On March 26, 1991, Charles Barkley, a man who spent his career claiming he was not a role model, demonstrated the truth of that statement in one of the ugliest moments in player-fan relations in NBA history.
Barkley had been enduring a slew of racist taunts from a fan in the courtside seats as the Philadelphia 76ers took on the then-New Jersey Nets in New Jersey.
Finally, he snapped.
Barkley unleashed the Loogie Heard ‘Round the World, intending to cover the racist fool in spittle in a declassé moment of protest.
Instead, he spat on a little girl.
Barkley was suspended and fined for his actions.
The suspension was for one game. The fine was $10,000. Players get more than that these days for complaining about the officiating.
The incident would go on to be Barkley’s one regret. When he retired in 2000, he singled out that moment as the one and only thing he would go back and change if he could.
Years later, Barkley said that moment changed his life.
In April 2016, during an interview with “In Depth” host Graham Bensinger,” he recalled sitting in a hotel room while suspended, talking to himself in a way that only a soul-searching person does.
“What the h— is wrong with you? What are you so angry about?” Barkley asked his reflection in the mirror.
His revelation led him to conclude he should “just let people see your talent. You don’t have to be mad at anybody else.”
It’s a lesson that had mixed effects on Barkley as his career went on.
While he was able to avoid any further incidents with fans and even befriended the young girl and her family, giving them tickets to future games, his relations with players on opposing teams had more beef than a steakhouse.
Barkley had a career-long beef with Charles Oakley of the Knicks. As a result, every game the two played against each other had the same tension as an escalating bar fight on Broad Street.
In May 2016, Oakley accused Barkley of “hiding behind TNT” with his criticisms of the Cleveland Cavaliers, and Barkley fired back that “he’s not important enough for me to think about.”
And his beefs on the air with Shaquille O’Neal walk a constant line between barbershop banter and “let’s take this outside.”
But on the court? One errant gob of spit changed his life and made him a better person.
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