The younger generation of NBA fans may be wondering, how did Charles Barkley earn the right to call out any NBA superstar on-air whenever he wanted to? Well, he may not be the best basketball analyst in the sport, but the fact that he once dominated the entire league and had the chance to beat a prime Michael Jordan in the NBA Finals speak for itself.
Of course, we all know that in the NBA, a terrific season means nothing unless you win a championship, but it’s hard to argue that Barkley was on another planet during the 1992/93 season. On top of that, the Phoenix Suns team he had back then was arguably the best squad the franchise has ever built.
A championship team
That season, Barkley was at the pinnacle of his career and coming off an incredible eight-season run with the Philadelphia 76ers. He won the MVP award and led the Suns to a stunning 62-20 record, finishing the season with the most wins and the best winning percentage of .756.
After arriving in a team housing the fearless combo guard/forward Dan Majerle and scoring point guard Kevin Johnson, Barkley knew outright that they were title contenders.
“When I got Dan Majerle and Kevin Johnson, I thought I was in heaven,” Barkley told The Athletic in 2020.
Indeed, everything looked lovely, and the Suns were winning, But with the spotlight on the team almost the entire season, Barkley became the center of attention. As expected, his main co-star Johnson also had his fair share.
Bothered by rumors
More often than not, Barkley and Johnson’s co-existence inside the court showed positive results. However, they weren’t really the best of friends. As the media delved for stories, the narrative that Chuck and K.J. were not having a good relationship as teammates and pals began to swirl. And that was the “only thing” that bugged Barkley.
According to Barkley, regardless of what the papers said at the time, he and Johnson never had a problem. However, the rumors have become constant, prompting him to speak with Johnson about it several times.
“The only thing that ever bothered me about my time in Phoenix was these rumors,” Barkley revealed. “I can tell you this. Me and Kevin Johnson never, never had a disagreement. Ever. In the four years that we were together. I actually went to Kevin a couple times, like, ‘Yo, man. Is there something you want to say to me? Am I doing something you don’t like? Just tell me. I’m not saying I’m gonna change, but I keep hearing that we don’t get along.’”
Nevertheless, rumors did not derail the Suns at that time. Through Barkley and Johnson’s consistent dominant performances from the regular season to the playoffs, Phoenix reached the 1993 NBA Finals. And Chuck knew he was tasked with the toughest assignment of his stellar career- to stop Jordan and the Bulls from completing their first three-peat.
The Suns had the home-court advantage with the first two games set to take place in Phoenix, but the Bulls were still hot, coming off back-to-back championships. Well aware that he was at the peak of his prime, Barkley was confident heading into his duel with Jordan. However, he also knew that Johnson and Majerle were underdogs compared to MJ’s then Bulls co-stars, Horace Grant and Scottie Pippen.
Needless to say, Barkley had to step his game up, but instead of completely taking over and putting all the weight on his shoulders, he chose to get his teammates involved and hoped to get the better of the Bulls by working hand-in-hand. The inevitable happened, and the defending champions outmatched the NBA Finals' first-timers.
Phoenix lost the first two games, but Barkley confessed that it shouldn’t have been twice in a row had he played more aggressive basketball in Game 1. And he still regrets it to this day.
“I think I’m the best player in the world. I just haven’t had any help,” Barkley said of the Suns in the 1993 NBA Finals.
"I had been in big situations before,” he added. “None of the other guys had been in big situations before. So I should’ve been really more aggressive in Game 1. But I had already developed a pattern in the playoffs. I wasn’t passive. But I tried to let the other guys get going when we played at home. It always worked, but it didn’t work in Game 1. So that was my fault."
In Game 3, the Suns finally stole a win. They came short in Game 4, but refused to end the series in Game 5. However, Phoenix lost its luck in Game 6 as the Bulls completed their first three-peat courtesy of the huge three-pointer from John Paxson in the game's dying seconds.
As for Barkley and Johnson, they still had a few more productive seasons with the Suns. Sadly, the 1993 championship series ended up being their first and last trip to the finals.