I hate to do this, but I think I'm going to have to report the Lakers to the Better Business Bureau. They are pulling a scam on the world, mis-advertising a product.
Here's what the Lakers did the other night at the Forum: They announced that Charles Barkley and the Phoenix Suns would be in town for the game against the home team.
Now, I don't know about the rest of the team, but that wasn't Barkley who showed up out there.
Oh, it was a clever forgery, a masterful makeup job. The guy wearing No. 34, and Barkley's name on his back, \o7 looked \f7 like Barkley, all right. You know, kind of round and cuddly. Barkley doesn't look like a beach ball exactly. But neither is he Manute Bol.
But we all know what Barkley \o7 acts \f7 like--and this guy had no clue.
The Charles Barkley we all know is a guy who plays out of a scowl. He is kind of constantly irritated. It doesn't take much to tick him off. He is usually belting a guy outside of some saloon in Indianapolis, criticizing his teammates, the league, the ownership, the officiating, the crowd or the price of lima beans. He has got a nice, even disposition--he is always mad.
He is like a contained explosion, a boiler with legs that is always at dangerous gauge levels. When he was over in Barcelona for the Olympics last summer, he got the whole continent mad at him, and even Michael Jordan had to take him to one side and cool him off. He advised an Angolan competitor, for instance, to go back home to his spear and his loincloth.
My clever friend, Rick Reilly, calls him "The Prodigal Sun," which tells it all.
\o7 That \f7 Charles Barkley usually arrives on the floor in an ill humor, a bad frame of mind and it gets immediately worse. He plays basketball like a Chicago Bear fullback on the two-yard line. If he were a dog he would be a Rottweiler.
The Barkley who showed up at the Forum the other night was an unreasonable facsimile. First of all, he came on court smiling. Once, when he made a basket, he came back upcourt and slapped high-fives with a spectator. The real Barkley would have snarled at the guy to sit down or he would knock him down. Oh, this impostor had studied a little bit for the role. He had the shaved head and he tried the baleful stare that makes the real Barkley's opponents--and sometimes, teammates--quake.
At the end of the second quarter, he got in a bit of a mix-up under the basket with Sedale Threatt and Sam Perkins and Barkley wound up, unaccountably, on his back under the basket. When the referee failed to call a foul and, instead, called an infraction on Barkley for traveling, No. 34 leaped to his feet in his best Barkley imitation and began to charge at the official. The crowd loved it. This was what they paid to see--the bad boy of basketball in full, furious eruption.
Alas! This imitation Barkley allowed himself to be led aside by a little, 6-foot-1 teammate. The real Barkley would have charged into a three-day suspension. Or Murder One.
Of course, the final test of this clever impersonation was in the locker room afterward. The real Barkley would have surveyed all the microphones, pencils, notebooks and cameras with distaste and roared, "Get out of my face, creeps!"
This No. 34 was almost polite, responsive, not patient, exactly, but not throwing on his clothes and pushing journalists aside, either. Did he mind being the villain? he was asked. He bristled. "I'm not a villain--who says I'm a villain?" he wanted to know. Well, er, the booing, the reporter put in lamely. Barkley almost smiled. "They only boo you because you're good," he smirked.
Did he feel he was a leader on this team--\o7 the \f7 leader? "The concept is overrated," he quickly said. "You play your game. You lead by example. You lead by rebounds and points."
Then it was pointed out that he was, all things considered, a small (6-6) power forward and always seemed to be guarded by guys a half a foot taller, the big guys of the league.
"They better put the big guys on me," he shot back. "Otherwise, I'll get 100 points."
And then, suddenly, you thought this might be the real Barkley after all. That was a Barkley quote if you ever heard one, as was the one where he was asked if playing for Coach Paul Westphal had improved his game, and he retorted, "I was a pretty good player when I got here."
You remembered that this No. 34 had thrown in a Barkley game--25 points, 23 rebounds. He killed the Lakers. Maybe it was the real article, after all.
All the same, I'm going to check to see where Rich Little was Friday night.