People ask me a lot about who was the player I enjoyed playing against the most. Without a doubt the guy that was the most fun, and a little scary at the same time, was Charles Barkley.
He was the Big Baby before the Big Baby (Glen Davis of LSU) came along. He had a great personality, he played hard, he interacted with teammates and opposing teams very well. He let you know he was good, but he was one of those type of guys that could go out and back it up.
I thought he was fun to play against. I don't know if Melvin (Turpin) did or not. Auburn was my second choice behind Kentucky. I almost went there. I felt like I had a pretty good relationship with Charles. He used to always tell me when we played against them, "Kenny, the key to stopping Kentucky is stopping you. We feel like we can control the big guys. I have Melvin in my back pocket. Sam (Bowie) is a little rusty, but the key is stopping you." I thought that was the ultimate compliment coming from a great player.
We saw each other a lot in the NBA. Charles and I had a good relationship but remember playing a game in the (Madison Square) Garden my second year. Charles and I had just talked right before the game. He came into our lockerroom and we caught up with what had been going on with each other. Then we got into the game and got tied up for a jump ball. He wouldn't turn the ball loose. He took me, ball and all and just slung me to the floor. He was standing over the top of me like he was going to punch me. Then out of nowhere (my teammates) Charles Oakley and Patrick Ewing come flying in and guys are pushing and shoving each other.
After the game I went to Charles and said, "Charles, man, I thought that we were buddies. Why did you do that?" He said, "Man, I just got caught up in the game and everything."
That was the type of guy he was. He was an ultimate friend and good person on the court, but when it came to competing he competed at the highest level every night.
There are a couple of guys in college basketball now that have pretty good personalities like Charles did, especially in the SEC. I love the way that Joakim Noah plays the game. I love the way Big Baby plays the game. While they are not quite Charles Barkley, I do think they bring a certain personality to life. I like to see a little bit more of that.
Ultimately it is about competing hard and seeing if you can back it up. Those two guys happen to be pretty good basketball players. It is good to be a character when you can back it up.
They do it in a fun way. Charles certainly did. He played the villain role and got away with it. When you have that villain role, people generally don't like you. You are a bad person and guy like Jamaal Magloire (of Kentucky) or Michael Graham (of Georgetown).
But these guys (Noah and Davis) have the personalities that make them villains to opposing fans, but at the same time fans want to keep up with them and see what they are doing because they are very good players.
You don't have to be a showman. But I like players that play the game with a lot of passion and enthusiasm. I think that is what I see. I look beyond some of the comments and things people might perceive as trash talking. I look at a guy's body language on the court and you can tell when he is playing hard. I don't care how you act. If you play hard each night, let your personality come through. It didn't stop Charles from being a great player and it doesn't stop Noah or Big Baby from being great players.
Auburn's Barkley was fun to play against
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