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  • Budd Bailey

Book Review: Barkley

Updated: Sep 29, 2023

Review by Budd Bailey

Who doesn’t like Charles Barkley?

And who wouldn’t like to hit the town with him for at least a little while (knowing that you’ll never keep up with him for long)?

Barkley has established himself as one of the great personalities in sports over the past 40 years or so. Everything about him seems a little bigger than life – particularly when it comes to body type. Charles never seemed afraid of taking that second or third slice of pizza, a trait shared by many of us. But it didn’t prevent him from becoming a superstar in a couple of different areas.

Therefore, there’s a built-in audience of Barkley fans waiting to read a full biography of him. Timothy Bella comes through with a good one in his book, entitled “Barkley.” It’s fair to say that few are going to see the title and think it’s a book on Harry Truman’s Vice President, Alben Barkley.

Bella put in his time here, and it certainly shows as it covers more than 400 pages. About 370 people were interviewed for the book. What we discover along the way here is that Barkley always was an original. That dates back to high school in Alabama, where his body shape didn’t exactly match the stereotype for success in basketball. Charles comes off a little rough around the edges in terms of his style on the court, but no one could stop him from scoring points and grabbing rebounds.

It was easy to wonder when that lack of physical training might catch up to him, but it never really did. Barkley was on some good but not great teams at Auburn University. When it came to turning pro, Charles might not have fit the computer printouts for success by draftees … but he could play. Barkley joined the Philadelphia 76ers in 1984, and was off on a superb career that lasted until 2000.Along the way, he was the league’s Most Valuable Player in 1993, an 11-time All-Star, a 10-time first-team All-NBA selection, and still the shortest man ever to lead the league in rebounds. Charles also was part of the American “Dream Team” that achieved everlasting fame as the greatest hoop squad ever assembled at the 1992 Olympics. The Basketball Hall of Fame naturally followed all of that. The only thing missing was a championship; sometimes fate just doesn’t cooperate in such matters.

What’s more, Barkley seemed to be bulletproof. He’d have the occasional problem during run-ins with fans when out late at night. That led to some problems with the law, but they never seemed to damage his image. (My favorite line from Charles was when he was asked in court if he had any regrets about throwing a guy through a first-floor window. He said, more or less, that he wished he had been a higher floor.) You never knew what Barkley might say at a given moment, but you knew it would be honest and original.

That last quality certainly caught the attention of the broadcasting industry, who lined up to sign him after he retired from pro basketball. Sometimes the guys at the networks turn really conservative when it comes to such choices, but Barkley turned out to be an inspired pick. He was willing to go almost anywhere – and not just in basketball – during his conversations on Turner Sports. That meant viewers didn’t reach for the remote once the action was paused or over. His frankness caused grief for himself and others, but most chalked it up to “Charles being Charles.” An exception might be Michael Jordan, who became upset about Barkley’s views of how the Charlotte Hornets had been run under Jordan’s leadership.

Four decades in the spotlight is quite a run, and Bella chases down information on the highs and lows along the way. Most probably would say that there aren’t many surprises along the way here. One area that might qualify is Barkley’s generosity is as ample as his stomach … which is saying something. He’s given away millions of dollars, some to individuals and some to charities and schools. That’s in addition to the millions he probably has donated to a less worthy cause – owners of casinos. As Charles put it, he can afford it.

Since everything about Barkley seems a little outsized, it’s only fitting to think that a biography would fit into that classification. There is a lot to read here, and perhaps a little more editing might have been in order to pick up the pace a notch. But for his many fans who can’t get enough about “The Round Mound of Rebound,” “Barkley” ought to satisfy their appetite for information about this interesting subject.

(Follow Budd on Twitter @WDX2BB)

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