Charles Barkley said, “I’m not a role model.” But he’s a straight shooter, which is why it’s a little sad to look back on his past praise for former NBA All-Star Derrick Coleman.
Once upon a time, Coleman looked like the most promising forward in the league. Barkley thought the former New Jersey Nets star had an even higher ceiling. Unfortunately, Coleman’s career was marred by injuries.
Charles Barkley and Derrick Coleman dominated the power forward position in the early 1990s
Charles Barkley established himself as the Round Mound of Rebound almost as soon as he entered the NBA. Several years later, a Syracuse University star has sought to establish himself as a top forward.
The New Jersey Nets drafted Derrick Coleman No. 1 overall in 1990. He went on to win the Rookie of the Year award, averaging 18.4 points and 10.3 rebounds. Coleman showed a huge advantage during the 1992-93 campaign, averaging 20.7 points, 11.2 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 1.7 blocks and 1.2 steals.
That same season, Barkley led the Phoenix Suns to the NBA Finals and captured the league MVP in the process, much to the chagrin of Michael Jordan. Chuck showed his superstar quality and proved he could bring a team to the brink, even though he never won a championship.
Meanwhile, Coleman continued to climb. He made his first All-Star team in 1993-94 and was selected to the All-NBA Third Team for a second straight season. Barkley took notice, giving him the highest praise imaginable.
Barkley claimed Coleman could be the best player in the game
Charles Barkley didn’t mince words when talking about the talent of Derrick Coleman. But it also portends crucial damage to Coleman’s career.
Barkley said in March 1994 (h/t New York Times) he thought Coleman might be the best basketball player on the planet. The words carried weight, especially since the NBA – at the time – was in the first year of a post-Jordanian era.
“I think he can be the best player in the world. When he’s on his game, he’s unstoppable.
–Charles Barkley on Derrick Coleman (1994)
Coleman and Barkley shared a lot of similarities as hyper-versatile forwards who dominated on the attacking glass and could create for their teammates. They also surprised their opponents with their athleticism. These attributes prompted Chuck to call himself the “ninth wonder” of the world.
But Barkley said the two diverged in terms of work ethic. It really became a problem for Coleman, especially once injuries crept into the picture.
Coleman never lived up to Barkley’s standard set for him
Charles Barkley knows a thing or two about controversies. But they never ruined his career. The same cannot be said for Coleman.
Coleman had numerous arrests throughout his playing days and also suffered from alcohol abuse. His troubles began in earnest after an arrest for assault in 1994, which also marks the moment his career began to take off.
In his first four seasons, Coleman averaged 19.8 points, 10.6 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 1.6 blocks and 1.0 steals. In his next six seasons, he played 294 games, only two more than in his first four campaigns.
Injuries and off-court issues impacted Coleman’s effectiveness on the hardwood. His field goal percentage dropped by more than 3%, while his player efficiency rating and plus-minus box also dropped. It still put up decent raw numbers, but the lack of availability sticks out a bit.
Barkley considered Coleman as talented a basketball player as anyone in the world. Unfortunately, DC never came close to backing up that claim.
Statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference.
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