Hall of Famer Charles Barkley was one of the NBA’s best players in the 1980s and ’90s, which also coincided with the Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Michael Jordan eras.
Those three are often regarded as the greatest players at their respective positions, and LeBron James even put them on his own Mount Rushmore at one point.
Yet despite Michael, Magic and Larry dominating Barkley’s era, he doesn’t list any of those three players as the best he’s ever gone up against.
Instead, Sir Charles picked Bird’s longtime Celtics teammate Kevin McHale.
“He’s one of the greatest basketball players ever, and I actually work with him now on television,” Barkley said during remarks at the annual Stake and Burger event benefiting the Boys and Girls Clubs of Rutherford County, Tennessee, the Murfreesboro Daily News Journal reported. “He’s the best player I ever played against and had to guard.”
Barkley entered the NBA in 1984, which was McHale’s fifth NBA season and when he was in the prime of his career. The two faced off 35 times in the regular season with McHale’s Celtics winning 18 games and Barkley’s teams winning 17.
Sir Charles had the scoring edge in their regular-season matchups, but it was a different story in the playoffs. In the one postseason series when their teams faced off, McHale averaged 21.2 points per game and Barkley averaged 14 as the Celtics won 4-1.
McHale is regarded as one of the best low-post players in NBA history, which made him immensely valuable when offenses were still run through the low post. He had a repertoire of moves that would force any defender to loft high praise, as Barkley also did during this highlight video.
Happy Birthday to Kevin McHale, master of the Slippery Eel and some of the best post moves in NBA history! pic.twitter.com/iLHIretifT
— Ballislife.com (@Ballislife) December 20, 2017
“Kevin McHale is the best player I ever played against,” Barkley said back in 2017. “C’mon man, this guy is the best player I ever played against.”
McHale was often overshadowed due to playing alongside Bird, but he was a seven-time All-Star and a six-time member of the All-Defensive Team. He also won three NBA championships.
When McHale retired in 1993, he was one of five players in NBA history with at least 17,000 points and 1,600 blocks, per Basketball-Reference.com. McHale was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1999.
While Barkley has high praise for McHale as a fellow power forward whom he went up against, he still thinks Jordan is the single greatest player of all time.
Barkley also brought up a couple of other contemporaries as great players he faced during his 16-year NBA career.
“I enjoyed playing against players like Larry Bird and Karl Malone because they were great,” he said, according to the Daily News Journal. “When you’re at this level, you’re better than 99% of the people in the world, so there’s a few guys you look at it and go, ‘That guy is just as good as me.’ So whenever you meet someone like that, it’s a big deal.
“When you go against guys like that, it’s special.”
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