This Day in Phoenix Suns History – Sir Charles Crowned MVP

Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports /

On May 25th, 1993, Charles Barkley became the first Phoenix Suns player to win the NBA Most Valuable Player Award.

My fiancé was three weeks old at the time, and I am certain she regrets not knowing the tale of Sir Charles’ reign over the NBA that season. So let me retell it.

23 years ago, Charles Barkley would pair the MVP with his Olympic gold medal and cement himself as one of the greatest basketball players ever.  Barkley put together what was clearly an excellent year, averaging 25.6 points on 52% shooting, 12.2 rebounds and 5.1 assists per game.

The Phoenix Suns ended the season an NBA best 62-20, at the time the best record in Suns history (2004-05 Suns tied the mark). However, it was, and is argued to this day, that the league gave Barkley the award because Michael Jordan had won it the previous two years.

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In the 1992-1993 season, Jordan led the league in Win Shares, Value Over Replacement Player (VORP) and Player Efficiency Rating (PER). But advanced metrics like these didn’t meaningfully exist back then. There is a case for Jordan, but this article is about how Charles Barkley won the award.

He captured the hearts of Suns fans, the minds of basketball fans, and the attention of the national media. So, take yourself back to 1993. The Bulls were back-to-back champs, and the favorites to win the NBA title again (which they did), but not without a fight from Sir Charles and the Phoenix Suns.

To acquire the disgruntled and enigmatic Barkley, the Suns sent Jeff Hornacek, Tim Perry and Andrew Lang to the 76’ers, a great trade considering none of those players stayed with the 76’ers more than 3 full seasons.

Despite the fact that Barkley spent only four seasons in Phoenix, he is in the Suns Ring of Honor, and on nearly every Suns fans list of the best Suns ever. He took the city by storm.

Bringing Barkley to the valley was a brilliant move because Barkley wasn’t only good, he was larger than life, pun intended. That same year, Charles became even more famous with his statement that athletes should not be considered role models.

Barkley got in fist fights on and off the court, further developing his bad boy perception. By his own account, Barkley regrets one on court antic, spitting on a fan in 1991. Even though he was aiming for a heckler in the crowd, he ended up spitting on a young girl. He was fined $10,000 by the league and suspended 1 game without pay. Barkley said he has been arrested eight times fighting with fans, and they all deserved it (his opinion, not mine).

None of that seemed to matter to Suns fan. The Valley embraced him as one of their own and you could argue there has never been a bigger star than Barkley at his peak in Phoenix. Despite the issues and fights, Suns fans stuck by him.

Charles Barkley won the MVP because he was able to capitalize on his popularity, excellent play, and a league that appeared bored with giving MJ awards.

He represented the frustration of a city that had never won a major sports championship, just like Barkley himself. The media rewarded him and the Suns with the MVP award, the first of two Phoenix Suns players to ever win MVP (Steve Nash – twice).

After a regular season where Barkley led the Suns to the number 1 ranked offense in the league, a full 14 places higher than Michael Jordan’s Bulls, he followed that up with one of the great playoff runs in NBA history.

Barkley averaged nearly 27 points and 14 rebounds in the postseason. He hit a game winner against the Spurs in the first round, had 44 points and 24 rebounds in game 7 of the Western Conference Finals and a triple double in the NBA finals.

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Unfortunately, that was the beginning of a gradual decline of Charles skills. The Suns hoped that the 1993 finals would be just the beginning. While Barkley remained productive, he never played over 71 games in a season again.

The Suns were talented, building cohesion, and had three all-stars in Kevin Johnson, Dan Majerle, and Charles. But Barkley started to experience severe back problems, and a torn quad. The Suns never made another Finals run with Chuck.

Although the Suns would win 56 and 59 games over the next two seasons, Hakeem Olajuwon, Clyde Drexler and the Rockets would beat the Suns in 7 games the Western Conference semi-finals each of the following two seasons.

I still have nightmares about Sam Cassell and Mario Elie draining 3-pointers. Barkley was traded to the Houston Rockets before the 1996-97 season, but never won a title with the Rockets, as that team quickly fell apart.

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Ultimately, Charles Barkley winning the MVP is one of the great moments in Arizona sports history. On this day, it’s nice to remind Suns fans how quickly fortunes can change.

“The round mound of rebound” or “The round mound of Sound” as he later became known, has made a fantastic career using the same mouth that used to curse out opponents and spit on fans. Whether or not Charles Barkley was the best player in 1993, he was more valuable to the city of Phoenix, and to the Phoenix Suns, than anyone else that year.