By Alex Dalenberg

February 20, 201

And now for something completely different. At the risk of alienating our nascent fan base of one or two readers who may or may not care about sports (I haven’t dug deep into the analytics yet), I just want to take a moment to recognize Sir Charles Barkley’s 50th birthday. 

H/T to Wired staffer and fellow UA Journalism alumnus Nathan Olivarez-Giles for cluing me into the fact that the NBA Hall of Famer is hitting the big Five-O. 

But what does this have to do with popular literature? Not much except for the incredible volume of now-retro Barkley swag generated during the Mound Round of Rebound’s heyday. Sure, Michael Jordan’s 50th birthday got the bigger shout-out this week. But while Jordan’s global brand was always tightly controlled, Barkley is the hands down winner in the sense of humor department. 

And lest we discount the classic 1990s film Space Jam, let’s not forget that Jordan basically played straight man to the Looney Tunes, not a very difficult draw.

Barkley, meanwhile, battled Godzilla one-on-one and solved mysteries. The former in the aptly titled Godzilla vs. Barkley, by Dark Horse Comics, and the latter in Hamilton Comics’ Sir Charles Barkley and the Referee Murders, both published in 1993, the same year Barkley’s Phoenix Suns fell to Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls in the NBA Finals. 

I can proudly say that — growing up in the Phoenix suburbs — our family had a copy of each, which my stepfather kept in an armoire convinced they would one day become collector’s items. Alas, they might need to live in the attic a few years more, because, as far as I can tell, they’re worth maybe $20 today

I was surprised to learn that the Referee Murders were actually written in part by Alan Dean Foster, a successful fantasy and science fiction author. Foster is probably most notable for his film novelizations and expanded universe novels, including the Alien series, Star Trek and Star Wars. Foster actually wrote the original novelization for the first Star Wars film.

According to almighty Wikipedia, he also has what basically amounts to a lifetime achievement award from the International Association of Media Tie-In Writers. Sure, he’s never won a Hugo Award, but, in my mind, if you’re going to pick an industry, there’s no shame in being the best at it. I’d take it. 

At any rate, Barkley remains a huge personality in every sense of the word and, at least in an alternate universe created by Alan Dean Foster, one hell of an amateur detective.

Also, in perhaps one of the weirdest Nike spots ever filmed, an opera star.