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He's Everywhere
Leigh Montville
May 03, 1993
Charles Barkley is celebrated on buses in Phoenix, on basketball courts across the nation and in ads around the world
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May 03, 1993

He's Everywhere

Charles Barkley is celebrated on buses in Phoenix, on basketball courts across the nation and in ads around the world

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The mobile home is no surprise. This is for you to use, Charles. No surprise at all. In live or six routine steps Charles Barkley moves from the air-conditioned comfort of a white limousine to the air-conditioned mobile home in this parking lot behind the North High School gym in Phoenix. No surprise. This happens all the time. This is his amazing life this year. The preposterous is normal.

A man has laid out a black gym outfit and a new pair of basketball shoes on the bed. For you, Charles.

A woman has brought a boom box into the little kitchenette, stacking 20 of the latest CDs next to it. In case you want to listen to some music, Charles.

Another woman has brought food. Stuffed chicken with rice. If this pleases you, Charles.... No? The woman has taken away the stuffed chicken and returned in less than a minute with tenderloin of beef. Better? Enjoy, Charles.

The nagging little details of daily existence, the hanging threads of errands to run and tasks to do, have been expertly tied into so many square knots by other fingers. Charles is free to be Charles. Anything you need. Give me a call. That is what the woman says. In the high school gym more than 50 people await Charles's arrival, everyone on the clock, everyone being paid to film yet another shoe commercial. Nike. There is a man who will spray a fine mist on Charles's bald head to simulate perspiration. There is a man who will find Charles a chair the minute he feels he wants to sit. Here, Charles, a chair. There is a man...there is a man who is a Charles Barkley look-alike. He won a contest at a local radio station. His prize is the opportunity to stand in front of the cameras while all the adjustments are made to lights and background and camera angles. When all of the boring necessities are completed, Charles will move into the picture.

This scene is not as complicated as the one in which Charles played one-on-one basketball with Godzilla. That Nike commercial took three days to shoot outside San Francisco, Charles walking through a cardboard city to meet the famous monster. There was a man inside the Godzilla suit, another man to work Godzilla's mechanized face. Charles dunked on Godzilla. Maybe, you big lug, you should wear some shoes.

No, this is a normal commercial, one day of shooting, more than 50 people on the clock. Normal and amazing.

"I just did one for a noodle company in Japan," Barkley says as he stretches across the brown leather couch in the mobile home, eating his beef tenderloin. "They taught me the words in Japanese phonetically. It was fun. The other big noodle company's guy in Japan is Arnold Schwarzenegger. I'm going against Arnold Schwarzenegger."

Schwarzenegger.

"I did one for Nike that they only showed overseas at first, but now they're showing it here," Barkley says. "I did opera for it. A guy from the Los Angeles opera came to teach me how to sing for two hours, eight to 10 in the morning. At noon he had to leave to go sing the lead in some kind of Broadway show. He could really sing."

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