By now everyone in town has seen the television footage of Charles Barkley climbing over the scorer's table in New York's Madison Square Garden.

The film shows the pride of the Phoenix Suns acting in what is clearly a state of the highest dudgeon. At the apex of his trek over the scorer's table, Barkley trips in the maze of computer wires. He almost capsizes. Magically, he regains his balance. Then, after a few unsteady, tottering steps, he resumes full stride and pounds his way into a corridor in hot pursuit of the retreating referees. They are wisely headed for the safety and seclusion of their dressing room.

But Barkley hasn't finished delivering his critique to these officials who presided over the game the Suns have just lost to the Knicks, 106 to 103. At this point, Barkley--eyes flashing and arms waving--seems more like wrestling's Hulk Hogan than the Suns' most valuable player.

Thanks to the wonders of television, our next view of Barkley and the three officials, Jimmy Clark, Joe Forte and Dan Crawford, is from another camera angle. The three refs are fending off the still-shouting Barkley. Tittering away before Barkley's verbal assault, they seem like three very agitated little mice.

At the end, you can see the frustration in Barkley's eyes. It is beginning to dawn on him that he can't win this argument. The game is irretrievably lost. The curtain is drawn. All that remains is for the referees to write down on a single sheet of paper a report for Rod Thorn of the NBA vice president's office. They will recount all of Barkley's swear words and every term of disrespect.

The $10,000 fine and the one-game suspension follow. The anti-Barkley headlines take over the sports pages, not only in New York and Phoenix, but in every newspaper in the country.

Basketball fans in every NBA city except Phoenix became outraged. Most believed that a single-game suspension wasn't enough. Some sportswriters in New York called for a two-week suspension. Some insisted Barkley's boorish behavior was not only poisoning the Suns as a team, but damaging the league as a commercial enterprise. Nothing could be further from the truth. And nobody on the Suns was buying. All the Suns need to do is look at the standings to see they are in first place. Outsiders will attempt to make us believe that the blessed NBA can't be elevated to the next level until the loutish presence of Barkley is permanently removed.

There are cries for Jerry Colangelo, Cotton Fitzsimmons and Paul Westphal to exert discipline upon Barkley. He must be made to conform. He must quit acting out. His antics will eventually hurt the Suns as a team.

Hogwash, I say. Doesn't anyone notice that Barkley's eruption in New York came after a game in which the Suns went to the free-throw line 22 times as opposed to 38 for the Knicks? It was also a day when Barkley made only 11 of 28 shots. Anyone who has seen Barkley play knows that the only way he can miss that many shots is if the opposing players are being allowed to hang on him without the proper number of fouls being called.

That is the way Barkley's game goes. On a bad day, he makes 50 percent of his shots. Despite the fact that he shoots too many three-pointers, the rest of his shot selection is flawless. Barkley's tantrum was no out-of-control affair. He knew what he was doing every second of the way. That's precisely why he chose the stage in New York City to deliver his message.

The message is that the Suns are on a run to win the NBA crown, but they must have equal protection from the referees to achieve their end.

Besides, for Phoenix fans, there is no turning back. In embracing all the good things Barkley does for the Suns, we have inexorably purchased the whole package. In Barkley we have signed up one of the fiercest gunslingers in the West. Colangelo brought him on board to be the modern version of a town-tamer of the Old West. We don't have the right to turn squeamish at the last moment because some of his methods shock us. All that remains for us now is to sit back and enjoy the ride. Notice one thing. Everywhere Barkley goes, his presence is abhorred by capacity crowds. They all hate him. But they all want to be present in the arena to vent their spleen in person. Barkley and the Suns are the hottest tickets in the entire NBA--Michael Jordan and the Bulls included.

@body:It doesn't require the perseverance of an Arnold Toynbee to dig up a few pertinent historical facts about Barkley. At Leeds High School in Alabama, Barkley was five feet seven inches tall until his junior year. So he learned the game as a point guard who got pushed around. He did not emerge as a rebounding force until his senior year, when he was suddenly six feet three inches tall and 250 pounds.

Sonny Smith, his college coach at Auburn, remembers Barkley with awe. Barkley was Mr. Basketball at a time when Bo Jackson was the star of the football team.

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