Barkley, who was as notable for his bar-room altercations and controversial comments as for as his talent, said: "I guess the big fella in the sky wanted me to finish right where I started. There were a lot of people here tonight who saw me play my first game and saw me play my last game."
Barkley broke down in tears in the locker room after the injury in the first quarter of what was to be his final regular-season game in Philadelphia. The crowd gave him a standing ovation as he limped to the Rockets' bench on crutches.
Barkley was going up to block a shot by Tyrone Hill when he lost his balance and hit the floor hard in the first quarter. The tendon that attaches his thigh to his kneecap ruptured. The injury, rare in basketball, requires surgery and at least six months of rehabilitation.
The team doctor, Jack McPhilemy, said it would be career-threatening even for a young player. Barkley will be 37 in February. "I knew it was over as soon as I saw it," Barkley said. "I knew it was over when it first happened. I saw the way the kneecap was bulging through my leg and I said: `Well, it's been fun."'
Hill embraced Barkley after the game, wished him luck and thanked him for paving the way for other players. "He did so much for the league, no one will really know how much," Hill said.
The Sixers honoured Barkley before the game and flew his mother, Charcey Glenn, and grandmother, Johnnie Mickens, to the match.
Barkley was drafted fifth overall by the Sixers out of Auburn in 1984 and led them to the play-offs six times in eight years. He won his first and only rebounding title in 1987, led two United States Olympic teams to gold medals, was the NBA's Most Valuable Player in 1993 and was selected one of the league's 50 greatest players, but he failed to win a championship.