Right now, is there a better all-around forward than Barkley? Utah's Malone perhaps, but that's it. Not surprisingly, you'll get little argument from Barkley, and that's why he will be interested in the results of this year's All-Star balloting. He played only 15 minutes as a reserve in the Eastern Conference's 138-133 victory last season and considered his limited participation "a waste of time." After that game, Barkley announced he would not return.
"Well, I don't like to lie," Barkley said last week, "and I admit I said I wasn't going back. Now I don't know." He chewed his lower lip and gave the matter some more thought. "But, no, dammit, if I'm not picked as a starter, I don't think I'll be going."
Exactly where his Sixers will be at midseason is an even harder call. Barkley is holding to a preseason prediction that the 76ers will win as many as 55 games, but down deep he must know that Philly's talent doesn't begin to match that of such Eastern Conference rivals as the Detroit Pistons, the Atlanta Hawks, the Boston Celtics (with a healthy Bird) or even the Cleveland Cavaliers. That's why he's doing everything in his power to hold the Sixers together, to coax everything out of the bench, to praise Lynam, whom he calls "the best coach I ever had."
"I thought when I first got here that Charles would be a madman," says Hawkins, "but he's been very supportive." That's because he needs you, Hersey. He needs your solid, mature game, which belies your 23 years, and your deadly outside jumper with perfect rotation. And he needs you, Ron Anderson, to guard some of the tough forwards and to help him out on the boards. And he needs you, Scott Brooks, to play quarterback at times and to keep up the tempo. And of course he needs the old pros—you, Maurice Cheeks, and you, Cliff Robinson, and you, Mike Gminski.
"I'm on a mission," says Barkley. "I want to prove I'm a winner. I couldn't do it before with the players we had, but I can do it now. It's put up or shut up time in Philadelphia."