How Barkley’s Friendship with Jordan Ruined a Phoenix Suns Title Run

Phoenix Suns, Charles Barkley (Photo by BRIAN BAHR / AFP) (Photo credit should read BRIAN BAHR/AFP via Getty Images)
Phoenix Suns, Charles Barkley (Photo by BRIAN BAHR / AFP) (Photo credit should read BRIAN BAHR/AFP via Getty Images) /

The Phoenix Suns battled the Milwaukee Bucks in the 2021 NBA Finals less than a year ago. They lost that series to Giannis and company, but as you probably know, it was not Phoenix’s first time on that grandest stage.

The Suns were founded in 1968, and less than 10 years later in 1976, they had already ventured into their first NBA Finals.

Phoenix actually struggled during the 1975-76 regular season as they marched toward their first Finals trip—finishing with a lackluster 42-40 record. But by the time the playoffs came around, they flipped a switch—taking care of the juggernaut Los Angeles Lakers in the first round before meeting the Boston Celtics in the Finals

Boston ended Phoenix’s dream run though after taking the series 4-2, setting up a trend they would see two more times in the Finals.

Most fans, including today’s Phoenix faithful, probably do not remember much about that championship series. However, their memories from the 1993 NBA Finals are likely a bit clearer.

The Suns entered that championship bout led by Charles Barkley, who they required from the Philadelphia 76ers prior to the season. They had just completed a successful regular season campaign with a 62-20 record.

At the time, that was Phoenix’s best mark in franchise history (which they would tie in 2005). With Barkley also crowned regular season MVP, the Suns naturally felt good about their chances once reaching the Finals.

However, Michael Jordan and the back-to-back reigning champion Chicago Bulls would soon pose a different kind of threat.

Phoenix Suns vs Chicago Bulls: Charles Barkley’s Bold Prediction

Charles Barkley has never been one to hold back when sharing what’s on his mind. We see him operate this way on TNT every Tuesday night, and saw it back during his playing days—including the 1993 Finals.

Even after the more experienced Bulls took a commanding 3-1 series lead, and mind you, the Suns had home court advantage, Barkley said the following:

"“I believe it is our destiny to win the world championship. God wants us to win the world championship.”"

Barkley, who was the MVP and playing the best basketball of his life, knew he could will his teammates to victory. In the game that followed his statement, Barkley’s prediction somewhat came true.

The Suns won Game 5 on the road by a 108-98 final score. It went down as their second win in Chicago and with the series coming back to Phoenix—Barkley’s Suns were in good shape given their rough start.

How Barkley’s Friendship with Jordan Cost the Suns a Championship

With their careers peaking right around the same time though, Barkley and Jordan became good friends as competing NBA players, especially bonding during the 1992 Summer Olympics. However, when these two basketball giants met in the Finals, you’d think their friendship would help out Barkley—but that couldn’t be further from the truth.

Being friends, Barkley was not willing to hit Jordan the way the “Bad Boy” Detroit Pistons would have at times during the series. This occurred mainly during the final moments of Game 4 in Chicago—where MJ went off on the team for 52 points.

The Bulls held a 106-104 lead with less than 30 seconds left in the game. After a B.J. Armstrong steal, the ball found Jordan’s hands and the entire arena knew he wanted to attack the basket. With 15.9 seconds remaining, he did just that.

Jordan ran straight past Phoenix’s double team of Kevin Johnson and Danny Ainge. Jordan bolted straight to the hoop with one man ready to get in his way. Charles Barkley was that player, and this would be his defining moment.

Throughout the contest, Lakers legend and now broadcaster Magic Johnson kept mentioning how he thought the two teams were “too friendly.” Magic went on to say that Suns were eating at Michael Jordan’s restaurant before their games in Chicago. Johnson also brought up the fact he did not believe Barkley would foul Jordan hard when he needed to.

So, with Jordan coming at Barkley with a full head of steam, what would Sir Charles do? When Jordan took flight for that game-winning bucket, Barkley only stood with his arms up, trying to draw an offensive foul.

Playing in Chicago, while trying to draw a foul on Michael Jordan? Good luck with that.  Barkley was called for a block even as Jordan’s shot fell through the hoop, breaking the hearts of Suns fans near and far.

“It would of been better for Charles to foul him all the way, then halfway foul him,” Johnson said after that play.

Jordan sank his and-one free throw giving himself 55 points, and more importantly a 109-104 lead for the Bulls with 13.3 seconds remaining. After both teams traded trips to the line on the following two possessions, Chicago walked away with the 111-105 victory.

As you probably know, the Bulls went on to win the championship thanks to a John Paxson 3-pointer in Game 6, which ended what was arguably the best season in Phoenix Suns history.

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With the team currently sporting a 60-14 record and with eight games to play, that title might soon fall onto this year’s Phoenix squad. Assuming they get to the Finals, fans can rest easy though, knowing that Devin Booker, Chris Paul, or Deandre Ayton likely won’t have any friends vying for the title as well.