The last three years of Barkley's career were spent with the Houston Rockets. He was happy with the change, but would spend less time playing because of injuries. During the 1996-1997 season he was named one of the NBA's top fifty players of all time. Not only was he near the top of the NBA's all-time scoring list, he was one of only four players in league history to accumulate at least 20,000 points, 10,000 rebounds, and 3,500 assists. A torn quadriceps tendon reinforced Barkley's decision to retire in 2000. It was a difficult parting for the player, who would later be tempted to follow the example of Michael Jordan coming out of retirement.
In 2000, Barkley found an arena where his strong opinions and often humorous style of expressing himself were quite welcome. He became a commentator for TNT's Inside the NBA, working with co-analyst Kenny Smith and host Ernie Johnson. In his opinion, the job required little more than being himself. "Prepare for my work? … Hell, I played sixteen years. I can tell you who can play and who can't," he remarked in Time. His contributions helped make the program one of the most highly regarded studio sport shows and earned him a contract extension in 2002 that was reported to be worth 1.5 million per year.