The normally exuberant Charles Barkley looked like a tired, beaten man after his most exciting season had just ended.
"It's just really difficult; you just hurt," Barkley said Sunday night after the Phoenix Suns' 99-98 loss in Game 6 of the NBA Finals gave the Chicago Bulls their third consecutive championship. "People always talk about how much a guy makes or how many commercials he's in, but it doesn't matter 'cause it really feels bad."
Barkley had 21 points and 17 rebounds but failed to accomplish the last of his goals.
"You try to keep the emotions in control but it hurts a lot," he said.
Barkley led the Suns to the best record in the NBA this season and won his first MVP award. That still came up short for one of the game's most colorful people.
"All the way back in (training) camp, we said we wanted to get to the Finals, and that's a lot easier said than done," he said. "But it just wasn't meant to be."
Barkley felt, as others seemed to think, that the momentum would have shifted to the Suns had they forced a seventh game.
"I knew that if they were going to win the series, it would have to be today," he said.
Barkley, who played despite injuring his right elbow in Game 2, almost refused to concede defeat.
"It's very disappointing because we feel that we were just as good as they are," he said. "Even the games we lost, theoretically, we could have won any of them."
He later said: "It was just that after six, seven, eight months and it's over. Just like that."
He expressed his disappointment philosophically.
"It's very frustrating because that's all you got," he said. "If you have a bad day, or see your team lose, you can go back to your job, and maybe it's fun. But for an athlete, this is real life."
When asked what he would do next year, he said: "I can't answer that question."