First off, let's clear up the matter of Charles Barkley and the three chickens. The story has Barkley, Auburn's 6'6", 280-pound junior center and cholester-All-America candidate, devouring three of them—fried, a la mama—at one sitting before leaving his home in Leeds, Ala. for the National Sports Festival in Indianapolis two summers ago. "To make sure I wouldn't get hungry," he's supposed to have said.
Barkley's mother, Mrs. Charcey Glenn, puts the kibosh on that tale. "It was three pieces—two drumsticks and a wing," she says, but adds that he did down plenty of macaroni and cheese, fried corn, collard greens and Kool-Aid.
You may also have heard the one about Barkley threatening to be the first player since Vanderbilt's Clyde Lee in 1966 to lead the Southeastern Conference in rebounding for three straight seasons. Or about his being named UPI's SEC Player of the Year largely because of his 9.3 rebounds per game and 64.4% shooting. Or about his achieving those numbers despite playing most of the season with a painful injury to the sacroiliac joint in his back—and being unable to benefit from electronic therapy because the impulses couldn't penetrate all the beef on his bones. Or about his custom-made uniform trunks, or his wearing three sweatbands on each arm so he'll have extras to give kids after games, or how he calls his girl friend Knucklehead. All those stories are true.
But Barkley himself is the source of the gastronomic apocrypha, like the bit about the three chickens.
Q.: How'd you lose weight?
A.: Cut down to six meals a day.
"I've never seen anyone attract attention like this kid," says Sonny Smith, the Auburn coach.
In three seasons Barkley has become a mythic figure in the SEC—larger than life and just about everything else. At Tennessee, someone dressed as a Domino's Pizza deliveryman approached Barkley in the pregame layup line to take his order. Kentucky forward Winston Bennett calls Barkley "a cartoon character." Says Auburn assistant coach Mack McCarthy, "He loves LSU fans best of all because they're so nasty."
The preferred epithet in Baton Rouge is Fat Boy. But you could construct a thesaurus entry of the nicknames Barkley has inspired in his travels: Bread Truck, the Love Boat, Food World, the Crisco Kid, the Wide Load from Leeds, Ton of Fun, the Leaning Tower of Pizza, the Goodtime Blimp and the prevailing Round Mound of Rebound are just a few. "He's my favorite player in college basketball," says Oklahoma's Wayman Tisdale, who played with Barkley at the Sports Festival. "I call him the Eighth Wonder of the World."
Kentucky center Melvin Turpin still calls him the Kid, even though Barkley has feasted on the 6'11", 240-pound Turpin throughout their careers. It began with Barkley's 25 points and 17 rebounds as a freshman in Lexington's Rupp Arena, where Wildcat fans abused him before the game, only to have Barkley blow kisses in return. This season he outpointed (39-33) and outrebounded (21-12) Turpin in their two regular-season meetings, which the teams split. In the first game, which Auburn won 82-63, Barkley tried unsuccessfully to chat with the Dipper during lulls in the action. " Barkley's got a lotta loose lip," said Turpin.