Barkley choked back tears in June when he announced that he would not retire, in spite of his intense desire to do so. Barkley, a disk already bulging in his back, missed a career-high 17 games last season when he tore the quadriceps tendon above his right knee on Jan. 7, and at 31 he did not relish a summer of rehab. After 10 seasons he had resigned himself to life without basketball. He would never win an NBA title.
"Until the last 48 hours I was definitely going to retire," Barkley said, misty-eyed, at his unretirement press conference in Phoenix. "And...uh...the person I've got to thank for coming back—I hate to give him credit—is Danny Ainge."
Today, playing pain-free and fearsomely, Barkley again searches for words to describe the good deed his friend performed for him this summer. Only, this time he isn't required to blink back any tears. "Ainge," Barkley begins pensively, "is an——. Some things just never change. He was on my case every day, buggin' me, callin' me, buggin' me, callin' me." Ainge walks past. "Ain't that right, Whitey?" Barkley asks. "Otherwise I was gone."
Ainge feigns exasperation. "I'm still not sure talking him out of retirement was a good thing," he says as Barkley natters on and on, like a set of those chattering novelty teeth. "Ask me in about eight months."
By then we'll confirm that Copernicus was right. In 1543 the Polish astronomer and hoop prognosticator wrote: "Finally we shall place the Sun himself at the center of the universe." It's about damn time, if you ask Barkley. "The world is mine," says Shaq. True enough. But for now, that world revolves around the Sun himself.