Charles Barkley never played football at Auburn, let alone won a Heisman Trophy. But his basketball accomplishments there, combined with his exploits following college, proved enough to grant him the same form of immortality bestowed upon the school’s foremost gridiron heroes.
Auburn announced Saturday that it will be erecting a statue in honor of Barkley, who played there from 1981 to 1984. He becomes the fourth Tiger so honored, joining a trio of Heisman winners in Pat Sullivan, Bo Jackson and Cam Newton.
“It just means a great deal to me,” Barkley said (via auburntigers.com). “Being a kid from Alabama, going to Auburn. I think everybody knows what Auburn means to me. It’s going to be pretty cool.”
Fittingly, in a way, the announcement came at a football game, during a first-quarter break in the action while Auburn took on (and clobbered) Arkansas. Jackson, a friend of Barkley’s and a contemporary of his with the Tigers, made the announcement on the jumbo video screen at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
“Me and Bo have so much fun together,” Barkley told the Columbus (Ga.) Ledger-Enquirer. “I tell people one of the greatest highlights of my life is going to college with Bo Jackson.”
Barkley also showed he has no illusions about the potential popularity of his statue versus Jackson’s, saying, “Football always going to be king here.”
The 1983-84 SEC player of the year, Barkley averaged 14.1 points and 9.6 rebounds for Auburn, earning the nickname “The Round Mound of Rebound” for his unusual physique. The 76ers selected him fifth overall in the 1984 NBA draft, and he went on to a Hall of Fame career. Since then, Barkley has gained renown as an entertaining and blunt basketball analyst with TNT.
“It’s more than about what Charles Barkley accomplished here at Auburn, which is certainly historic, but it has been about his life’s work and contribution,” Tigers basketball coach Bruce Pearl said of the statue. “We want to recognize one of the most respected, philanthropic NBA legends, Hall of Famer, for his lifetime achievements.
“Our Auburn family is so blessed to have an Auburn man like Charles Barkley in the public eye representing us. A statue and a symbol like this serves to bring attention to that and will stand the test of time.”
Auburn Athletic Director Jay Jacobs said in a statement that Barkley is “a legend on the court who became a cultural icon in America. His many contributions to Auburn, the NBA and society deserve to be honored and recognized. A statue outside the arena he never played in but in many ways helped build is a fitting tribute to the man whose likeness is already known all over the world. This permanent tribute is our way of showing Charles how much Auburn loves and appreciates him.”
“One of the greatest things to happen to me in my life,” Barkley said. “It’s pretty special.”