It is too early to give irrepressible Charles Barkley a good conduct medal as he begins his new basketball life with Phoenix. But the former Philadelphia 76ers problem child has wasted little time establishing himself as the leader of the Suns.
After scoring 37 points, grabbing 21 rebounds and dishing out eight assists in his home debut at the new America West Arena, Barkley joyously tossed the game ball into the stands.
"Charles can do that every night on the condition that we win," said Suns president Jerry Colangelo. "We'll make it a new tradition."
Barkley has given the Suns the muscle and toughness they seemed to lack in recent years as they fell short of a Western Conference title.
"Just his presence on the court creates an awareness of having to play physical and competitive basketball," Colangelo said. "He's pushed some of our players to be more competitive."
Despite Barkley's brashness and outspoken manner, his new teammates have been quick to accept him.
Veteran forward Tom Chambers, who lost his starting job to Barkley, said, "Of course, he disrupts our dressing room, but that's fun. That's part of what makes him different. He's a great addition. You don't want everyone on the team to be a mainstream guy."
For the present, Barkley is enjoying his new surroundings. The Suns are off to a quick start, while the 76ers are struggling.
"The fans here are really nice," he said. "They love the Suns, not like the Philly fans," said Barkley, who was acquired by Phoenix in exchange for Jeff Hornacek, Tim Perry and Andrew Lang. "I really feel sorry for my old team, and even the fans, too."
And Barkley has learned to accept criticism. When he floored teammate Cedric Ceballos in a team scrimmage, All-Star point guard Kevin Johnson quickly told him to cool it.
"I respect Kevin for that," Barkley said. "And if I play badly, I also want my teammates to tell me. I don't want people sucking up to me in this situation."
Hall of Fame forward Rick Barry, who scored 25,259 points and won scoring titles in the ABA and NBA and played on championship teams in both leagues, is trying his hand at coaching with the CBA Cedar Rapids (Iowa) Sharpshooters in the Global Basketball League.
"It will give me the opportunity to find out if I truly like coaching," said Barry.
"Naturally, I played for a lot of different coaches. But even more recently, working as a broadcaster, I talked to every NBA coach. I got to know their offensive and defensive philosophies and then watched them put their ideas to work. The only thing I haven't done is sit on the bench and make my own decisions."
Caught in draft
Philadelphia could lose its No. 1 draft pick next season if the New Jersey Nets' newly acquired Rick Mahorn makes a benchwarmer of ex-76ers forward Jayson Williams.
The 76ers had given up their own first pick to Phoenix two years ago to obtain Williams, the former St. John's star who proved a bust as a rookie. They hoped to recoup the draft choice by sending Williams to the Nets, but the deal had the stipulation that Williams' points plus minutes must total 20 per game.
But now that the aggressive Mahorn has been reunited in New Jersey with former Pistons boss Chuck Daly, Williams figures to see considerably less playing time. If Williams fails to meet the prescribed number this year or next, the rebuilding 76ers will have to settle for two future second-round picks.
Incidentally, Williams failed to play against the Bullets on Sunday night.
Sacramento's win over the Lakers at the L.A. Forum last week ended a 45-game losing streak for the Kings there dating to Oct. 20, 1974, when the Kings was still in Kansas City. Said Kings forward Wayman Tisdale, "Don't blame me for all those losses. I was in the fourth grade when the streak started."
The Los Angeles Clippers may be off to a slow start, but their five starters -- Ron Harper, Mark Jackson, Ken Norman, Danny Manning and Stanley Roberts -- are on the All-Star Game ballot.
Clippers coach Larry Brown, however, has been less than pleased with the progress of Roberts, the 7-foot junk-food junkie acquired in a preseason trade with Orlando.
"I'd like to play Stanley more," said Brown, "but he seems to pick up two or three fouls during warm-ups. It's a double-edged sword because he needs the minutes to get into playing shape."
Orlando Magic coach Matt Guokas thinks it's unfair at this point to be comparing his rookie sensation, Shaquille O'Neal, with NBA legends.
"People are comparing him to Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell, but Shaq has good perspective," said Guokas. "He understands it's just hype. Heck, he hasn't even played yet against [Patrick] Ewing, David Robinson, Brad Daugherty and Robert Parish. He knows he has a long way to go."