Once an All-American power forward at Auburn University, Barkley turned into a lottery pick for the Philadelphia 76ers in 1984 by going No. 5 overall. After that, he transformed into one of the game’s best overall players. Barkley is a former rebounding champion that won the 1993 NBA MVP Award while leading the Phoenix Suns to the NBA Finals. He won two gold medals and when he retired he was the fourth player in NBA history to achieve 20,000 points, 10,000 rebounds, and 4,000 assists.
His achievements are why he was inducted into the Hall of Fame, but when you look at his success compared to other superstars, it is safe to say that many had the upper hand. Barkley played against some legendary talent during the 80s and 90s. Among 20 of the game’s best players during that time, Barkley owns a winning record against only six of those players.
Here is Barkley’s record against the league’s legendary talent during his playing years.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar - 10 Games, 1-9 (10.0%)
Regular Season: 21.6 PPG, 12.1 RPG, 2.6 APG, 1.4 SPG, 1.3 BPG, 57.5 FG%, 21.4 3-PT%, (1-9)
When Abdul-Jabbar was playing for Barkley, he was playing for the Showtime Lakers in the 80s. At this time, the Lakers were one of the top-3 teams in the NBA. The Lakers were winners of the 1985, 1987, and 1988 championships. At the time, Barkley was in the early stages of his career, taking over as the prime leader of the 76ers.
The Lakers were a superior team in comparison to the 76ers. While the 76ers were growing, it was at the expense of them winning games against the Lakers; hence, why Barkley won a mere 10% of the time against the all-time leading scorer. At least he can hang his hat on a 20/10 stat line while playing Abdul-Jabbar.
Magic Johnson - 15 Games, 3-12 (20.0%)
Regular Season: 23.5 PPG, 12.4 RPG, 2.9 APG, 1.3 SPG, 1.0 BPG, 56.7 FG%, 19.0 3-PT%, (3-12)
For similar reasons, Barkley did not get many wins against Magic Johnson either. Johnson was the point guard for those Lakers teams. Abdul-Jabbar left the league in 1989, while Johnson stuck around until after the 1990-91 season before his brief return five years later. Regardless, the majority of the time the Lakers were the better team.
Barkley never met the Lakers in the playoffs because both Abdul-Jabbar and Johnson were in the Western Conference. The two teams would have had to meet in the NBA Finals. The 76ers would have had to fight through either the Detroit Pistons or Chicago Bulls, something that Barkley failed to do.
Tim Duncan - 8 Games, 2-6 (25.0%)
Regular Season: 17.0 PPG, 11.8 RPG, 2.4 APG, 1.9 SPG, 0.5 BPG, 47.2 FG%, 25.0 3-PT%, (2-6)
Scoring on Duncan was no easy task given how strong of a defender he was. Barkley was held to six points the first time he played against the Spurs. After that, he regained his footing and scored 22 points, but these battles were fairly close. Both players flirted with double-doubles each time they played against each other.
Duncan’s best game against Barkley was 23 points, 14 rebounds, and five blocks during the 1998-99 season. Barkley got the best of Duncan later that season with 23 points, 15 rebounds, eight assists, and three steals while shooting 58.3% from the field. With that said, the Spurs came out with the win 75% of the time.
Dennis Rodman - 36 Games, 12-24 (33.3%)
Regular Season: 23.7 PPG, 13.0 RPG, 3.7 APG, 0.8 SPG, 0.7 BPG, 53.3 FG%, 22.9 3-PT%, (12-24)
When looking at the two players, Barkley had more points in 34 of the 35 meetings, more rebounds in 22 games, more assists in 23 games, and steals in 15 games. He still only beat teams that Rodman was on one-third of the time. Rodman was either playing for the Pistons, Spurs, or Bulls for most of those meetings and those were three legitimate teams with All-Star talent on the floor. While Barkley had sensational individual performances, it wasn’t enough to take down the talent of two to three All-Stars.
To put it into perspective, Barkley had 22 points and 21 rebounds the first time he played against Rodman and the Pistons, and the 76ers still lost. The following season, Barkley recorded 36 points and 18 rebounds in a loss. There is only so much one player can do for his team.
