Against all odds, Charles Barkley's little brother is a winner, too
Posted: Saturday August 28, 2004 2:39PM; Updated: Saturday August 28, 2004 5:39PM
He's the kid brother of an original Dream Teamer. So when Darryl Barkley dropped into the U.S. Transplant Games last month, it figured he'd leave Minneapolis with a pocketful of medals. Come home with nothing but gold, just like Sir Charles, right?
Well, not so fast. Darryl never was an athlete like his older brother or even younger brother John, who attended Birmingham Southern on a basketball scholarship. And here he was competing against folks who take their sports seriously, training year-round and back by the financial muscle of corporate sponsors. So he finished last in an 18.6-mile cycling race and fared almost as badly on the bowling lanes.
"I competed against pros,'' laughs Darryl, recalling his Games experience. "I thought people were going to be there celebrating life, but there were real athletes there.''
That's OK. The younger brother of former NBA great Charles Barkley is damn lucky to be alive -- and he knows it. Darryl, 37, was born with an enlarged heart that grew mushy and weaker after years of a nasty drug habit. He talks of a cocaine and heroine addiction lasting 15 years. By his 21st birthday he'd suffered a stroke. He went on to experience three heart attacks, each worse than the last.
It was either clean up or kiss life goodbye. He'd be warned, threatened and cajoled since a teenager. His family was embarrassed and upset. His older brother, then still a high-profile NBA name, had put him through barber school and regularly passed along cash. But now his patience was shot and the kid brother, a druggie and drug dealer, was cut off.
His third heart attack occurred in 1997, but Dwight remembers that night like it was yesterday. He was doing coke, driving around Birmingham in his white Honda Accord with the tinted windows. The chest pains came and went. What he hoped might only be bad indigestion came again and again. At 305 pounds -- almost 100 more than he carries now on his 6-foot-1 frame -- Barkley was being lugged again into the hospital again.
"After that, I quit [drugs] because I wanted to live and I thought about my family,'' Barkley says. "I asked God to take the taste away from me.''
As Charcey Glenn sees it, a mother's prayers were finally answered. Glenn, proud mother of the Barkley boys, describes her son as a "miracle walking around.''
Darryl Barkley had been in and out of trouble with the law a good part of his adult life. He isn't shy about recalling his eight trips to the county jail. By his estimate, he spent close to $500,000 on drugs, often mixing business with pleasure. Where'd the money come from? "You get money from a lot of different places when you are involved in that kind of thing,'' he says. "I sold drugs for a number of years.''
While his older brother and family raged, Barkley tried but couldn't help himself. "I told them, 'It is kind of easy, me doing that many drugs, when they're being handed to you and there is no end in sight,'" Darryl says. "You don't have to steal for them. You don't have to kill for them. It is hard to stop cause you get an aura about you. You are big and you're bad. You're taking drugs. People are already scared of you. And that only compounds the problem. I just did it till I couldn't do any more.''
True enough. His mushy ticker was pretty much shot. He couldn't handle a couple steps without running out of breath. He eventually ended up on fulltime oxygen.
Doctors told him that he couldn't live much longer without a heart transplant. The catch is they had to be sure he was drug-free, so they tested Barkley religiously before placing him on the transplant list. In March 2003, while listed as a Level 1 candidate and with doctors telling his family he had less than 48 hours to live, Barkley received the heart of a large Alabama man -- described as a 6-9, 285-pound Caucasian with two young children -- who'd succumbed to a brain injury.
Barkley and his wife have written to the donor's family expressing their deep appreciation, and received a nice response. Even before the transplant, Darryl, who grew up the middle of three sons in Leeds, Ala., had turned his life around. Any jealousy or tension he may have had with his celebrity brother was gone. The old drug dealer morphed into a passionate evangelist against drugs, volunteering with youngsters in local schools and church groups.
"I'm all about encouraging kids not to do drugs,'' he says. "I'm a Sunday school teacher in my community. I'm a deacon at my church. I just preach and teach about the dangers of doing drugs. Some of the kids are like I was, they think they're bullet proof and nothing is going to happen to them. I can tell them how it is.''
And a mother couldn't be prouder of her son, even if he never set foot on an NBA court.
Mike Fish is a senior writer for SI.com.