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BARKLEY'S BARK : Big and Brash, 76ers' Young Star Isn't Afraid to Take Shots--Even at Teammates

February 22, 1987|CHRIS BAKER | Times Staff Writer

Charles Barkley loves to talk.

Barkley, the brash star forward of the Philadelphia 76ers, isn't reluctant to speak out on any subject.

Modesty also isn't part of Barkley's image.

"I think I should win the MVP," Barkley said at the start of the season, after he had signed an eight-year contract for $13 million.

Barkley, who celebrated his 24th birthday Friday, said he wants to win at least three MVP trophies. "At the age of 30, I'm going to retire and never get out of bed before noon again," he told reporter Mike Bruton of the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Some regard him as one of the biggest jerks in the National Basketball Assn. Barkley's mouth is running constantly during games as he banters with fans, officials, reporters, himself.

He can be rude and crude to those he doesn't like or trust.

Yet, those close to Barkley say he is completely different among family and friends back home in Leeds, Ala., where he teaches Sunday school.

"Charles is a complex individual," said Bruton, who covers the 76ers and recently spent time talking to Barkley's family and friends in Leeds. "He's a bully and a hotdog on the court. But the person off the court is just a teddy bear."

Bruton, one of the few reporters to whom Barkley opens up, said that Barkley's outward toughness is the result of a turbulent childhood. His father left when he was 1, and Barkley was raised by his mother, who worked as a maid, and his grandmother.

Barkley may be young, rich and famous, but he still remembers what it was like to be poor. Yet, money doesn't seem to motivate Barkley.

Although he owns a Mercedes-Benz, he prefers to drive his Ford Bronco.

And Barkley, who has a $300,000 endorsement contract with Nike, wears sweat suits off the court.

"I try to keep a lid on my endorsements," he told Bruton. "The only reason I do endorsements is to make money. I feel like basically I have enough money for me and my family.

"There's no sense in being greedy. I don't want more money than I can spend. My family has everything they need--my mom, my grandmother and my two brothers, my girlfriend and my future kids.

"I don't need no more money. I don't want to die and have $50 million. That's just greedy.

"I don't care if people like me," Barkley continued. "They don't know nothing, just like the media. They can't bother me. I'm getting paid for the next 80 years.

"I have one basic rule, I treat the person how they treat me, whether it's good or bad. I'm a nice guy but I don't mind being a jerk.

"I can get along with anybody, but I'm not going to take nothing off nobody. When I was growing up, we didn't have anything. There are so many snobby people in the world. They don't have time for people who don't have anything. I've always felt if I had a lot of money, I wouldn't treat people like I was treated because they didn't have anything.

"I don't think I'm better than anybody unless I'm on the court. I don't think anybody can play basketball like me.

"That's one of the screwed-up things about our society. If you have something, everybody treats you good. If you don't, everybody treats you bad. It's very unfortunate, and I've been on both sides of it. Most people I know who have money are jerks. They think they're better than everybody else."

Barkley, selected to the All-Star game for the first time in three seasons, is having an all-star season.

He was not picked by the fans but by the coaches.

"I don't feel the fans and media know anything about the game," Barkley said. "When you get picked to the team by the players and coaches it means more."

He's the NBA's leading rebounder this season and is third in field goal percentage. He is averaging 23.1 points, 13th in the NBA, going into today's game against the Lakers at the Spectrum in Philadelphia. The game will be televised by CBS at 9 a.m. PST.

Although he sat out the recent NBA dunking contest, Barkley is one of the league's best power dunkers.

For all of his success, though, there is little about the NBA that he considers sacred. He has criticized Celtic announcer Johnny Most, calling him an old man who doesn't know anything about basketball.

He has compared the 76ers to a Mercedes and the rival Washington Bullets to a Volkswagen. "Tell Moses (Malone) to get out of that VW. You can't catch a Mercedes in a VW." That, even though the Sixers have yet to beat Malone and the Bullets this season.

Said a fan at the All-Star game to Barkley: "Hey Charles, I've got a message for you. It's Volkswagen three, the Mercedes nothing."

The 76ers, themselves, are Barkley's latest target.

Earlier this week, he called his teammates "wimps and complainers," who won't play with nagging injuries.

"We've got guys who have complained, complained and complained," Barkley said. "That's why we haven't moved ahead.

"We have so many wimps and complainers on this team, that's one of the problems. If the guys we have played every night, we can beat anybody."

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