Barkley played college basketball for Auburn, where he excelled as a player. In 1984, he began in the NBA with the Philadelphia 76ers. Early in his career, Barkley had a weight problem, and he was known as "the Round Mound of Rebound." He battled those problems, however, and was able to fill the spot left by Julius Erving on the team. With Barkley, the team reached the playoffs every year until he was traded in 1992 to the Phoenix Suns.
In between being drafted and traded, Barkley became a household name, and he was one of a few NBA players to have a figure published by Kenner's Starting Lineup toy line. But he also became involved in a few scandals, notoriously a fight with Detroit Pistons center Bill Laimbeer in 1990. He averaged 24.3 points per game while with the 76ers.
After joining Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and friend Michael Jordan for the 1992 US Dream Team that won the gold medal at the Barcelona Olympics, Barkley went to the Suns, where he became a vital part of the team's trip to the 1993 NBA Finals, scoring 25 points per game and becoming one of the most popular players ever among Suns fans. At the Finals, Barkley and the Suns lost to Jordan, fellow Dream Teamer Scottie Pippen and the Chicago Bulls in six games, after Barkley had told Jordan that it was destiny for the Suns to win the championship. Barkley would never again return to the Finals.
In 1994, Barkley again was part of a Suns team that almost won the NBA championship, losing in the Western semi-finals in 7 games to eventual world champion Houston Rockets. In 1995, the Suns suffered exactly the same fate of the year before in the playoffs, and in 1996, Barkley and the Suns struggled to a 41-41 record, having to win 13 games in a row at the end to squeeze a playoff spot. He also was a member of the gold medal winning American team at the 1996 Summer Olympics.
During his stint as a member of the Suns, Barkley was controversial and outspoken. He was rumored to have dated Madonna, and he became a favorite of tv late night talk shows. He published a pair of equally controversial books , he was rumored to plan to run for Governor of Alabama, and was in the middle of many lawsuits. And, to top it all, he and Suns owner Jerry Colangelo became involved in a very public dispute during his last year as a Sun.
Barkley was then traded to the Houston Rockets, where he joined Hakeem Olajuwon in their quest to win championships. But as a member of the Rockets, Barkley faced back injury problems, which ultimately led to his retirement in 2000. His last year in the NBA, he averaged 14 points a game over 20 games, and in his last game, he scored a basket against the Suns, this after sustaining a career ending injury and being told by the doctors he would never again play in the NBA.
During his career in the NBA, Barkey totalled 23,757 points for an average of 23 points per game, and 12,546 rebounds, for an average of 11.7 rebounds per game. He was an all-star nine times, and he helped his teams to the playoffs every year he played.
One of the most infamous cases involving Barkley in a lawsuit was one where, according to an Orlando man, he threw the man off a glass window during an altercation at an Orlando restaurant. Tired of people accusing him of things like that, Barkley, who is accessible to the public for autographs and hand shaking most of the time, limited his accessibility to the public to not much more than that.
Barkley and Colangelo have seemingly cleared up their differences.