Transition Game: Charles Barkley

Updated: February 18, 2004, 5:43 PM ET
By Dr. Jack Ramsay | Special to ESPN.com

Editor's note: The following is an excerpt from Dr. Jack Ramsay's new book "Dr. Jack's Leadership Lessons Learned from a Lifetime in Basketball." Ramsay interviewed many former NBA superstars who have used their athletic leadership capabilities to achieve success in the business world.

The Enigma: Charles Barkley

As a player for the Philadelphia 76ers and, later, the Phoenix Suns and Houston Rockets, Charles Barkley was one of the most amazing offensive players that I've ever seen. At somewhere between 6 feet 4 inches and 6 feet 5 inches tall, he could rebound with the biggest in the league; he had soft hands that enabled him to catch anything thrown in his direction, and the ability to power the ball to the basket through players much bigger than he was. He also had the skill of a point guard to "thread the needle" with passes, and he learned to shoot accurately from 3-point distance. He battled without respite around the hoop.

But Charles didn't see the importance of defense unless it was required at the very end of a game. When I was working television games for the Sixers, Charles was their main gun. I gave him full credit for his incredible exploits on offense, but I also noted when he was slow getting back on defense, not playing his man, or failing to give needed weak-side help.

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Before a game one night, I was in the Sixers locker room when Charles came in, and seeing me exclaimed, "Jack, you're killing me on TV about my defense. Why do you have to do that?" His teammates, in various states of readiness for the game, stopped what they were doing to listen. I told him, "Charles, I can only say what I see. When you do good things on offense, I say it, but when you loaf on defense, I say that, too." The other players all grinned at me and nodded in agreement. But Charles dismissed the subject, saying, "I can't play defense and score and rebound too."

Charles had his own mind-set about how he should play, and none of his coaches could ever alter it with any consistency. He seemed to feel that since he gave his full effort to offense -and indeed performed wonderful feats there - he shouldn't be required to work as hard on defense. And it wasn't because he lacked defensive skills.

I had seen him force Magic Johnson into a poor percentage shot on a last possession in a Sixers-Lakers game that Philly won. He also had a knack for stealing the ball from high-post players that resulted in open-court layups. But overall, Charles seemed to regard defense as the time during which he could catch his breath, not pressure his man, and nobody could change his mind about that.

It was unfortunate because he became a weak spot in his team's defense that opponents didn't hesitate to exploit - and that characteristic prevents Charles from being included among the all-round great players of the game.

But in addition to being strongly opinionated, Charles also happens to be one of the most good-hearted people I've met anywhere. In the days when teams traveled commercially, Charles' appearance at any airport attracted a small parade. People appeared from nowhere to walk along with him, ask him questions, or request him to sign things. I never saw him turn down a request.

And his behind-the-scenes kindness is well known to those close to him, if not well publicized in the media. When Tony Harris was new on the job as the Sixers trainer and doing postop shoulder therapy on Barkley, Charles asked about Tony's background, his family, and where he was living in the Philly area. Tony told Charles he was from Cincinnati, that he was married with a couple of youngsters, but that his family was still in Cincinnati because they hadn't been able to sell their house there. In the meantime, he was staying at a rooming house in the area.

Charles told him to get a place for his family and bring them to Philadelphia, promising to take care of the additional costs until they sold their house. Charles kept his word, and kept his peacehe never said anything to anyone about it. I learned about the incident from Harris.

Loyalty is another admirable Barkley trait. After I left the Sixers and became affiliated with the Miami Heat and ESPN, whenever either group requested an interview with Charles and he knew that I was available, he would say he'd only do the interview if I conducted it - and he never turned me down.

When Phoenix was in the NBA Finals with Chicago in 1993, I was among a horde of media waiting outside the arena after a shootaround on a game day. ESPN had sent a camera, a producer, and me, in hopes of getting something of interest to air on the early SportsCenter show. The Suns finished their work, came out of the building, and headed for the team bus. Charles was among them, but when he saw me, he stopped, came over, and answered a couple of my questions before joining his teammates.

Since his retirement as a player, Barkley has become something of a media star as a studio analyst of NBA games for TNT. He is witty and articulate, although sometimes self-contradictory and outrageous. There's no subject on which he doesn't have an opinion and he's never shy about expressing it. Working mostly with Kenny Smith, Magic Johnson, and host Ernie Johnson, Charles often sets the tone by making some bizarre statement that the others play off. The result is a casual scene where three former NBA players sit around talking about the game, and the viewer listens in. Host Ernie does a good job of keeping the conversation from straying too far, and it's popular television.

In any arena, Charles is still Charles - gracious one moment and irreverent the next - and is usually good for at least one surprising - if not startling - comment each program. Ironically, I have even heard him criticize a player for not defending!

Dr. Jack Ramsay coached the Trail Blazers to the 1977 NBA championship. A member of the Basketball Hall of Fame, he is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. Click here to send a question for Dr. Jack for possible use on ESPNEWS.

Legendary coach and Basketball Hall of Famer Dr. Jack Ramsay served as lead game analyst for The NBA on ESPN Radio. He also contributed to ESPN.com and ESPN The Mag.

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