this early in my career," Towns said on Wednesday. "Playing MyNBA2K and NBA2K is an essential part of my offseason and keeps me grounded during the season with all my travel. I love that I will have the opportunity to connect further with my fans through MyNBA2K17."

The free app connects players to the NBA 2K17 console game and includes facial scanning technology. That allows fans to design players for the game on Xbox One or PlayStation 4 using their own facial features. The app also allows users to watch 2KTV on their mobile devices and play quick games and season tournaments against users around the world.

Towns also has deals with Nike and Samsung among others and made a guest appearance on the Disney television show "Gamer's Guide to Pretty Much Everything" this summer.

On the court, he is teaming with Andrew Wiggins, Zach LaVine, Ricky Rubio and Kris Dunn to try to end the Timberwolves' 12-year playoff drought.

Give and Go: Predicting Sixers' opening night roster

Give and Go: Predicting Sixers' opening night roster

Each week, our resident basketball analysts will discuss some of the hottest topics involving the Sixers.

Running the Give and Go are CSNPhilly.com Sixers insider Jessica Camerato, CSNPhilly.com producer/reporter Matt Haughton, and CSNPhilly.com producer/reporter Paul Hudrick.

This week, we'll take a stab at the Sixers' opening night roster.

Camerato
The Sixers' roster is overloaded as it stands in late August. Decisions and moves will have to be made by opening night to narrow down and balance out the roster. Let’s break down the potential opening night outlook (15 players, active and inactive) as the team is today. Of course, the roster could look completely different if the Sixers were to make a trade to clear up their logjam of bigs in the frontcourt. 

There are toss-up scenarios with overlaps. First off, Richaun Holmes and Carl Landry, the second-year player and the veteran. They fill similar needs and often were alternated on the court. Landry’s experience gives him the edge on the active roster with Holmes beginning on the inactive list. 

What was once a position of need is now one of abundance. The Sixers signed two true point guards this offseason in Jerryd Bayless and Sergio Rodriguez. Ben Simmons plays point-forward and will assume floor general responsibilities during the season. Even if he is not slotted into the one-spot specifically, Simmons often will be running the court. This could leave T.J. McConnell as the odd man out. The undrafted McConnell was the underdog story of last season. He earned his minutes by grinding it out on each possession and garnered high praise from Brown, who frequently referred to him as a “marine.” The Sixers' needs are different this season at the point guard position, though, with backcourt versatility highly valued. During summer league, Brown said, “We’ve got Sergio and T.J. as who you’d stamp off on and say that’s a true point guard.” Out of the two, Rodriguez has the edge over McConnell. 

Point guard Kendall Marshall’s contract is non-guaranteed for next season ($2.04 million). Given his lack of playing time last season and the additions at his position, it seems unlikely he will be back with the Sixers. 

Shawn Long, Brandon Paul and James Webb III participated in the Sixers' summer league and signed non-guaranteed deals. They are fits for the Sixers' NBA Development League affiliate, the Delaware 87ers.

Active
Jerryd Bayless, PG/SG
Robert Covington, G/F
Joel Embiid, F/C
Jerami Grant, F
Gerald Henderson, G/F
Carl Landry, PF
Nerlens Noel, F/C
Jahlil Okafor, F/C
Sergio Rodriguez, PG
Dario Saric, F
Ben Simmons, F
Nik Stauskas, SG

Inactive
Hollis Thompson, SG
Richaun Holmes, F/C
Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, G/F

 

Haughton
For the first time during his tenure as Sixers head coach, Brown will make roster decisions primarily based on ability instead of injuries, reaching the salary cap floor, etc.

With that being said, there should be only a couple tough decisions to make regarding the final 15 that make the team.

Point guard slots will go to Bayless, Rodriguez and McConnell. Marshall's status remains up in the air. However, the Sixers signed Bayless and Rodriguez as free agents for a reason and McConnell has again proven worthy of a spot.

The wing is where things start to get a little interesting. Covington and Grant are locks at small forward, but there will be five shooting guards in camp battling it out. Henderson certainly gets a nod after the Sixers went after him in free agency. I also believe that Stauskas will get another season to prove his worth. That leaves Thompson, Luwawu-Cabarrot and Paul. I believe Thompson, with his ability as a spot-up shooter on a team stacked with big men, will get an opportunity to stay for the final year of his contract. First-round pick Luwawu-Cabarrot will also get a spot and spend the season developing in the D-League, while Paul will be shown the door.

The Sixers know they have a loaded frontcourt, but that also means they understand not everyone can stick around. No. 1 overall pick Simmons, Saric, Noel, Okafor and Embiid are no-brainers for the final roster. The final spot all comes down to how the Sixers feel about their leadership. If they think new veterans Bayless, Henderson and Rodriguez can handle the job, then Holmes gets to stick around. If not, then Landry will return to give the young bigs a seasoned vet to lean on. In the end, Landry should get the call. Holmes is a nice find as a second-rounder, but with the potential star power on the Sixers' frontline, he would just be wasting away on the bench with no real potential of significant playing time.

Active
Jerryd Bayless, PG/SG
Robert Covington, G/F
Joel Embiid, F/C
Jerami Grant, F
Gerald Henderson, G/F
T.J. McConnell, PG
Nerlens Noel, F/C
Jahlil Okafor, F/C
Sergio Rodriguez, PG
Dario Saric, F
Ben Simmons, F
Nik Stauskas, SG

Inactive
Hollis Thompson, SG 
Carl Landry, PF 
Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, G/F

 

Hudrick
If Stauskas can ever figure out how to make his shot fall consistently in NBA games, he'd be an excellent fit on this team. That's the skill that can separate him from the other guards on the roster. If he can't, then his minutes will slip. The Sixers have legitimate NBA players in their frontcourt with the free-agent additions of Bayless, Henderson and Rodriguez. Stauskas will have to perform or take a seat.

I don't think Thompson makes the club this year. Thompson can shoot the basketball, a skill this team certainly lacks. But Thompson often looks lost on defense and isn't a great ball handler. Not that Stauskas will be making any All-Defensive teams any time soon, but Stauskas' contract is guaranteed for $3 million. Thompson's is just a shade over $1 million. Brown may like Thompson, but he also likes Stauskas, at one point comparing him to Manu Ginobli (he said it, not me). Thompson is the odd man out.

Holmes misses out simply because of the numbers. He'll get a ton of minutes with the 87ers down in the D-League. Sure, Holmes is another big man, but I'd hold on to him. If the Sixers move a big (or two) having a player like Holmes in the system could come in handy. I also like his ability to play in an uptempo style, running the floor and hitting the occasional jumper.

I can't see a scenario where the Sixers don't keep McConnell in some capacity. Bryan Colangeo has said he'll utilize the D-League more than the team has in years past. Think of it like baseball: McConnell is a depth point guard in the "minors," ready to join the big club in case of injury while still getting valuable playing time in Delaware.

For the record, I'm saddened that I can't add Luwawu-Cabarrot to the active roster, but we have to be realistic. I thought he showed chemistry with Simmons in summer league action, moving well without the ball and hitting the occasional spot-up three, but he needs the minutes in the D-League.

Active
Jerryd Bayless, PG/SG
Robert Covington, G/F
Joel Embiid, PF/C
Jerami Grant, F
Gerald Henderson, G/F
Carl Landry, PF
Nerlens Noel, PF/C
Jahlil Okafor, PF/C
Sergio Rodriguez, PG
Dario Saric, F
Ben Simmons, F
Nik Stauskas, SG

Inactive
T.J. McConnell, PG
Richaun Holmes, PF/C
Timothe Luwawu-Cabbarot, G/F (begrudgingly)