Suns in Search of the Anti-Barkley


Charles Barkley has had dozens of quotable lines over the years, some great, some “turrable”, but none were more iconic than the Nike ad where he proclaimed, “I am not a role model”.

Disclaimer: I love Charles Barkley. I’m from Phoenix and have been a Suns fan my entire life. When “Chuck” was traded to Phoenix, eight-year-old me freaked out. I have always had an affinity for the players who are rebellious, or considered to have “Character Issues”. It’s not that I liked players who were dirty; I like guys who play hard, and have always idolized the “rebel.” I borrowed “Who’s Afraid of a Large Black Man” from Mama Gadek (my pseudo foster-mom) back when I was in college. “Sir” Charles was my favorite character in Space Jam, both in human and Monstar form. He showed the rest of America that Phoenix was a city where you can have success, on and off the court. I just wanted to make clear my feelings about Barkley as a former Suns icon do not go into what I’m about to say:

The Phoenix Suns appear in search of, and need to find the “Anti-Barkley.”

Defining the Anti-Barkley: 

First Anti-Barkley Quality – Be a Great Teammate 

Barkley was as well known for how he behaved off the court, as on it.

On the court, Barkley was a powerful force condensed into an undersized package. He used hustle, and a chip on his shoulder to be one of the dominant players in the NBA during his career. For everything you hear about Barkley; he’s a loudmouth, he’s selfish, he’s overweight, he’s an incredible player, and he’s one of the best never to win a title, it seems like you never hear,  “He was great teammate.”

More from Suns News

Barkley certainly presented value to every team he was on. His career numbers rival the best in NBA history. However, none of his teams ever made it over the championship hump. And not for a lack of talent. Barkley’s first stint with Philadelphia had him playing with multiple Hall of Famers, Dr. J and Moses Malone, and possibly Maurice Cheeks (up for HOF in 2016).

His next stop was Phoenix, who also had star power in Kevin Johnson and Thunder Dan Majerle (both All-Stars and members of the Dream Team 2). The Suns ultimately lost to Michael Jordan in the Finals in Barkley’s first year, but never returned in Barkley’s four years. He bailed on Phoenix for Houston and immediately extinguished their Championship spark. Mike Downey of the LA

Times wrote this about Barkley in 1997, “He can also lose with the best. Give him great teammates, and Barkley can turn them into losers, almost overnight.

“He can also lose with the best. Give him great teammates, and Barkley can turn them into losers, almost overnight”

Interesting how when you put two “Dream Team” players together, adding Clyde Drexler to Hakeem Olajuwon, the Houston Rockets win an NBA championship. Yet, as soon as you add Charles Barkley…then suddenly this team cannot even advance past the NBA semifinals.”

Before you find kind words, you find stories of Barkley fighting his own teammates, (Sometimes with a stool). Charles has always been interested in making headlines, look at his recent comments disparaging Kevin Durant for “cheating” and chasing titles, despite Barkley himself signing on with a “Super Team” of his own when he left Phoenix for the Houston Rockets. He admits while in Houston, he got fat as a response to a contract dispute, saying “The only year that I was fat was my last year in Houston, because they had promised me $12 million. When I showed up, the contract was only for $8 million.”

Second Anti-Barkley Quality – Be Committed to Process

Suns’ coach, Earl Watson, and management are looking for something specific. Players committed to the process. It’s important to “Follow our program” as Watson said on Doug and Wolf.

Barkley seemed to crave the spotlight and loved his identity as “the guy.” But that mentality is no longer attractive in the face of “selfless” superstars, who are willing to forgo the individual attention for team success.

Coach Watson relates the Durant situation to his expectations for his players, “This younger group doesn’t really buy into that (the idea that a team is one player’s to lead), they buy into a collective group of leaders.” He identifies what he’s looking for within his rookies, “As a group and with our draft picks most importantly, I want to see a style of play, playing with passion, understanding the culture and the program.”

Barkley always appeared to desire leadership for the notoriety, not the passion for promoting a winning culture.

