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“We weren't allowed to touch Charles” — The 64 free throws game


Newsflash, Charles Barkley never won the NBA championship! The only missing piece of hardware in his Hall of Fame career is the most important one – a championship ring.

Whether you hold it against Charles is totally up to you. I personally don’t. Things get a little clearer when you put things in the context of the era he had played in. Let’s just say it the way it is; Charles played in the wrong era. Not in terms of his individual performance, because he held his ground against any iconic big he had faced. I’m talking about the success of his teams. Or the lack of, however you want to put it.

That’s the Michael Jordan effect for you. Barkley is one of many all-time greats that Jordan denied winning the title. The only one who got his ring during the years of the Bulls dynasty was Hakeem, and even that happened during Jordan’s retirement. Keep that in mind if you’re judging Charles.

Nevertheless, he did have a fair share of deep playoff runs. The closest Barkley got to winning the title was in 1993. He faced the Bulls. I bet you know how that went down. For those of you who don’t;, the Suns lost in six. Michael Jordan was once again an insurmountable obstacle. The guy put up 41 PPG. How do you deal with that? It’s not like any of the Suns’ players didn’t deliver. There wasn’t a standout individual on the Phoenix roster that you could’ve point your finger at and say ‘you’re the reason we lost.’ The only one you could’ve point your finger at was number 23 in the red jersey.

But that’s not why I’m writing this. It’s because of a single playoff game that the Suns played on their path to the cross-conference matchup vs. Chicago. I’m talking about game 7 of the WCF against the Seattle SuperSonics when something happened. Something unusual, to say the least.

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The Suns won the game 123-110, with Charles Barkley dropping a monster double-double of 44 and 24. Barkley went to the line 22 times and converted 19 of his FTAs. He had a great second fiddle in Kevin Johnson. K.J. added 22 points of his own, with 14 points coming from the charity stripe. You see where I’m going with it? You don’t? Let me clarify.

The Suns as a team went to the line whopping 64 times! Almost half of their points came from the free-throw line – 57 to be exact. Dick Bavetta was among three refs who officiated the game that night. It was a perfect setup for NBA conspiracy theorists to rise, as they believed the league made sure to have a Jordan-Barkley matchup in the Finals. I don’t know about that. But the Sonics’ players might feel that there’s Something to it.

“We weren’t allowed to touch Charles. Every time we did, we got called for a foul.”

Eddie Johnson

Whatever the case may be, looking at the box score has a jaw-dropping effect. It was a record-breaking number of FTAs in a single post-season game, and it was only a regulation game. It’s an anomaly, and every anomaly in the NBA will raise questions. Especially the one of a statistical nature.

The setup off Bavetta – Mathis – Rush officiated the game, calling 38 personal fouls on the Sonics and „only“ 27 on the Suns. One of the three worked every game of the series that had a substantial free throw disparity, each time in favor of Phoenix. That’s another fact that adds value to the theory, at least in the eyes of those who advocate it.

I’m not trying to add fuel to the fire, but these are some facts about that game. Was there some behind-the-scenes stuff that steered the result in favor of the league’s MVP – I couldn’t tell you. Nevertheless, the theory about it exists. We’ll never know the truth, but we can speculate and debate. That’s the beauty of being a fan of the NBA.

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