Michael Phelps says Charles Barkley is the type of friend who's 'always checking on me' so he never feels alone in low moments

Michael Phelps (left) claps; Charles Barkley gives a thumbs up.
Legendary Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps (left) and NBA icon Charles Barkley.REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth; Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
  • Michael Phelps has fostered an unlikely friendship with NBA legend Charles Barkley.

  • During a mental health forum, the Olympic swimmer cited Barkley as someone who's "always checking in."

  • "Him and I go back and forth randomly at the most awkward hours," Phelps said.

NEW YORK — Michael Phelps has found a pal in Charles Barkley.

It's unclear how the iconic Olympic swimmer — who has won more gold and total medals than any other athlete in Olympic history — first came to know Barkley, who is 22 years his senior. But somehow, he struck up an unlikely friendship with the NBA legend-turned-commentator, he confirmed Wednesday.

Phelps, who was at the 2023 US Open for a forum on mental health in sports, was asked whom he turns to when he's struggling to cope. He cited his wife, his therapist, and "Chuck Barkley."

charles barkley
Charles Barkley.Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP

The 38-year-old said that he and the 11-time NBA All-Star "go back and forth randomly at the most awkward hours."

"We just check in on one another," Phelps said. "He's just always checking in on me."

"I have a few friends like that," he added. "I will be going through some kind of spell, spill, spiral — whatever you want to call it — and bing, my phone lights up, a text comes through. I'm able to relax because you don't feel alone in that moment."

Phelps noted that these types of friendships have been "life-changing" for him. Earlier in Wednesday's conversation, the Baltimore, Maryland, native revealed that he struggled with "post-Olympic depression" after his first games in 2004.

Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps holds a gold medal
Michael Phelps kisses one of his 23 Olympic gold medals.Adam Pretty/Getty Images

Instead of seeking out professional help or turning to those in his life for support, Phelps "stuffed all of those things down, compartmentalized those things" until "they got bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger," he said.

By the time he had three Olympic games under his belt and was preparing for a fourth, he had no choice but to address the issue.

"I got to the breaking point in 2014 where I didn't want to be alive," Phelps said. "For me, I decided that something had to change."

Michael Phelps
Michael Phelps.Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Leaning into "open communication" and confiding in those closest to him were keys to getting his mental health back on the right track, he said.

"It's just getting things out, right?" Phelps said. "For me it's always trying to get things out in the open. The more you're carrying it, the heavier that backpack gets on your pack."

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