Every time Charles Barkley turns on a championship matchup — be it the Super Bowl, World Series or NBA Finals — he knows it’s coming.
He calls it “the s— list,” the list of great players who have never won a ring that taunts Barkley whenever a member of this exclusive list plays on the biggest stage for a chance to leave this objectionable club.
“Every time I see Dirk or some of these guys, I pull for the guys who are on the s— list,” Barkley said last week on the B.S. Report with Bill Simmons and Chuck Klosterman. “I call it the s— list in every sport because I know every year in the NBA playoffs or some sport that’s happening … they’re going to start showing the list of the greatest players to never win it.
“And I always root for those guys because I’m on that list, it is what it is. I can’t take it personally, it is what it is. Dirk is on the list right now. Jason, Karl, John, Elgin Baylor, Patrick Ewing, we’re all on that list.”
Barkley said every year when he watches a major sporting event on television he knows the list is coming and kind of laughs to himself when it blares across his screen.
Since the “no rings” argument seems to define so many great players who never could break through with a title, the Chuckster was then asked if it’s a valid criticism to say a star’s career missed something because he didn’t win a championship.
Barkley replied, “I don’t think it’s a valid criticism for the simple fact is they only say that if you’re a really great player. They never say that to a guy who can’t play. When you look at the list you’re like, ‘Wow, I’m on the list, people think I was a great player.’ It’s a backhanded compliment to a certain degree.”
This argument is topical with three players on the “s— list” competing for their first championship starting Tuesday with the Mavericks and Heat meeting in the NBA Finals.
It seems like the only thing missing from the resumes of Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Kidd is a championship. Dirk has been taken his game up a few notches this postseason and is the biggest reason by far the Mavs thrashed the rest of the Western Conference. Kidd is certainly past his prime, but he has been a steady contributor at the point guard spot for Dallas throughout the run as well.
On the other side of the matchup, LeBron James is already being compared to Michael Jordan yet he’s an eight-year veteran without a ring. Barkley said James will start hearing his name mentioned on the “s— list” if he doesn’t hurry up and win a title soon.
Of course, Suns fans are plenty familiar with this list because along with the all-time Suns great Barkley, Steve Nash is one of the oldest active player who’s a member of the list with no likelihood to move off it in the immediate future.
So far as Barkley is concerned, he always felt like he was the best player in the league before his meeting with MJ in the 1993 Finals. He always thought that Jordan, Magic and Bird just had more help than him so when he was traded to the Suns for a chance to play with Kevin Johnson and Dan Majerle, he told former Suns exec Cotton Fitzsimmons, “I’m the best basketball player in the world, we’re going to the Finals.”
Cotton said, “Well, Michael’s going to be there.” Barkley responded, “Cotton, I think I’m better than Michael Jordan,” and Cotton said, “We will see when you get there.”
Barkley genuinely believed this up until Game 2 of the Finals when his best wasn’t good enough against MJ’s best. Barkley played a superb game by tossing up a 42-13-4 but Jordan one-upped him by going for 42-12-9 as the Bulls took a commanding 2-0 lead in the series on Phoenix’s home floor.
Barkley’s only regret from the series, though, came down the stretch in the decisive Game 6 when the Bulls doubled the ball out of his hands on three late possessions with Phoenix nursing a slim lead in a game they infamously lost after leaving John Paxson open for the clinching trey. Sir Charles averaged 27.3 points, 13.0 rebounds and 5.5 assists on 47.6 percent shooting, but he was out done by Jordan’s 41.0-8.5-6.3 on better than 50 percent shooting.
“I played well in ’93,” Barkley said. “We lost to a team that won six championships. We lost to the champs three years in a row (after losing to the Rockets the next two years). That’s all I wanted. The only regret that I have about my career honestly is I wish I had left Philadelphia sooner because I played there for eight years and I was a much better player in Philadelphia than I was in Phoenix. I wish I could have got a couple more looks at it when I was younger, but I got three great looks at it.
“The Bulls were better than us. We weren’t better than the Rockets. The Rockets won back-to-back championships. I don’t think you can win back-to-back championships as a fluke. They didn’t just beat us, they beat everybody.”
They did indeed, but the Barkley Suns were oh so close to taking down the champs in all three of those years from 1993-95 just as the Nash Suns came so close to taking down the champion Spurs in 2005 and 2007 and last year’s Lakers.
Barkley was a great enough player throughout his career and close enough to the promised land during his Suns tenure that he will always be mentioned on the s— list whenever a new player comes close to leaving it, but it’s doubtful that masks the pain from coming so close to a title but being left with merely a backhanded compliment.