DEAR PHOENIX SUNS,
Congratulations on the purchase of your new Charles Barkley. Rest assured you have acquired one of the finest power forwards ever made. However, for your own safety, please read all instructions before using this product, and follow them carefully. Very carefully.
EXAMINE CONTENTS WITH CARE
Take time to check out all the working parts on your new Barkley. The shaky left knee, the left ankle, the bruised ribs and the dislocated linger that caused him to miss 21 games during the last two seasons are fine. You've got to expect your 6'6", 252-pound Barkley model to show a little wear and tear after eight NBA seasons and 650 games, including playoffs. But there may be some things you don't know. Right now, for instance, there is probably not a pro athlete in America who treats fans better. No kidding. Ever since he came to Phoenix in June in the mega-trade that sent All-Star guard Jeff Hornacek, center Andrew Lang and forward Tim Perry to the Philadelphia 76ers, Barkley has been first-communion good. Sir Charles is pushing a royal 30 now. All he wants is a happy ending to his Peyton Place career.
Take a close look. Is this the Barkley you know?
Exhibit A: A young man who had obviously not polluted his alcohol stream with blood could not get over the fact that he was standing next to His Roundness. And so he came up to Barkley at an eatery in Flagstaff, Ariz., home of the Sun training camp, and asked for his autograph six times. Each time Barkley accommodated him. On the last three trips the inebriated worshiper rubbed Barkley's shiny bald head back and forth, forth and back, as though he could not believe there was no hair there. Through it all Barkley gritted his teeth and grinned, like a perfectly trained Doberman at a petting Zoo.
Exhibit B: Barkley went the whole week in Flagstaff and reset nobody's nose with his fist. He signed anything, anywhere. He signed while playing darts at a local watering hole, while eating chicken sandwiches in a local feasting hole, while playing pool at a bar, while lining up putts at Forest Highlands Golf Club and even while waiting at stoplights all over town. He signed cards, napkins, dollar bills, kids' drawings and even a pair of panties (pulled out of a purse by a 35-year-old woman).
Exhibit C: When one woman came up to him three times and introduced him to foreign friends as "the biggest——in the U.S.A.," Barkley took it with a smile and a handshake. If this had happened last year, the woman might still be in traction.
Nowadays, though, you can't make him flinch. Barkley is determined to go from Philly to Phoenix to the Phinals, and he's not going to blow it by becoming the Prodigal Sun. Every day is Christmas to him, windchill 89°. For years in Philadelphia, Barkley had begged for a team he could take to the title, and he might finally have one in the Suns, the only team in the NBA to win at least 53 regular-season games during each of the last four years. He is coming off his Barcelona Bash to join one of the most talent-thick teams in basketball, and he has already Hexed his muscles. "There's a new sheriff in the West," Barkley keeps telling Karl Malone of the Utah Jazz, heretofore the holder of that title. "Gonna be some changes round these parts."
Do not be fooled! Your new Barkley can be mean, cruel and dangerous. And that's just during layup drills.