By Spike Eskin

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – Charles Barkley celebrates his 50th birthday today. If he was still alive, Kurt Cobain would be celebrating his 46th birthday today.

Chances are, a list of famous birthdays is the only time you’ll see their names close to one another.

You never have any sports idols like you do when you’re a teenager. You never love any music like you loved it when you were a teenager. That’s why classic rock radio stations exist, it’s why people love to watch classic games on television, and think that today’s players would never match up against those that played when we were kids.

I grew up listening to Kurt Cobain and Nirvana. I grew up watching Charles Barkley. Both men shaped who I am. I love music in large part because of Nirvana. I love basketball in large part because of Charles Barkley.

Cobain changed what we thought a rock star was, and what a rock star would be. The man and the band are a study in contradictions. Nirvana ended an era in music and created an era. They were the leaders, at least in terms of cultural significance, of what is probably the last “movement” we’ll ever see in music history. The music was loud and soft. The music’s image was anti-pop, but the songs and their verse/chorus/verse structure were as pop as they could be. The man hated being famous, but couldn’t find a way to step aside.

Charles Barkley is also a study contradictions. Everyone loves him, but he can’t help saying things that would otherwise make them feel differently. As a player, he was short, but still the best rebounder in the league. Charles Barkley is the nicest guy you’ll ever meet, but somehow famous for spitting on a little girl, getting arrested for a DUI and throwing a guy through a window. He’s not a role model, he told us, as he was selling us his shoes so we could be just like him.

I’ll listen to In Utero for the rest of my life, and I’m convinced I’ll probably never hear anything better. In my mind I know it’s my heart talking, but it’s how I feel all the same.

I don’t feel like I’ll ever see a power forward like Charles Barkley. In my mind I know I’ll probably see better, but my heart knows Charles was the best.

Happy birthday Kurt. Happy birthday Charles. Thanks for the memories.


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