But this is all new. Last year everyone worried about the Gorilla, about why Kurt Rambis wasn't playing and about whether Tom Chambers was over the hill.

Forget it. The Gorilla no longer seems important in this era of sound systems and dancing girls. Rambis played two minutes and disappeared. Chambers will be a part of the offense only if Charles wants him included.

Late in the game, Barkley deliberately took a charge from one of the Clippers' 300-pound behemoths. Curiously, this fellow's nickname is "Hot Plate."

Barkley was rocked back on his heels. He crashed on his back. His shaved head hit the floor. But he had given himself up to prevent a potential game-winning basket from being scored.

For an instant, he remained flat on his back. It was like the aftermath of a battle between two bull elephants. All the Suns players on the floor rushed to see if Barkley had expired. But he was all right.

Not a single game had been fully played, and it was obvious that Sir Charles Barkley was already the team's indispensable presence.

Barkley scored the Suns' first basket of the night on a tip-in. In the final seconds, he dribbled half the length of the floor and dunked the ball, resoundingly. He clearly did it as a statement. The crowd loved it. They loved every minute of it. They even loved a crucial moment in the fourth period when Charles held the ball out too far and let a Clippers player steal it and score an important basket. When the game ended, Barkley had the ball in his possession again. He looked up to the top of the stands. Smiling, he seemingly attempted to toss the ball to the roof.

The ball went high in the stands, but it didn't reach the roof. It was the only time he came up short all night.

@body:Sir Charles has set himself a mighty task. Not only must he perform well, but he must also be ready to talk entertainingly when it's over.

After the game, which Phoenix won, 111 to 105, Barkley went out to the center of the floor to speak to the fans via microphone with Suns announcer Al McCoy. This is not like the old days at the Coliseum. Remember self-effacing players like Walter Davis and Jeff Hornacek? They would score more than 30 points and come out and murmur a few modest words and then retire to the clubhouse.

Not Barkley. He is an accomplished motor-mouth. More than 5,000 fans waited to hear him speak after the game ended. And when he was finished with the fans, he headed for the locker room, where the media still awaited. One wonders what else there was for him to say.

Barkley sat patiently in front of his dressing stall. There were television cameras and microphones all around him. The reporters came in waves. Some would stay for a few minutes and get enough quotes so they could leave.

It wasn't so much that Barkley was giving them a spontaneous response to his experiences on the court that night. It was a skilled acting performance. He might have been with Jay Leno or on the Arsenio Hall Show.

Obviously, he strives for shock effect. For a week before the opening of the regular season, Barkley had been saying that exhibition games were played only to rip off the fans' money.

This night, Charles explained the rules under which this new Phoenix Suns team will operate. It will be run by him and a group of players he chooses to make it a going enterprise.

"You see," he said, "the coach don't have as much control as people think."
Who knows what reaction Westphal, newly enshrined on the Suns' wall of fame and a rookie coach, will have to this revelation?

Barkley moved to cover his tracks quickly.
"It's what Paul says himself," Barkley added. "He can scream and scream at us and it can't make no difference. We have to do it ourselves."
Barkley explained what kind of a Suns team it will become once KJ is back and in the flow.

"We are gonna compete. They are not gonna be brutalizing us when we go down the lane. If somebody hits us, we're gonna hit back."
A man asked Barkley how it will be on the nights that the Suns don't win.
Barkley thought about that a little bit. He rubbed one of his huge, brown thighs.

"Well," he said, "I'm gonna play as well as I can. That's all I can do."
He shook his head.
"I can't do any more than that."
Then he smiled.
"Besides, if we don't win, it won't change the world in any way."
Then the man they call Sir Charles smiled.

He said something he seemed certain would both amuse and reassure readers all over.

"There's no better feeling than winning, except when you have an orgasm," Charles Barkley said.

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