NBA Vice-President Rod Thorn, the man who hands out fines and suspensions, was asked recently about Charles Barkley. "It's fair to say," Thorn said, "that when it comes to visits to my office, Charles is in a class by himself."
This season Barkley is having a particularly rough time, and he is making life rough on others. At 2:30 on the morning of Dec. 22, he got into a fight outside a Milwaukee bar, breaking a heckler's nose with a punch. He spent four hours in jail and was charged with misdemeanor battery and disorderly conduct. He will answer those charges at a trial later this month. Verbally, Sir Charles has been just as rough and tumble. He has characterized Philadelphians as "racist" and teammates as "lazy." Last month Barkley suggested that his friend Magic Johnson shouldn't take part in the NBA All-Star Game.
Barkley has always had opinions, though lately they seem to have hardened. While he remains one of the most quotable of athletes, in sound bites it's difficult to get a complete picture of the man.
Sports Illustrated: What's bugging you?
Charles Barkley: Nothing.
SI: What was bugging you in Milwaukee? [The district attorney alleges that Barkley broke James R. McCarthy's nose after leaving Rosie's Waterworks and that when police intervened, Barkley was wielding a street sign above his head.]
CB: The thing in Milwaukee was nothing I could avoid. The guy followed me for two blocks. And I avoided him for two blocks. But once he put his hands on me, he was going to get hit. He wanted to see how tough I was. It happens all the time.
SI: Where were you walking?
CB: To the car. He was about 30 yards behind me. I could hear somebody screaming my name. But then, before I knew it, he was up on me. There were three guys. It was a little scary for a while.
SI: Did you hit him hard?