For a 48-hour interval in 1984, Charles engaged in an consuming binge in hopes of dissuading the Philadelphia 76ers from deciding on him within the draft. He started with two Denny’s Grand Slam breakfasts – six pancakes and bacon totaling round 1,660 energy, and a vanilla milkshake to scrub it down. The lunch choices, which have different within the a long time’ value of repeat tellings, included both Kentucky Fried Rooster, mashed potatoes, and coleslaw; half of the menu at Purple Lobster; two McDonald’s fish fillets, a big fries, and a Weight-reduction plan Coke; or two Texas-sized barbecue sandwiches. The dinner menu at a steakhouse included a T-bone, baked potato, and, in fact, three desserts.
Charles repeated all of it the subsequent day, gorging, as he described, “every part I might get to my face, every part that wasn’t nailed down or poison.” Throughout an evening of heavy consuming along with his agent, the sight of Charles crushing beers may need made folks suppose that Prohibition was about to be reinstated, he mentioned.
This extra consumption was by no means the plan, however the league’s unstable footing sophisticated Charles’s monetary future.
The NBA was struggling. On high of the rampant cocaine abuse amongst gamers, TV executives and advertisers felt the league was not marketable to mainstream America as a result of it was too Black. Critics supported the notion that by pointing to Marvin Gaye’s rendition of The Star-Spangled Banner on the 1983 All-Star Recreation, a groundbreaking, funky model of the nationwide anthem meant to replicate the Black excellence of the gamers on the court docket. All of this got here as salaries had spiked too rapidly and several other franchises had been in peril of folding.
To deal with the escalating issues plaguing the league, the collective bargaining settlement introduced for the 1984–85 season helped institute a wage cap. Groups with payrolls at or above the wage cap might solely provide their first-round picks a one-year deal value $75,000. In different phrases, whoever was getting picked by Philadelphia, a franchise capped out at round $4.5m, wouldn’t have the safety of a multiyear, multimillion-dollar deal.
Charles had already misplaced about 10lbs that summer time, a request made by the 76ers earlier than a pre-draft weigh-in. Then, Charles’s agent, Lance Luchnick, had some powerful information to ship to his prized shopper.
“You do know if the Sixers draft you they’ll provide you with $75,000, proper?” Luchnick mentioned to Charles.
“I didn’t go away school for $75,000,” Charles replied to his new agent in a not-so-calm tone.
By Charles’s requirements, the caloric clinic labored: he gained roughly 20lbs in two days, placing him at almost 300lbs.
At a weigh-in, Harold Katz, the 76ers’ proprietor who made his fortune as founding father of Nutrisystem, the nationwide chain of weight-loss facilities, flew off the deal with as Charles tried to not chortle. Are you nuts or simply fats and lazy? Pat Williams, the crew’s loquacious normal supervisor, was rendered speechless and alarmed by “this monumental girth.”
On the Amtrak prepare to New York for the draft, Charles and Luchnick high-fived one another on a job properly performed. There was no manner the 76ers would take Charles Barkley now. No manner.
That’s what they thought anyway.
Charles was definitely not a secret to the Sixers. Months earlier, Jack McMahon, the crew’s director of participant personnel, described the Auburn star to Sports activities Illustrated as having the physique of Wes Unseld and the ups of Julius Erving, whereas additionally noting that any crew that took him on would “need to put a weight clause in his contract.” However the proprietor, Katz, spoke of Charles glowingly.
“Harold was in awe of Charles Barkley,” mentioned John Nash, then the crew’s assistant normal supervisor.
The entrepreneur purchased the 76ers from F Eugene Dixon for greater than $12m in 1981, inheriting a pricy payroll, low attendance, and important monetary losses. Katz, a ball of fireside who acknowledged it was “bananas” to tackle a franchise in peril, vowed to show it round. To him, the one factor worse than dropping cash, regardless of how a lot of it you could have, was getting beat on the basketball court docket. In 1983, lower than two years later, the Sixers gained their first NBA championship in 16 years behind Erving and league MVP Moses Malone, sweeping the Los Angeles Lakers and bringing satisfaction again to the hoops haven.
Ed Rendell, who at 33 had turn out to be the youngest district lawyer within the metropolis’s historical past, remembered Katz as a revered however aloof determine with a popularity and edge that earned him admiration all through Philadelphia.
“Harold was a man who received issues performed. I don’t suppose the followers beloved Harold, however they revered what he did with the title in ’83,” mentioned Rendell, a Democrat who later served as mayor. “In the event you requested the typical 76ers fan about Harold Katz, they’d say he did some good, however that he was an actual SOB, as a result of he was very powerful.”
And now, Katz was all-in on Charles. However Billy Cunningham had some hesitation. The top coach labored out the prospect at Saint Joseph’s College in Philadelphia six weeks earlier than the draft. Inside 5 minutes of Charles leaping from a standing place to effortlessly seize rebound after rebound, Cunningham too was all-in.
“The one nice reward Charles had was that it was a simple recreation for him,” mentioned the Corridor of Fame participant–turned-coach. “It wasn’t sophisticated.”
Scouting studies from draft specialists echoed what the Sixers noticed. “If he ever will get all the way down to 250, fasten the seatbelts and clear the runway,” Sports activities Illustrated declared.
The burden nonetheless offered a hang-up for the group forward of the June occasion, so Katz and Williams challenged the 282lbs Charles to lose about 10lbs. Figuring out in Leeds, Alabama, and Houston, Charles jogged and lifted weights to get to round 272. “Principally, I simply stopped consuming,” Charles joked. Then, Charles went the opposite manner, using a man-versus-food strategy by no means earlier than seen by an elite athlete making an attempt to persuade a crew to keep away from drafting him – each the tastiest and most painful to this point.
