Charles Barkley long ago proved himself one of the most determined rebounders on two legs.
Sunday, at the 41st NBA All-Star Game, the Philadelphia 76ers star proved that even on one leg he's a more determined rebounder than any of the game's other marquee players."I'm glad I came here," Barkley said afterward, looking fondly at his game Most Valuable Player trophy.
Although Barkley said last week he would prefer to skip the All-Star Game and rest a stress fracture in his left ankle, when the league said it wanted him here, he complied without complaint.
"They said, 'If you're healthy enough to play for the Sixers, you should come to the game,' and I can live with that," he said Sunday.
Despite the injury, Barkley put in 35 minutes and muscled down 22 rebounds to key the Eastern Conference's 116-114 triumph over the Western Conference at the Charlotte Coliseum.
"I hate Charles because he throws everybody out of the way and then complains to the ref if somebody just nicks him," said the West's Magic Johnson.
"But Charles set the tone for the way the game was played. The East, typically, went down low. I now realize how big and strong he is and I'm definitely going to stay away from him from now on."
Seven-footers Patrick Ewing, David Robinson, Robert Parish, Brad Daugherty and Kevin Duckworth were in the game, but the 6-foot-4 Barkley dwarfed them all on the glass. His rebounding total was the highest in an All-Star game in 23 years, and fell five short of Bob Pettit's record 27 in 1962.
"He said at halftime he was going to go for 20 rebounds," said Barkley's Philadelphia teammate, Hersey Hawkins. "I said, 'Go ahead, and you'll be the MVP."'
That award was the recognition Barkley has been struggling for. Although he received more first-place votes than any other player in voting for last season's MVP, Johnson got more total points and won the award. This was Barkley's first All-Star MVP trophy.
A number of people - including his coach, Jimmy Lynam, and his friend and rival, Kevin McHale - have suggested he should rest his stress fracture, not play on it.
"My foot's going to hurt, but I'm going to play," Barkley said. "Playing basketball is what I do."
The spotlight also gave Barkley an opportunity he craves - to discuss world topics before an audience of the national media.
"Hopefully, for the last two hours the people in the Persian Gulf could enjoy themselves and forget about Insane Hussein and all that other stuff," he said.
"I think he set everybody up," the West's Karl Malone said of Barkley's much-publicized injury. "Then he set the tone for the game."