Scottie Pippen - 43 Games, 15-28 (34.8%)
Regular Season: 24.1 PPG, 11.3 RPG, 3.9 APG, 1.0 SPG, 0.7 BPG, 58.9 FG%, 28.9 3-PT%, (11-17)
Playoffs: 25.9 PPG, 13.4 RPG, 5.3 APG, 1.2 SPG, 0.4 BPG, 54.0 FG%, 16.7 3-PT%, (4-11)
Barkley had the upper hand in scoring and rebounding when the two met, but Pippen was superior in assists, steals, and blocks. He was playing with Michael Jordan most of the time, so he was not going to rack up the game-highs in points, so he took care of a little bit of everything else. The two first met in 1988 and played against each other in the 1990 and 1993 playoffs.
In the 1990 season, the two met in the second round of the playoffs, but the Bulls won the series 3-1. Pippen’s most memorable moment was scoring 29 points while Barkley was held to 17 points in Game 4. The Bulls and Suns met in the NBA Finals in 1993, where Pippen recorded a triple-double to outpace Barkkley’s 42 points and 13 rebounds in a Game 2 win. The Bulls won that series in six games.
Larry Bird - 35 Games, 14-21 (40.0%)
Regular Season: 21.9 PPG, 10.1 RPG, 3.3 APG, 1.5 SPG, 0.9 BPG, 53.6 FG%, 22.5 3-PT%, (13-17)
Playoffs: 14.0 PPG, 11.2 RPG, 1.6 APG, 2.0 SPG, 1.2 BPG, 46.8 FG%, 80.0 3-PT%, (1-4)
One of the few players to consistently outscore Barkley was the great Larry Bird. In 21 meetings, Bird outscored Barkley. That included putting Barkley, who was a rookie at the time, on notice with 42 points in their first meeting. It wasn’t until the 10th meeting that Barkley outscored Bird in a head-to-head matchup where he narrowly beat Bird with 15 points to his 14 points. Barkley also recorded 20 rebounds in that game.
The one time the two met in the playoffs was the 1985 Conference Finals. Bird outperformed Barkley in the first two games as Barkley combined for just 19 points while Bird scored 23 and 24 points. Barkley responded with 23 points and 11 rebounds in Game 3, but the Celtics were victorious with Bird leading the way with 26 points. The Celtics won the series in five games.
Karl Malone - 49 Games, 20-29 (40.8%)
Regular Season: 18.4 PPG, 10.1 RPG, 3.8 APG, 1.4 SPG, 0.5 BPG, 46.8 FG%, 24.1 3PT% (16-23)
Playoffs: 13.3 PPG, 8.7 RPG, 2.7 APG< 1.0 SPG, 0.3 BPG, 45.3 FG%, 23.1 3-PT% (4-6)
Malone didn’t just beat Barkley three out of five games but outplayed him in the box score as well. Malone outscored Barkley 39 times, outrebounded 30 times, and had more blocks 20 times. That also included winning the steals battle 18 times as well. Simply put, Malone’s teams were just better.
When the two met in the Conference Finals in 1997, Malone outscored Barkley in all six games and outrebounded him in all of their four wins. Malone’s best game came in Game 5 when he scored 29 points, while Barkley was limited to 10 points. In the clinching victory, Malone recorded 24 points and 11 rebounds in comparison to the 20 points and seven rebounds from Barkley.
Shaquille O’Neal - 19 Games, 8-11 (42.1%)
Regular Season: 22.5 PPG, 13.4 RPG, 4.2 APG, 0.9 SPG, 0.7 BPG, 54.9 FG%, 38.2 3-PT%, (7-8)
Playoffs: 23.5 PPG, 13.8 RPG, 3.8 APG, 1.5 SPG< 0.5 BPG, 52.9 FG%, 28.6 3-PT% (1-3)
The two players are great friends today and love to give each other a hard time Inside the NBA. When looking at the head-to-head, Barkley was the better rebounder and passer, but O’Neal was the better scorer and defender. O’Neal outscored Barkley 12 of the 19 matchups and had more blocks 12 times. Both players frequently finished with double-doubles. The most impressive matchup would have been during the 1993-94 season when O’Neal recorded 39 points and 14 rebounds, while Barkley had 30 points and 20 rebounds.
The one time the two met in the playoffs was in 2000 when Barkley was on the Rockets and O’Neal was with the Lakers. It was the first round and the Lakers made quick work of the Rockets winning the series 3-1. The one win for the Rockets saw Barkley lead the way with 30 points and 23 rebounds, but then O’Neal closed out the series with 37 points and 11 rebounds in Game 4.