For causes that stay unclear, burgundy was Barkley’s favourite colour rising up. He was all smiles in a burgundy tuxedo when he took Amy Shorter to the promenade his senior yr. The burgundy tracksuit he rocked in the pizza-centric photoshoot for Sports activities Illustrated by no means appeared higher on somebody with a mouthful of a supreme slice.
On the day of the NBA Draft, he wore a double-breasted burgundy swimsuit with gold buttons
“If you’re poor, you get that one swimsuit and that was it,” he mentioned. “Man, burgundy was my favourite colour. I needed to have a pleasant swimsuit for the Draft, and we went out and received it.”
The outfit was only one aspect of what’s thought-about by many the best NBA Draft within the historical past of the sport.
“The Draft was the beginning of my wonderful journey via life,” Charles mentioned. “I’ve had an incredible life and it began that night time.”
Getting back from a pre-draft occasion amongst rookies and their households at a small Italian restaurant close to Madison Sq. Backyard, Charles had a sense his two-day stint as a aggressive eater wasn’t sufficient to cease Philadelphia. On the day earlier than the draft, Cunningham assured Charles that the crew would choose him at No 5 if Sam Perkins went to Dallas at No 4. Katz didn’t care how a lot Charles weighed – simply so long as he was carrying Philadelphia’s crimson, white, and blue.
The 4 on the high went in accordance with plan: Hakeem Olajuwon to the Rockets, Sam Bowie to the Path Blazers, Michael Jordan to the Bulls, and Sam Perkins to the Mavericks. However the brand new wage cap had put Charles and the Sixers in a clumsy place hours earlier than the draft. Three months earlier, Luchnick, advised the Dallas Morning Information that no gamers of his, together with Charles, would signal the one-year, $75,000 deal with out shifting ahead with authorized motion towards the NBA for the rule.
In his first draft as league commissioner, the mustachioed David Stern introduced Charles Barkley because the Sixers’ choose. The grin on the commissioner’s face turned to a smirk as the handfuls contained in the Felt Discussion board went loopy.
In reality, Charles was half listening to Stern till the commissioner uttered his first title. The announcement was not a complete shock, however nonetheless simply as disappointing. He took a deep breath and bit his backside lip earlier than sauntering to the rostrum. Visibly dejected, he lowered his head and walked to fulfill Stern. What had he simply performed?
“The look on my face is, ‘Are you kidding me?’” Charles mentioned of his response on Draft Night time. “I wasn’t smiling as a result of I used to be like, ‘I left school for $75,000.’”
Many a long time later, Charles identified how seemingly everybody round him was savoring the second – that’s, besides him. “When folks return and take a look at me strolling, they usually see that terrible burgundy swimsuit, all people else is glad and Charles isn’t glad,” he mentioned.
There was no stopping Katz from getting his man within the ’84 Draft, even when it meant butting heads with the porky prodigy.
I had advised Charles since then that it wasn’t going to be an issue to carry him in. I’m undecided what his agent advised him.
I actually didn’t care how a lot he got here in weighing. I knew he was going to lose the load. We did need to superb him three or 4 occasions for his weight. He nonetheless tells me about how I fined him.
What stood out to me, frankly, was that he had a character stronger than 99% of the overall inhabitants. He was so strong-willed when he was younger. Charles’s popularity was a bit totally different then. He’s the other now, and he’s probably the most nice particular person to be round. Once I received him at twenty-one years previous, he was so totally different then. He didn’t get it at that time about what it meant to be him.
By the tip of his time right here, the followers beloved him; they completely adored him. I beloved him. Christ, I certain beloved him after I drafted him.
Some of the thrilling gamers in all of faculty basketball was going to play alongside Erving and Malone. The frustration of his contract state of affairs pale behind his real pleasure.
“It’s received to be each child’s dream to play on the identical crew with Dr J and Moses,” he mentioned. “That is higher than a dream. I’m on high of the world proper now.”
He was saying all the fitting issues, however in actuality, he saved pondering: What have I performed?
Notes about his weight didn’t go unnoticed among the many announcers. Lou Carnesecca, the longtime St John’s coach who was asserting the ’84 Draft, mentioned he’d wish to open a pizza concession stand in Charles’s neighborhood and see if it could do in addition to he envisioned.
The questioning continued moments after he was drafted. Veteran broadcaster Eddie Doucette requested him concerning the popularity he had for having the ability to inhale a pair pizzas in a single sitting, which produced a cackle from a pair members of the group that was captured through the broadcast. “I get a number of speak about my weight, however I feel that I can management my weight and I really feel like I’ll go to camp and lose a number of weight,” he mentioned via a pressured smile. Tiptoeing previous one other weight-related question, he thanked God and the ladies who received him there.
“I’d wish to thank my mom and grandmother, who I feel are the 2 biggest girls on earth,” he mentioned. “I similar to to say hey to my mom and grandmother ’trigger they’re nice.”
When Barkley was requested concerning the $75,000 payday that was staring the latest 76er within the face, Charles mentioned all he needed to do was work exhausting and cash would deal with itself. He had achieved a once-impossible dream of creating it to the NBA, and as a top-five choose no much less. However along with his agent suggesting authorized motion towards any crew unable to supply him a aggressive wage, his dream of supporting his household was briefly unsure.
However whether or not Philadelphia knew it or not, the Charles Expertise was about to come back on the metropolis with the power of a runaway 18-wheeler. And Charles would quickly care little about what folks thought alongside the way in which.