And then Doug Moe, the Sixers' new coach, said that Barkley's game was in decline. That hurt. "My game is in decline, but I resent him saying that," Barkley says. "I'm not as good as I was three years ago, but nobody is as good at 30 as they were at 27. I mean, I'm the only guy I know who could be top 10 in scoring, top 10 in rebounding and top 10 in field goal percentage and have a bad year."
Will Barkley still be a happy sheriff by June? "Hey," he says. "We're going to have a really good team, deep and versatile. I'll put KJ and [Dan] Majerle up against anybody. If we play hard every night, I'm serious, we can beat anybody."
Still, Barkley admits that most of the weight is on him and KJ. "He's gotta play great; I gotta play great," says Barkley. "I want him to play like he did two years ago. He was the best point guard in basketball. He was unstoppable. Last year he was injured so much, teams made him shoot his jumper. He wasn't as effective. You can't win NBA titles shooting jumpers."
If things start going south, you won't believe how fast Barkley will come down with some serious Sunrash.
CAUTION: MIX CAREFULLY
If you are wondering how your new Barkley is going to fit in with the old Suns, don't worry. You would be far wiser to worry about how the old Suns will fit in with your new Barkley.
At the opening of Phoenix's gorgeous new America West Arena on Oct. 18, Westphal started KJ. Tom Chambers, Majerle, Rambis and Mark West—the five Suns who played the most minutes over the last four years—in an exhibition game against the Boston Celtics. By the end of the night, though, Barkley had melted down that era and begun to forge his own. He converted 10 of his 12 shot attempts, wound up with 27 points and was ejected from the game for cussing an official and for hanging on a rim. He left the floor to a standing ovation.
"Guys thought I was too mean in camp," says Barkley, "but they don't get it. You can't just show up on opening night and say, "O.K., now we're going to be mean." I think living in the sun makes these guys soft. John Havlicek told me that. In the East you wake up, you look out, and there's snow on the ground. You start the day pissed off. Out here you wake up, it's beautiful out. You put on the Bermudas and have breakfast on the porch. It happened to X-Man [Celtic forward Xavier McDaniel, who played one season with the Suns, to lukewarm reviews]. It's got lobe every night. That's my motto: Even night."
Are the Suns soft? Last season when then coach Cotton Fitzsimmons was walking off the floor alter Portland had spit them out like fatty pork in the second round of the playoffs, assistant coach Lionel Hollins turned to him and said, "We need to go out and get us a Charles Barkley." A month later the Suns had the real thing. Now they're trying to figure out how to live with him.
"It's like Malcolm X wrote about LBJ and Goldwater in his autobiography," says KJ. "LBJ was like a fox. You had to watch him because you couldn't trust him. On the other hand, you knew Goldwater was going to bite you. Chuck is like Gold-water. We knew what we were getting."