John Stockton - 51 Games, 22-29 (43.1%)
Regular Season: 18.1 PPG, 10.0 RPG, 3.7 APG, 1.4 SPG, 0. BPG, 46.7 FG%, 24.1 3-PT% (18-23)
Playoffs: 13.3 PPG, 8.7 RPG, 2.7 APG< 1.0 SPG, 0.3 BPG, 45.3 FG%, 23.1 3-PT% (4-6)
The battle between Barkley and Stockton featured some no-brainers, such as Barkley leading the rebounding 49 times and Stockton leading the assists 49 times. What might come as a surprise is that the leading scorer split 24 games for each player while the two players tied with the same point total three other times. Barkley’s best game against Stockton came during the 1987-88 season when he recorded 43 points and 14 rebounds in a win over the Jazz.
The two met in the playoffs two times with the highest stakes coming in 1997 in the Western Conference Finals. The Rockets had the series tied 2-2, but Stockton outplayed Barkley in the next two games. In Game 5, Stockton had 17 points and six assists, while Barkley was limited to 10 points and seven rebounds. In the final game, Barkley scored 20 points, but Stockton had 25 points and 13 assists.
Michael Jordan - 55 Games, 24-31 (43.6%)
Regular Season: 23.1 PPG, 11.7 RPG, 3.6 APG, 0.9 SPG, 1.0 BPG, 61.1 FG%, 26.0 3-PT% (20-19)
Playoffs: 25.7 PPG, 13.4 RPG, 5.3 APG, 1.1 SPG, 0.5 BPG, 53.6 FG%, 16.0 3-PT% (4-12)
It should come as no surprise that Jordan outscored Barkley in 44 games, but it does come as a shock that he recorded more blocks in 20 matchups. Jordan’s career-high against Barkley was 56 points, while Barkley once recorded 42 points. Barkley won the regular season battle between the two players by one game, but the 4-12 playoff record is a significant blemish.
Barkley and Jordan met in the conference semifinals in 1990 and 1991. In 1990, Jordan rattled off point totals of 45, 49, and 45 where the Bulls won two of the three games. In the 1993 NBA Finals, Barkley tied Jordan with 42 points in a loss. In another loss, Barkley recorded a triple-double of 32 points, 12 rebounds, and 10 assists, but Jordan scored 55 points.
Isiah Thomas - 38 Games, 17-21 (44.7%)
Regular Season: 21.4 PPG, 11.8 RPG, 3.7 APG, 1.1 SPG, 0.8 BPG, 54.4 FG%, 15.5 3-PT%, (17-21)
Two different players with two different styles are the best way to describe the comparison between Thomas and Barkley. With that said, Barkley was forced to grow with the 76ers while playing a Pistons team that was turning into a borderline dynasty in the Eastern Conference. From 1988 to 1990, the Pistons were so good that not even Michael Jordan could defeat them, so Barkley took his losses just like everyone else.
The PIstons were a deeper team than Philly but with solid individual performances, Barkley was two games away from going .500 against Thomas. His best overall game was in 1987 when he recorded 30 points, 14 rebounds, and 10 assists in a win. Despite playing for the 76ers, the two never met in the playoffs.
David Robinson - 40 Games, 18-22 (45.0%)
Regular Season: 22.4 PPG, 12.0 RPG, 3.4 APG, 1.7 SPG, 0.6 BPG, 45.9 FG%, 22.7 3-PT% (13-17)
Playoffs: 25.9 PPG, 13.3 RPG, 3.5 APG, 1.7 SPG, 1.3 BPG, 44.7 FG%, 26.9 3-PT% (5-5)
Robinson won the scoring battle 22 times, but Barkley outrebounded Robinson in 21 games. Robinson won the assist margin 19-18, while Barkley had more steals in 18 more games. The defensive stat is what won the tiebreaker as Robinson had more blocks in 32 games. These were just two very talented post players going against each other.
The first meeting in the playoffs came in 1993 in the semifinals. Barkley’s Suns got the best of the Spurs in six games. That included Barkley recording 35 points, 10 rebounds, and seven blocks in a Game 2 win. Barkley scored 36 points in a Game 5 win and 28 points in Game 6, which were both more than Robinson. The two met again in 1996 but the Spurs won the first-round series 3-1.
