Racial remark is just Barkley being Barkley

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Here's the situation: Suppose Charles Barkley is white. And suppose he makes the comment during an interview that he hates black people. Does it create an uproar?

Let's just say that in the case of a person who has the personality of a Barkley, it depends.

Once again, Barkley is in hot water, this time for saying, "See, that's why I hate white people" to a white reporter friend after answering a question about NBA groupies during an interview session during All-Star Weekend. ESPN ran with the story, creating a mild controversy over the weekend.

Yes, it was only mild. Only ESPN made it a big story. That's because Barkley gets on everyone. When he nearly stepped on a photographer on the sideline during Sunday's game, he slapped him on the head. The photographer laughed. To know Barkley is to understand that he makes those outrageous comments to everyone. There isn't a person around who escapes his wrath. White. Black. Women. Men. Anyone.

ESPN has to know this about Barkley. It is the all-sports network, and it comes in contact with the NBA's biggest personality enough. Had ESPN made this a point when Barkley's career began, perhaps "The Chuckster" would have toned down his act.

But ask almost any reporter in the NBA, and he'll tell you that he would want Barkley to remain the same. A lot of the NBA players you see in endorsements are projected as clean-cut individuals, but in real life quite a few are completely opposite of the image.

Barkley's genuine. He's funny. He's outrageous. He's honest. He's Barkley. He was that way when he first entered the league in 1984, and remains that way today.

Sure, he crosses the line. Sure, he's not politically correct. Is he a racist? I guess you would have to ask people who come in contact with him, many of whom are white.

Or ask the white beat writers in the league, who come in contact with him every day. I did Sunday, and all of them shrugged off the incident as just Barkley being Barkley.

Dinky dunks

The NBA slam-dunk competition used to be one of the premier events in All-Star Weekend. The battles between Dominique Wilkins and Michael Jordan -- both two-time winners -- were classics. And who could forget 5-foot-7 Spud Webb upsetting Wilkins for the 1985 title?

Lately, the dunk championship has developed into a big bore, which isn't surprising when unknowns such as Utah Jazz rookie Jamie Watson and Los Angeles Lakers forward Antonio Harvey are among the competitors.

"It now seems the mascots are doing a better job than the players," said one of the game's all-time dunkers, Julius Erving.

Erving, a judge in the competition, said the remedy is easy. Just get the game's top dunkers to participate. But Wilkins is past his prime, and the Seattle SuperSonics' Shawn Kemp only dunks for commercials. Detroit Pistons forward Grant Hill was supposed to participate, but a foot injury kept him out of the competition.

"You have to get some marquee players out there," Erving said. "One of the things that made me dunk better was someone challenging my dunks. You're not allowed any props anymore [past dunkers could jump over chairs and people], so no one is going to challenge your dunks."

Here's a solution: If the NBA's top dunkers don't want to take risks, let some of the nation's top dunkers take a shot. Some of the best dunkers are on playgrounds and in recreation leagues across the country.

Who'd you like to see -- Harvey doing double-clutch dunks that you see in any game, or a guy named Woody who stands 6 feet and can dunk over people backward? (He exists. I've seen the Woody Harrelson look-alike do it.) It could add more excitement to an event that has become more and more of a turnoff.

Sunny rumors

Aside from Barkley, guard Dan Majerle is perhaps the most popular member of the Phoenix Suns. But that didn't exclude him from trade rumors over the weekend.

A Phoenix radio station reported that the Suns have offered Majerle and rookie guard Wesley Person for Scottie Pippen, who is trying to leave the Chicago Bulls. Barkley and Pippen got together Friday and discussed the possibility of playing together.

"It wasn't a distraction," Majerle said. "It just brought me down for a little bit, because I wanted to concentrate on the All-Star Game and have a fun time.

"All the questions I was fielding were mainly about a trade going on. That just took away from the whole All-Star atmosphere for me."

Getting one of the top five players in the game clearly would help Phoenix, but it also could be a risky move for the Suns. Phoenix pTC has good chemistry -- even without injured Danny Manning -- which could be threatened by making changes in midseason.

The Atlanta Hawks acquired Manning in midseason last year thinking that it might be the move to get them over the top -- and build for their future. The Hawks lost in the second round of the playoffs and lost Manning, who turned down a lucrative deal in Atlanta for a one-year, $1 million contract in Phoenix.

Now playing in Vegas

What did Dennis Rodman, who didn't get to go to Phoenix even after two forwards were injured and had to be replaced last week, have to say about missing the All-Star Game?

"This game is for the politicians to get together and eat steak and lobster," Rodman said. "I think the NBA knows I'm a good player. They just don't like the way I am. . . . I'll just go to Vegas and watch the game on TV."

Rodman has been an All-Star twice.

"I'll never make it again," Rodman said. "It's no big deal. But I would make the game exciting. People would be sitting on the edge of their seats wondering what I was going to do."

Pointed comments

A hotshot guard collegiately at Kansas, Rex Walters has yet to hit that kind of stride in his 1 1/2 seasons with the New Jersey Nets. But one thing Walters has demonstrated is guts. Lots of guts.

Walters took on the Nets' franchise last week. The franchise in the form of Nets point guard Kenny Anderson.

"Chris [Childs, a former CBA guard] does a better job of getting the ball to people," Walters said. "Kenny doesn't want to pass the ball to guys on the break. He'd rather dribble the ball past half-court and try to make the difficult play.

"I'm not shooting the ball well, but he's shooting the same grandiose 40 percent. And he monopolizes the ball."

A lot of those statements are true, especially about Anderson dribbling too much. But Walters soon may find out that the truth hurts.

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