One of Michael Jordan’s biggest rivals in his career was none other than Charles Barkley. They came to the NBA in the same draft class and even met once in the NBA finals when Barkley was the regular-season MVP but lost to Jordan, who played an outstanding series averaging over 40 points per game.
At some point in their careers, it was even considered Barkley might be a better player who played on the Sixers team that didn’t go anywhere for a couple of seasons, while Jordan was lucky enough to have good teammates around him.
Even though Barkley was one of the best scorers and rebounders in the NBA, he was never known as a great defensive player, which was the most significant difference between him and Jordan in their careers. In an older interview, Jordan remembers a game when Barkley was still playing for the Sixers, and they had a game against the Chicago Bulls.
Jordan was on fire the entire game and already scored 40 points, which caused Barkley to get mad at his teammates and told everyone that he would guard Jordan if that meant stopping him. They were both extremely competitive; however, Jordan was also aware that Charles is not a great defender but admired Charles for showing a lot of passion and taking on the responsibility on himself.
One moment I can pick playing with Charles is when we played against Philly in the playoffs. I guess I got into a rhythm, and I had like 40 points, and I hear Charles yelling in the huddle who is guarding this guy, somebody has to guard this guy, that’s alright I will guard him. We continue playing, and I got into a switch, and Charles jumps out and guards me.
Jordan immediately thought it was funny seeing Barkley mad trying to play defense despite the fact they both knew there was no way he would stop Jordan from scoring. That was also the moment Jordan gained respect for Barkley because he did everything he could or, in this case, couldn’t do, but he showcased a lot of passion for taking that responsibility on himself.
I know Charles is not a defensive stopper, so the first thing he does is breaks down in his defensive position. His hands were up, and everything looked technically right, and I just laughed and asked him when did you start playing defense and who taught you how to get into a defensive stance. He is the type of guy who would take on a challenge like that even though he was not up for the challenge. He didn’t care, and that is him.”