Hakeem Olajuwon - 42 Games, 19-23 (45.2%)
Regular Season: 22.0 PPG, 12.1 RPG, 4.8 APG, 1.5 SPG, 0.5 BPG, 51.1 FG%, 34.7 3-PT% (13-15)
Playoffs: 22.9 PPG, 13.1 RPG, 3.6 APG, 1.7 SPG, 0.9 BPG, 46.0 FG%, 27.8 3-PT% (6-8)
The battles between Barkley and Olajuwon featured similar box scores. There is a reason that the regular season record is as close as it is. Barkley’s best game came during the 1993-94 season when Barkley recorded 38 points and 18 rebounds in a Suns win over the Rockets. Barkley had another stellar performance of 34 points and 26 rebounds in a loss one year later.
Before eventually becoming teammates, Barkley met the Rockets in the second round of the playoffs in 1994 and 1995. The first time, the Rockets upset the Suns in a seven-game series. In the deciding Game 7, Olajuwon outplayed Barkley with 37 points and 17 rebounds to his 24 points and 15 rebounds. Then, the Rockets beat the Suns in the semifinals in Game 7 again. Barkley scored 34 points in Game 6, but the Rockets avoided elimination with 30 points, eight rebounds, and 10 assists from Olajuwon. In the final game, Olajuwon led the Rockets with 29 points and 11 rebounds which outlasted Barkley’s 18 points and 23 rebounds.
Moses Malone - 25 Games, 12-13 (48.0%)
Regular Season: 25.5 PPG, 12.1 RPG, 4.4 APG, 1.3 SPG, 1.0 BPG, 53.9 FG%, 25.5 3-PT% (12-13)
Barkley scored more points, rebounds, assists, and steals when the two played each other the majority of the time. He nearly led the blocks category too, but Malone holds that edge 11-9 with five games tied. Despite having all of that success, Malone held a winning record against Barkley when their two teams faced off.
Malone played for the Bullets, Hawks, Bucks, and Spurs when Barkley played against him. Barkley was transitioning towards becoming a star in the league, while Malone was on the back end of his career. Barkley’s best game was in 1988 when he recorded 42 points and 15 rebounds in a win over the Bullets.
Dominique Wilkins - 42 Games, 22-20 (52.3%)
Regular Season: 23.0 PPG, 11.9 RPG, 3.7 APG, 1.8 SPG, 0.7 BPG, 54.0 FG%, 18.8 3-PT% (22-20)
When it came to scoring, Wilkins got the best of Barkley in 30 of the 42 games, but Barkley outrebounded Wilkins 31 times, so it all evens out. Barkley had 20 games with more assists and steals while the two were deadlocked even when it came to who had more blocks. Barkley’s career-high against Wilkins was 47 points, but Wilkins had the better number with 49 points against Barkley.
The two players often saw each other in the Eastern Conference. When Barkley first came into the league, it was a learning experience as Wilkins typically got the best of him, which included scoring 32 points to Barkley’s seven points in their first-ever meeting. As time grew, Barley began to develop and challenge Wilkins. When the two scored their career-high in points, it was in the same game in 1988. Despite playing in the same conference for many years, the two never played against each other in the playoffs.
Gary Payton - 45 Games, 24-21 (53.3%)
Regular Season: 22.5 PPG, 12.5 RPG, 3.9 APG, 1.0 SPG, 0.9 BPG, 50.3 FG%, 28.7 3-PT%, (16-15)
Playoffs: 22.4 PPG, 13.6 RPG, 3.3 APG, 1.6 SPG, 0.7 BPG, 46.4 FG%, 20.5 3-PT%, (8-6)
Even John Stockton outrebounded Barkley once; however, Payton was set 45-0 in that department which should not be a shocker. The two were different players that played different positions so naturally, Barkley would take the points, rebounds, and blocks categories, while Payton took assists and steals most of the time.
The juicy matchup between the two came in the 1993 Conference Finals when the Suns took on the SuperSonics. Barkley was tamed in the scoring department but then erupted for 43 points, 15 rebounds, and 10 assists in Game 5. After the SuperSonics forced a Game 7, Barkley outplayed Payton with 44 points and 24 rebounds, while Payton was limited to nine points. The two met again in 1997 when Barkley was playing for the Rockets. The Rockets won that seven-game series as well.
