‘The one that sticks out is Charles Barkley,’ said Oklahoma’s Tisdale. ‘The way he’s able to move around 284 pounds like a guard is amazing.’ Chuck being one of the best players during the ’84 U.S. basketball Olympic trials in Bloomington, was a consensus. So why didn’t he make the cut?
“I probably should’ve made the team. Bobby Knight just didn’t like me. He didn’t like me because he’s a d*ck.”
Charles Barkley, The Ringer
Knight and Barkley going at each other was a daily occurrence during the trials. It was a particular approach to the game that Knight demanded from his players that the Round Mound of Rebound failed to meet. The General imposed his militaristic style on the group of 71 players competing for a 12-man USA roster, creating a brutal selection process. Throughout it, Barkley simply outmatched everyone who stood in his way, having his competence postpone the inevitable – he simply didn’t fit the way the legendary coach envisioned the game.
“Let me tell you something you fat s.o.b., there is only one leader in this army.”
Bobby Knight, Deseret News
The authoritarian persona of Bobby Knight wanted things done his way, no ifs, ands, or buts about it. There was only one way to make the roster, and it was to work your ass off and be precise in doing so. Charles regularly coming late to practices and having a passive approach to the game rubbed the General the wrong way.
“The word interesting‘ is a good word to apply to Barkley. He’s an extremely talented player. He’s got to become a much better defensive player. He has to work at sharpening what he does. If he can, he has an excellent chance. If he can’t, he’s not going to make the team.”
Bobby Knight, Chicago Tribune
Chuck couldn’t, and he was cut from the roster. Knight cited his ‘poor defense’ as the reason for Barkley not making the roster, but that’s just a superficial rationalization of his decision. It was about chemistry and potential issues keeping Chuck on the team would’ve created.
Being the man pulling strings, Knight decided to get rid of the guy with who he’s been going back and forth for the entirety of trials. It was a complicated dynamic, and Bobby saw its escalation as inevitable. So he did what he had to do – he controlled the controllable. Knight – the person of principles – sure wasn’t going to back down, so he got rid of the potential chemistry disruptor.
Now, Chuck saying Knight didn’t like him – I see that. Was it personal or not – it’s hard to say. But basketball approach-wise, he hated him. When there’s a clear hierarchical order, that’s the last thing you want to do – resent the guy in charge. And that’s exactly what Barkley did. There simply was no way around it.