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  Wednesday, Apr. 19 8:30pm ET
Barkley exits on his terms

HOUSTON -- Charles Barkley ended his 16-year career the way he wanted to.

Determined to go out standing up, the Houston Rockets forward thrilled the hometown crowd with 7:26 to go in the second quarter Wednesday night when he reported into the regular season finale against the Vancouver Grizzlies.

Charles Barkley
Charles Barkley grabs a rebound and is fouled by Vancouver's Felipe Lopez.

Barkley, out since Dec. 8 with a ruptured knee tendon, received a standing ovation amid shouts of "Barkley! Barkley! Barkley!" Fans waved cardboard cutout Barkley masks and groaned when Barkley missed his first shot with 6:10 left in the half.

Rockets coach Rudy Tomjanovich obviously was trying to get Barkley in the scoring column. Barkley missed his next two shots before he finally got a rebound and scored with 1:24 left in the second quarter.

That got him another standing ovation, and Tomjanovich took him out with 1:19 left.

Barkley left smiling, finishing with six minutes of playing time, two points, one rebound, one assist and a blocked shot.

When he returned to the sidelines for the second half, a cushy recliner awaited him.

The Rockets almost had another thrill with a fourth quarter comeback, but the Grizzlies held on for a 96-92 victory that snapped a seven-game losing streak. Former Rocket Michael Dickerson led Vancouver with 20 points.

But it was Barkley's night. After the game, the accolades flowed.

"He has what I call the heart of a champion," Tomjanovich said. "He always played to win. He put the team above himself and he always followed the golden rule: `The open man gets the ball.' If he was double-teamed 10 times, he passed it out."

Rockets center Hakeem Olajuwon also praised Barkley.

"It's been my honor to have played against Charles and to have played with him on the same team," Olajuwon said. "In the beginning, we thought it was going to be hard to play on the same team with Charles, but it took only five minutes to know different."

Rockets vice president Carroll Dawson told Barkley that he "owned the backboards in the NBA" and then presented Barkley with the backboard fom which he got his final NBA rebound.

"You really own this one," Dawson said.

Barkley accepted the praise graciously.

"For 16 years, I've lived every kid's fantasy," Barkley said. "It's unfortunate I didn't come to Houston until I was on the downside. I wish I could have played my entire career here."

The Rockets trailed 84-71 with 7:59 left in the game but tied it at 90-90 with 1:27 to play. The Grizzlies hit six straight free throws to hold on. Walt Williams led Houston with 20 points.

After a dazzling 16-year career with Philadelphia, Phoenix and Houston that earned him a spot among the 50 greatest players in NBA history, Barkley brought it to a close against the Grizzlies.

Barkley's career was thought to have ended Dec. 8 when he ruptured a knee tendon against Philadelphia.

But he wanted to walk away -- rather than be carried off the court -- in his last game, which is why Barkley one more time despite his knee being only about 70 percent healed.

For all his flamboyance throughout his career, Barkley finished with a humble tone.

"Basketball doesn't owe me anything, I owe everything in my life to basketball, everything," Barkley said. "I'm 37 years old. I'm rich beyond my wildest dreams. I have great material things. I've been all over the world and it's all because of basketball."

Barkley considered playing Tuesday night at Phoenix, where he performed for four seasons and came closest to winning an NBA championship in 1993. But Tomjanovich didn't want to take a chance with Barkley's knee still less than 100 percent.

"This is a sad day for me, I've been playing basketball since I was nine years old and now I'm not going to be playing anymore," Barkley said. "That's the only thing that makes me sad. I won't miss the limelight.

"The difficult thing is that nothing I'll do in my life from now on will come close to what I've accomplished in basketball in the last 16 years."

Barkley was the fifth player chosen overall in the 1984 NBA draft by Philadelphia after a standout career at Auburn. Barkley's draft class included Michael Jordan, John Stockton and current teammate Hakeem Olajuwon.

After playing six seasons with the 76ers, Barkley was traded to the Phoenix Suns and led the them to the NBA Finals, where they lost to the Bulls in 1993. Barkley was in his fourth season with the Rockets when he suffered the injury in Philadelphia.

"It's important for me from a mental standpoint to get out there," Barkley said of returning for one last game. "It's a mindset thing. It's been a grueling ordeal to get to this point. I just want to walk off under my own power."

Barkley averaged 22.2 points, 11.7 rebounds and 3.9 assists in 1,072 career games and won MVP honors in 1992-93.

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