Clyde Drexler - 30 Games, 16-14 (53.3%)
Regular Season: 26.9 PPG, 13.5 RPG, 4.0 APG, 2.0 SPG, 1.4 BPG, 58.4 FG%, 32.0 3-PT%, (13-10)
Playoffs: 22.3 PPG, 13.3 RPG, 3.1 APG, 1.1 SPG, 0.9 BPG, 46.3 FG%, 22.7 3-PT%, (3-4)
Playing the Trail Blazers was never easy because the team had Drexler on the team. By 1988, when the two teams played, the box score was stuffed. That included a game where both players scored 37 points in a 127-125 Portland win. It was normal for both players to have very high statistical games.
In 1995, the Suns and Rockets met in the semifinals. The Rockets took a 2-0 lead thanks to two strong games from Barkley. That grew to a 3-1 lead after four games, but the Rockets rattled off three straight wins. That included overcoming 34 points from Barkley in Game 6. In the final game, Drexler scored 29 points, eight rebounds, and four assists to overcome Barkley’s 18 points and 23 rebounds.
Patrick Ewing - 39 Games, 21-18 (53.8%)
Regular Season: 25.8 PPG, 11.9 RPG, 3.9 APG, 1.7 SPG, 0.9 BPG, 55.8 FG%, 28.0 3-PT%, (21-15)
Playoffs: 27.0 PPG, 11.7 RPG, 5.3 APG, 1.7 SPG, 0.7 BPG, 64.4 FG%, 20.0 3-PT% (0-3)
The battle of the big men often went Barkley’s way. Barkley scored more points, rebounds, assists, and steals than Ewing the majority of the time. Dating back to their early playing days, Ewing got the best of Barkley, but by 1987, Barkley was scoring and rebounding more than Ewing on a consistently high average.
While Barkley got the best of Ewing in the regular season, Ewing can say that he never lost to Barkley In the playoffs. When Barkley was with the 76ers in 1989, the team faced off against the Knicks. Despite Barkley outplaying Ewing on paper, the Knicks swept the 76ers in the games. In the third game, Ewing scored just eight points and 12 rebounds in comparison to Barkley’s 19 points and 11 rebounds but New York won the game 116-115.
Reggie Miller - 29 Games, 20-9 (68.9%)
Regular Season: 26.2 PPG, 11.7 RPG, 3.9 APG, 1.7 SPG, 0.7 BPG, 56.5 FG%, 26.9 3-PT%, (20-9)
There were two players that Barkley had tons of success against. The first player was Reggie Miller. Barkley swept all five stat categories by recording more points, rebounds, assists, steals, and blocks than Miller in their head-to-head matchups. That is why it likely led to Barkley’s teams winning 20 of the 29 meetings.
The first meeting came in 1987 which was when Barkley was starting to take the turn toward being a superstar. When Barkley won the MVP, the Suns played the Pacers twice and both times Barkley scored more than 30 points. That included 38 points and nine rebounds in 46 minutes. It was probably best for the Pacers that the two never met in the playoffs.
Kevin Garnett - 14 Games, 11-3 (78.5%)
Regular Season: 17.7 PPG, 11.5 RPG, 4.6 APG, 1.5 SPG, 0.5 BPG, 49.0 FG%, 18.8 3-PT% (8-3)
Playoffs: 18.3 PPG, 10.7 RPG, 4.3 APG, 0.3 SPG, 0.3 BPG, 51.7 FG%, 50.0 3-PT%, (3-0)
Barkley was well established in the league by the time he began his battles with Kevin Garnett. It was the 1995-96 season when the two players first met. Barkley recorded 18 points and 11 rebounds, while Garnett had four points and three boards. By the following season, Garnett began to rise to the same level of play. That included the 1997 playoffs when the Rockets took on the Timberwolves in the first round.
The Rockets swept Minnesota but Garnett played well. In the first game, Barkley recorded 15 points and 11 rebounds, while Garnett produced 21 points and nine rebounds. The second game featured 20 points and 15 rebounds from Barkley, while Garnett had 14 points and 12 rebounds. The final game saw Barkley have 20/6/6 and Garnett have 17/7/6. Eventually, Garnett grew to one of the best bigs in the game, but it just wasn’t his moment to shine during this time.