Born February 20, 1963 in Leeds, Alabama, Barkley weighed just six pounds at birth and suffered from anemia to the degree that he required a complete blood transfusion at six weeks. His parents Frank and Charcey Glenn Barkley divorced when he was still a baby. He was raised by his mother and grandmother. By the tenth grade, when he was a chubby five feet-ten inches and not yet a varsity player, Barkley had decided he was going to play in the NBA and make a great deal of money. His prospects improved when a growth spurt pushed him to six feet-four inches prior to his senior year. Subsequently, he starred on the Leeds High varsity team, averaging 19.1 points and 17.9 rebounds per game. When an Auburn University assistant coach saw Barkley score twenty-six points in the state semifinals, he recommended him to head coach Sonny Smith as fat but decidedly fast and talented.
At Auburn, Barkley broke the university record for blocked shots with 145. During his junior year he was named the Southeastern Conference Player of the Year. Barkley also came close to joining the U.S. Olympic team in 1984, being one of the last four players eliminated. Coach Bobby Knight of Indiana University was not a fan of Barkley's showy style of play, which included 360-degree spinning dunks. Shortly thereafter, the young player left Auburn a year early to join the NBA. He was the fifth player selected in the 1984 draft, behind Hakeem Olajuwon and Michael Jordan, and signed with the Philadelphia 76ers.