Editor's note: The following is an excerpt from Dr. Jack Ramsay's new book "Dr. Jack's Leadership Lessons Learned from a Lifetime in Basketball." Ramsay interviewed many former NBA superstars who have used their athletic leadership capabilities to achieve success in the business world.
The Enigma: Charles Barkley
As a player for the Philadelphia 76ers and, later, the Phoenix Suns and
Houston Rockets, Charles Barkley was one of the most amazing offensive
players that I've ever seen. At somewhere between 6 feet 4 inches and 6 feet 5 inches tall, he
could rebound with the biggest in the league; he had soft hands that enabled
him to catch anything thrown in his direction, and the ability to
power the ball to the basket through players much bigger than he was.
He also had the skill of a point guard to "thread the needle" with passes,
and he learned to shoot accurately from 3-point distance. He battled
without respite around the hoop.
But Charles didn't see the importance of defense unless it was required
at the very end of a game. When I was working television games
for the Sixers, Charles was their main gun. I gave him full credit for his
incredible exploits on offense, but I also noted when he was slow getting
back on defense, not playing his man, or failing to give needed weak-side
Before a game one night, I was in the Sixers locker room when
Charles came in, and seeing me exclaimed, "Jack, you're killing me on
TV about my defense. Why do you have to do that?" His teammates, in
various states of readiness for the game, stopped what they were doing to
listen. I told him, "Charles, I can only say what I see. When you do good
things on offense, I say it, but when you loaf on defense, I say that, too."
The other players all grinned at me and nodded in agreement. But
Charles dismissed the subject, saying, "I can't play defense and score and
Charles had his own mind-set about how he should play, and none of
his coaches could ever alter it with any consistency. He seemed to feel
that since he gave his full effort to offense -and indeed performed wonderful
feats there - he shouldn't be required to work as hard on defense.
And it wasn't because he lacked defensive skills.
I had seen him force
Magic Johnson into a poor percentage shot on a last possession in a
Sixers-Lakers game that Philly won. He also had a knack for stealing the
ball from high-post players that resulted in open-court layups. But overall,
Charles seemed to regard defense as the time during which he could
catch his breath, not pressure his man, and nobody could change his
mind about that.
It was unfortunate because he became a weak spot in
his team's defense that opponents didn't hesitate to exploit - and that
characteristic prevents Charles from being included among the all-round
great players of the game.
But in addition to being strongly opinionated, Charles also happens
to be one of the most good-hearted people I've met anywhere. In the days
when teams traveled commercially, Charles' appearance at any airport
attracted a small parade. People appeared from nowhere to walk along
with him, ask him questions, or request him to sign things. I never saw
him turn down a request.
And his behind-the-scenes kindness is well known to those close to
him, if not well publicized in the media. When Tony Harris was new on
the job as the Sixers trainer and doing postop shoulder therapy on
Barkley, Charles asked about Tony's background, his family, and where
he was living in the Philly area. Tony told Charles he was from Cincinnati,
that he was married with a couple of youngsters, but that his family
was still in Cincinnati because they hadn't been able to sell their house
there. In the meantime, he was staying at a rooming house in the area.
Charles told him to get a place for his family and bring them to Philadelphia,
promising to take care of the additional costs until they sold their
house. Charles kept his word, and kept his peace—he never said anything
to anyone about it. I learned about the incident from Harris.
Loyalty is another admirable Barkley trait. After I left the Sixers and
became affiliated with the Miami Heat and ESPN, whenever either group
requested an interview with Charles and he knew that I was available, he
would say he'd only do the interview if I conducted it - and he never
turned me down.
When Phoenix was in the NBA Finals with Chicago in
1993, I was among a horde of media waiting outside the arena after a
shootaround on a game day. ESPN had sent a camera, a producer, and me,
in hopes of getting something of interest to air on the early SportsCenter
show. The Suns finished their work, came out of the building, and headed
for the team bus. Charles was among them, but when he saw me, he
stopped, came over, and answered a couple of my questions before joining
Since his retirement as a player, Barkley has become something of a
media star as a studio analyst of NBA games for TNT. He is witty and articulate,
although sometimes self-contradictory and outrageous. There's
no subject on which he doesn't have an opinion and he's never shy about
expressing it. Working mostly with Kenny Smith, Magic Johnson, and
host Ernie Johnson, Charles often sets the tone by making some bizarre
statement that the others play off. The result is a casual scene where
three former NBA players sit around talking about the game, and the
viewer listens in. Host Ernie does a good job of keeping the conversation
from straying too far, and it's popular television.
In any arena, Charles is still Charles - gracious one moment and irreverent
the next - and is usually good for at least one surprising - if not
startling - comment each program. Ironically, I have even heard him
criticize a player for not defending!
Dr. Jack Ramsay coached the Trail Blazers to the 1977 NBA championship. A member of the Basketball Hall of Fame, he is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. Click here to send a question for Dr. Jack for possible use on ESPNEWS.