1990: Remembering When Charles Barkley Wrote “Kick Their Ass” On His Shoes Against The Bulls
If a form of social media existed in the late 80’s/early 90’s, no player in NBA history would generate more memes and be crucified more than the Sixers’ Charles Barkley. Thankfully for Chuck, and his pockets, he only had to worry about local Philly papers, an occasional article in the USA Today and Sports Illustrated and maybe a 60 Minutes feature during a pre-Sportscenter era. An era that I loved and miss dearly. An era where you could get in a fist fight, spit on a fan on your way out of the building, make fun of the situation and basically just get a slap on your wrist; In 1990, Barkley punched Bill Laimbeer in a game and was only suspended 1 game and fined $20k for the punch and the following statement, “I don’t care if I get fined. I make $3 million. What’s a couple of thousand dollars?”
Can you imagine a player nowadays doing and saying all that and not getting suspended for at least a month? But we are talking about the same player who did an interview with a magazine and said, “We had black guys who sucked. That’s hard to do. The Sixers were the only organization in the NBA who could find black guys who couldn’t play.”
As funny (and true) as his comments were, I’m pretty sure Jahlil Okafor would be traded if he made those comments today about his current team. But we are talking about the early 90s – before Jordan was known as the GOAT; before shoe companies were paying players more than NBA teams; before the lucrative TV deals; before the league got so damn soft and sensitive.
Sticking with the year 1990, besides punching Laimbeer, Charles Barkley had one of his most impressive seasons, won MVP at the All-Star game and finished 2nd in MVP voting (behind Magic Johnson). He then led the Sixers past the Cavs in the first round and faced off against Michael Jordan in the 2nd. In game 1, Barkley put up 30 points, 20 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals and 2 blocks while wearing shoes with the words “kick their ass” on the back. Again, can you imagine how the internet and league would react to Russell Westbrook dropping 30 & 10 on Steph Curry with “kick their ass” written on his shoes?
Unfortunately, the bigger name in the shoe game dropped 39/5/6/5/2 and came away with a 96-85 win for the Bulls. And despite another huge performance (34/20/8) from Barkley in the series, the 76ers were unable to kick the Bulls’ ass and lost the series 1-4.
1991 was just as exciting as Barkley accidentally spit on a little girl while trying to spit on a heckler and stirred up a little controversy when he said, “We’re just playing basketball. It’s not like we’re going out to have unprotected sex with Magic.” after Magic Johnson announced that he was HIV-positive. But 91, and 92, 93 and almost every year of his very impressive and entertaining career deserve their own posts.