By Elaine Sanchez, BAMC Public AffairsJune 4, 2012
FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas (June 4, 2012) -- A group of wounded warriors put Charles Barkley's basketball knowledge to the test today during a visit to the Center for the Intrepid here.
"What up guys!" Barkley called out as he entered the military's state-of-the-art physical rehabilitation center, just steps away from San Antonio Military Medical Center.
A few dozen troops -- some in wheelchairs and others standing on prosthetic limbs -- gathered around to grill the former pro basketball player on everything from his predictions for the Spurs' playoff game tonight ("whoever wins tonight will win the series") to his pick for best player in the league ("LeBron James").
A few of the Soldiers ribbed Barkley, an analyst on TNT's "Inside the NBA," about some of his past predictions, particularly regarding San Antonio's beloved Spurs, but "Sir Charles" 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 "third wheel" in a picture.
"He's a really great guy," said Sgt. Ken Patterson, who bantered with Barkley for several minutes after they met. "And I can tell he really cares about soldiers. Plus, I admire the way he sticks to his convictions."
Spc. Chris Haley, who also chatted with Barkley for several minutes, agreed.
"He doesn't hold anything back," he said. "He's one of my favorite commentators."
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 O'Neal.
"It's great how he treats [wounded warriors] like fellow sports enthusiasts," Rebecca Hooper, CFI's program manager, said. "He looks at them as people, not as people to worry about."
Maj. Gen. M. Ted Wong, commander of Brooke Army Medical Center, stopped by to give Barkley, also nicknamed the "Round Mound of Rebound," a commander's coin as a gesture of gratitude.
"Thank you for taking time out to share some joy and cheer," he told him to resounding applause.
On his way out to ready for tonight'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.
"I appreciate and respect what these guys do," he said, "and I'm happy to take time out of my day to come here."