When asked what is the Suns style of culture, Coach Watson said, “The program…The main thing is the players as a younger group; they must bond and love each other as teammates and brothers and a family. I mean you bond, and do that, everything else falls into place, building the character,

“they must bond and love each other as teammates and brothers and a family. I mean you bond, and do that, everything else falls into place, building the character, building identity.”

building identity. So they understand, when I wear this Phoenix Suns jersey, I’m not just saying I’m an NBA player. I’m saying I’m grateful for having an opportunity but at the same time, I’m going to give it back to the fans and to the community the way I play on the court, and the way I handle myself off the court.”

Barkley has always been an individual first, for better or worse. And while Barkley certainly had a skill set that could thrive in most “programs,” his lack of focus and commitment proved to be his undoing.

Barkley has long struggled with his weight, and his lack of interest in staying in shape speaks to his lack of commitment to success. Not to mention the off the court troubles Barkley became renowned for.  The Suns have been targeting stars who are known for their energy and effort. Specifically, Russell Westbrook and Paul Millsap through various trades. Both of these players are not coming to Phoenix, but Phoenix is connected to this players for a reason, they fit the Suns’ culture. Both players have unimpeachable character. Westbrook may be the hardest working player in the NBA (something Barkley was never accused of)  and Millsap one of the most under-appreciated.

The Suns aren’t targeting the Carmelo Anthony’s of the world because they don’t fit into the “program” despite the immense talent. The Suns know what they have, and they won’t compromise the development of their young players by contaminating their locker room with selfish players.

Suns fans are quick to defend Barkley. But he only spent four years in Phoenix, and his impact on the actual basketball being played is often overstated.

Downey adds more reasons to question Barkley’s character, “This man has spat at fans, has punched patrons of bars, has publicly requested not to be considered a role model (no problem), has deliberately attempted to injure opponents.” Barkley has always been comfortable with off-court distractions, almost inviting controversy. It’s part of what goes into his “Anti-Role Model” persona, and is exactly what the Suns don’t need. 

 Anti-Barkley Acquisitions:

The Suns have been relatively quiet this free agency. Only signing two players. However, both Leandro Barbosa and Jared Dudley have something Barkley never had, the desire to be a role model.

Watson was asked about the filter he hoped GM Ryan McDonough was using to sign free agents. He stated, “Nothing basketball wise to be honest with you… The main thing we wanted to say, who is the person? What character does he have? How does he fit in being a role model for our players on and off the court, and do they take accountability in leadership.” Both signings seem to pass the leadership test.

More from Valley of the Suns

Leandro led the second unit in Phoenix for years, including his 2007 Sixth Man of the Year campaign. Barbosa also has a championship pedigree, and won his championship playing for one of the most unselfish teams in the history of the NBA (The Golden State Warriors). The Warriors are coached by former Suns GM Steve Kerr. Kerr took the winning qualities from the Spurs, Bulls, and Suns and implemented them on a team with shared leadership, and a winning attitude. The result is one of the greatest teams in NBA history.

Barbosa was excellent at times in the playoffs by always being ready and understanding his role. No matter how limited it was.

Jared Dudley has long been a vocal leader on the defensive side of the ball and a player who had to rely on hustle and IQ over talent. He’s a guy who will do the little things, who will go out of his way to make sure his teammates understand what Coach is trying to teach. He will help the young Suns understand the culture, pace, and style of play the Suns are looking for. Young players often have lapses in judgment and energy. Dudley will help to counter-act those lapses.

Everything the Suns are doing in the off-season seems geared toward making sure Devin Booker and the other young Suns are being pushed to excel as humans, and basketball players. The Suns staff is optimistic they have a young core ready to shock the rest of the league with their talent and maturity. As long as Phoenix avoids the Charles Barkley’s of the NBA, the optimism seems justified.

Nike let the world know Barkley didnt want to be a role model. But it was long before that he proved not to be one. If the Suns hope to develop into a championship team, they need character, they need winners, they need “role models,” they need… The Anti-Barkley

Spotlight: Suns' Top Remaining Free Agents