HOUSTON (AP) -- Starting today, life will be different for Charles Barkley. He understands that and he's ready.
''I've played against Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Dr. J., Michael (Jordan), and now guys like Grant Hill, Patrick Ewing,'' Barkley said after his final game Wednesday night. ''It won't be the same down at the rec.''
Barkley put the cap on a 16-year NBA career with six minutes against the Vancouver Grizzlies, his first playing time since Dec. 8, when he ruptured a knee tendon that cost him most of his final season before retirement.
He had two points, an assist, a rebound and a blocked shot in six minutes. That's all he wanted.
''I can't explain what tonight meant to me,'' Barkley said. ''I've won and lost a lot of games. But the last memory I had playing was being carried off the court. I couldn't get over that mental block.
''I didn't have any illusions of getting 20 points and 10 rebounds, but it was important for me to feel good and walk off the court.''
Barkley checked into the game with 7:26 to go in the second quarter, and received a standing ovation amid shouts of ''Barkley, Barkley, Barkley.'' Fans waved cardboard cutout Barkley masks and groaned when Barkley missed his first shot.
Rockets coach Rudy Tomjanovich kept Barkley in the game until he got an offensive rebound and put it back for a basket with 1:24 to play in the first half. Barkley left the game with 1:19 to play, and that was it.
Barkley returned to the sidelines for the second half, where a fluffy recliner awaited him.
''One of the hardest things, is no matter what I accomplish the rest of my life, nothing will compare to what I did these last 16 years,'' Barkley said.
The Grizzlies held off a late Houston push for a 96-92 victory in the season finale for both teams. Michael Dickerson led Vancouver with 20 points. The Grizzlies snapped a seven-game losing streak, and Walt Williams led Houston with 20 points.
The Rockets saved their praise of Barkley until after the game.
''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 said he was pleased he had a chance to play with 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 where he got his final NBA rebound.
''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.''
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 he save the last for the Rockets.
''This is a sad day for me, I've been playing basketball since I was 9 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.
Barkley was the fifth player chosen in the 1984 NBA draft, by Philadelphia, after a standout career at Auburn. Barkley's draft class included Jordan, John Stockton and Olajuwon.
After playing six seasons with the 76ers, Barkley was traded to the 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 was injured in Philadelphia.
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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