What we got during Barkley’s (very fun) conversation with Zach Lowe on “The Lowe Post” podcast earlier this week, however, were a few more details about that day, and how that rescinded trade led to Barkley having to play drunk for the Sixers later in the evening:
“My agent calls me one morning and he says ‘hey, you’re going to get traded to the Lakers today. And me and my friends, we go out and celebrate and get drunk around noon.... He calls me later and says ‘hey you’ve been traded to the Lakers, they’re going to finalize the deal and I’ll get back to you.’
“I’m on cloud nine, he calls me back three hours later, it’s like 3:30 now, he says ‘the Sixers backed out of the deal.’ And I’m drunk as [bleeped expletive] and we got a game that night, and I’m like ‘what? What are you talking about?’ And he’s like ‘the Sixers were scared to pull the trigger.’ So I’m like ‘you’re kidding me, dude we got a game tonight and I’ve been drinking since noon.’ The one thing that’s funny, I don’t even know how I played that night. I think I might have played so bad because I was so angry the Sixers didn’t pull the trigger, and then it’s just suffering the next two or three years.”
“And then it’s just suffering the next two or three years” is an incredibly bleak way to end what is otherwise a hilarious (and quintessentially Barkley) story, but the good news is that he may be misremembering, since he was ultimately traded to the Suns the next season.
Judging by what we know about this trade — that it almost happened in 1992, which means that if Barkley was playing a game that night it would have been during the 1991-92 season since Barkley was traded to the Phoenix Suns the following summer — we can try and take a stab at what night Barkley’s Flu(like symptoms) game might have been.
Going to Basketball-Reference and sorting by Barkley’s worst “Game Score” helps us figure out which games Barkley played the worst in that season, and since we know the 1992 trade deadline was on Feb. 20, it would have to be a game before then.
That makes one solid guess the Feb. 12 game Barkley played against the Nets just before the deadline — when trade talks are usually at their peak — in which Barkley put up a triple-single (shouts to Draymond Green) of 6 points on 2-7 shooting with 7 assists and 9 rebounds in a 102-87 loss. That game’s proximity to the deadline — and how badly Barkley shot and played in a loss in which the opposing frontcourt combined for 43 points — make it the most likely candidate in my view.
A dark horse nominee for which game Barkley morphed into the Round Head Pound of Rebound for is from a few weeks earlier, a Jan. 31, 112-88 win over the Orlando Magic. Despite the result, Barkley wasn’t at his best judging by the box score, scoring 6 points on five shots with 8 assists and 7 rebounds, but the overwhelming win and Barkley’s efficiency in it make this one seem less likely.
We may never get a definitive answer on which game this was — the passage of time and Barkley’s state of mind on that day might make it a bit more difficult — but it’s also easy to understand why he was disappointed. A trade to the Lakers would have put him in the type of big market he likely felt like he deserved, but given that Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal wouldn’t have gotten there until a few years later, it’s also not clear how the Lakers would have retooled around Barkley. And given how things turned out, I don’t think Lakers fans would change a thing, even if this will always be an interesting historical “what if?”