"Wait, it's a Clyde Drexler sighting, too," Barkley says. "Is he going to play, too?" Drexler, whom Tomjanovich had rested in San Antonio, giggles. He acknowledges that he didn't play against the Spurs and says that was the reason for his lack of productivity there. Drexler wants to know how Barkley explains his own lack of productivity. He had only five points and eight rebounds in 20 minutes against the Spurs. Drexler says the box score listed him as a DID NOT PLAY—COACH'S DECISION. Barkley, Drexler says, was a DID NOT PLAY—CHARLES BARKLEY'S DECISION.
"DNP-CBD," Barkley says, trying out the initials. "I like that."
The stories about big-time trades, in which a superstar joins another superstar, always raise the question of "chemistry." How will the superstars react to each other? Will one ball be enough? One stretch limo? One whatever. In this case, with three superstars involved, with the noisiest one joining the two residents who already have won a championship together, the questions of chemistry are even more obvious.
"What I think we have now are three great leaders," Tomjanovich says. "We have Hakeem, who is very quiet but when the big game arrives, is not afraid to speak his mind. We have Clyde, who is a little more vocal, and then we have Charles, who is an outspoken person, who likes the attention. I think it all works positively.
"Hakeem really didn't know Charles until the Olympics this year, but when he came back from the Games, he couldn't stop talking about him. Hakeem really wanted Charles to come here. Everybody's working together."
Barkley certainly feels at home. Home? He has bought a house in the Houston suburb of Sugarland, sold his house on the outskirts of Phoenix. Home? "I don't know if I'm going to like the city of Houston," he says, "but I know I like this team. I like this team a lot."
He does not worry about the chemical content of basketball. In his view, there should be no argument about whether this is "Olajuwon's team" or " Drexler's team" or " Barkley's team." These are not kids here with egos to match their salaries. These are three thirtysomething gunslingers trying to pull off one last stick 'em up before they ride off into the hills. "If this were five years ago, I'd say for sure that we'd win a championship," Barkley says. "But we're all on the downside now. Do we have enough left? That's the question."
He feels at home because basketball is his home. What's different? He says what he wants to say. No need to tiptoe at home. He talks loudly about the presidential election. ("Dole started 20 points behind, spent millions of dollars, and now he's 21 points behind. What kind of a campaign is that?") He hoots on teammates of all color and size. He yells for service.
"Can you bring me my shoes?" he says to the equipment man.
"Do you want them laced or unlaced?" the equipment man asks.