‘Just because I dunk a basketball doesn’t mean I should raise your kids,’ said Charles Barkley in an infamous Nike commercial. And so many times, Chuck’s greatness was overshadowed by his hotheadedness and the controversies that derived from it. But nothing to the extent of what took place on March 26, 1991.
”You do stupid things, and stuff like that happens. I just have to live with a stupid mistake.”Charles Barkley, Chicago Tribune
The Sixers were playing the New Jersey Nets in a hard-fought regular-season game. It was a close contest for the entirety of 48 minutes, as the game went into overtime, with both teams being tied at 90. And while Barkley went head-to-head with Derrick Coleman, the one Chuck had the most trouble dealing with was a heckler sitting courtside.
The Nets’ fan was hurling racial slurs at the Hall of Fame forward whole game long, and in the fourth quarter, Barkley snapped. While standing on the baseline, Chuck spit into the stands, with the target of his expectoration being the abuser. But to his chagrin, Barkley’s spit landed on an 8-year-old girl sitting in the crowd.
“He was walking toward me, and I spit at him. I was tired, and I didn`t have enough foam in my mouth. It went everywhere. I made a mistake.”Charles Barkley, Chicago Tribune
And while the child’s father praised Barkley as a player, he said he felt Chuck should be reprimanded. He said he considered what happened ‘a low act.’ The NBA felt the same way, as Barkley received a one-game suspension, and was fined $10,000 by the league. At that point, Barkley hit an all-time low. Nothing he had done before the spitting incident was comparable to the fact that the victim of his antics was an innocent 8-year-old child who was just trying to enjoy the basketball game.
“I was sitting in a hotel room, and I was like ‘Dude, what the hell is wrong with you? What are you so angry about?’ From that day forward, every time I played basketball, I said, ‘Just let people see your talent. You don’t have to be mad at anybody else.’ And so that was the turnaround for me.”Charles Barkley, Graham Bensinger
So instead of the incident ruining his NBA career, it actually saved it. It changed Barkley’s perspective on how to approach the game and also helped him manage his anger more properly, causing a much-needed change of heart with an NBA legend.
So all I can say is thank God for his poor spitting skills. It saved the career of an all-time great.