Sir Charles quietly takes his leave
Posted: Thursday December 09, 1999 07:49 PM
Houston's Charles Barkley is helped from the floor after injuring his left knee in the first quarter. AP
PHILADELPHIA (AP) -- Charles Barkley's NBA career ended right where it started, only not the way he wanted.
Playing in the city where his remarkable career began, Barkley ruptured a tendon in his knee Wednesday night and said his 16-year career is over.
"I guess the big fella in the sky wanted me to finish right where I started," said Barkley, the Houston Rockets forward who already announced that he is retiring after this season. "There were a lot of people here tonight who saw me play my first game and saw me play my last game."
Barkley broke down crying in the locker room after going down in the first quarter of what was to be his final regular-season game in Philadelphia. Barkley called his wife and told her his career was over.
"I do think it was supposed to happen like this," Barkley said. "It was supposed to end in Philadelphia."
Barkley was going up to block a shot by Tyrone Hill when he lost his balance and hit the floor hard with 4:09 left in the first. The tendon that attaches his thigh to his kneecap ruptured. The injury, rare in basketball, requires surgery and at least six months of rehabilitation.
Sixers team doctor Jack McPhilemy said it would be career-threatening even for a young player. Barkley will be 37 in February.
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"I knew it was over as soon as I saw it," Barkley said. "I knew it was over when it first happened. I saw the way the kneecap was bulging through my leg and I said, 'Well, it's been fun.'"
The Sixers honored Barkley before the game and flew his mother, Charcey Glenn, and grandmother, Johnnie Mickens, to the game. Glenn was in tears as Barkley talked about the injury and his career during a news conference that capped a tumultuous, outrageous, accomplished basketball career.
"God doesn't make mistakes," Mickens said. "He ended it right where it started. He said he was going to retire, and I took it with a grain of salt. Now I really do believe he's going out, before it's too late."
Sixers guard Aaron McKie said, "I'm sure he wished he could have left standing tall."
Hill embraced Barkley after the game, wished him luck and thanked him for paving the way for other players.
"He did so much for the league; no one will really know how much," Hill said.
Sixers president Pat Croce, who was the team's trainer when Barkley played in Philadelphia, said the injury could need as much as a year of rehabilitation.
"I love Charles," Croce said. "When I came into the 76ers in '84, he was my 'Round Mound of Rebound.' ... I got him down from 290 pounds to the svelte 260 he is now. I was the one who chased the pizza-delivery guy away at 12 o'clock at night."
Barkley played with a sore right quadriceps, but that had nothing to do with the injury.
The crowd, which gave Barkley six standing ovations, reacted with loud "Ohhs" when Barkley's injury was announced. They rose to their feet when Barkley limped to the Rockets' bench on crutches with 1:34 left in the second quarter and again when the game was over.
Sixers coach Larry Brown and assistant Maurice Cheeks -- Barkley's former teammate -- were among those who hugged Barkley after the game. Barkley stayed around for a few minutes and signed autographs before going to the locker room for the last time.
"I knew the way my knee was that there was something dead serious wrong with it and I wasn't going to play again," Barkley said.
Barkley had been reveling in his final Philadelphia appearance, playing with even more determination than usual. During timeouts, his young teammates smiled as they watched old highlights of Barkley soaring through the air and dunking at the old Spectrum across the street from the First Union Center.
This is the city where Barkley transformed himself from a chubby kid into one of the best players in NBA history. It is where one of the most charismatic -- and like his autobiography says, "Outrageous" -- personalities in sports.
Of course, Barkley couldn't go out without one more headline-grabbing quote. He walked into the room on crutches, sat down next to his 73-year-old grandmother and said, "Well, guys, I guess this means sex is out of the question tonight."
Barkley was drafted fifth overall by the Sixers out of Auburn in 1984 and led them to the playoffs six time in eight years. He was a physical specimen, a basketball menace. No one Barkley's size has ever been so dominant inside; despite what the roster says, Barkley is only 6-foot-4 and seven-eighths.
He won his first and only rebounding title in 1987, led two U.S. Olympic teams to gold medals, was the NBA's MVP in 1993 and was selected one of the league's 50 greatest players.
Barkley never won a championship, and he was at least as notable for his barroom altercations and controversial comments as for as his talent.
"I don't have any sadness in my heart," Barkley said. "You guys have seen me grow from a boy to a man.
"And it was great to finish in Philadelphia, where it started. If I'm fortunate enough to go to the Hall of Fame, it will be as a 76er."
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