FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas â€” A group of wounded warriors put Charles Barkleyâ€™s basketball knowledge to the test today during a visit to the Center for the Intrepid here.
â€œWhat up guys!â€ Barkley called out as he entered the militaryâ€™s state-of-the-art physical rehabilitation center, just steps away from San Antonio Military Medical Center.
A few dozen troops â€” some in wheelchairs and others standing on prosthetic limbs â€” gathered around to grill the former pro basketball player on everything from his predictions for the Spursâ€™ playoff game Monday (â€œwhoever wins this one will win the seriesâ€) to his pick for best player in the league (â€œLeBron Jamesâ€).
A few of the Soldiers ribbed Barkley, an analyst on TNTâ€™s â€œInside the NBA,â€ about some of his past predictions, particularly regarding San Antonioâ€™s beloved Spurs, but â€œSir Charlesâ€ took it in stride. He joked with the troops, taking time to pose for pictures and sign basketballs and gym towels. One amputee Soldier even decided to pull off his prosthetic to be the â€œthird wheelâ€ in a picture.
â€œHeâ€™s a really great guy,â€ said Sgt. Ken Patterson, who bantered with Barkley for several minutes after they met. â€œAnd I can tell he really cares about Soldiers. Plus, I admire the way he sticks to his convictions.â€
Spc. Chris Haley, who also chatted with Barkley for several minutes, agreed.
â€œHe doesnâ€™t hold anything back,â€ he said. â€œHeâ€™s one of my favorite commentators.â€
Barkley invited the wounded warriors to ask him anything, but, with the playoffs heating up and some avid sports fans in the room, the topic centered solely on basketball. Barkley talked about how he researches teams and players before each game and his fondness for his co-host, fellow former pro player Shaquille Oâ€™Neal.
â€œItâ€™s great how he treats [wounded warriors] like fellow sports enthusiasts,â€ Rebecca Hooper, CFIâ€™s program manager, said. â€œHe looks at them as people, not as people to worry about.â€
Maj. Gen. M. Ted Wong, commander of Brooke Army Medical Center, stopped by to give Barkley, also nicknamed the â€œRound Mound of Rebound,â€ a commanderâ€™s coin as a gesture of gratitude.
â€œThank you for taking time out to share some joy and cheer,â€ he told him to resounding applause.
On his way out to ready for tonightâ€™s game, Barkley said he was the one who was grateful. In his opinion, he said, there are only five real jobs: teacher, firefighter, police officer, doctor and a member of the armed forces.
â€œI appreciate and respect what these guys do,â€ he said, â€œand Iâ€™m happy to take time out of my day to come here.â€