By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
We proceed along the downhill path to wisdom. Already, the triumphal march upon Philadelphia is behind us. Renowned as the Bad Boy of the NBA, Charles Barkley was supposedly hated in the City of Brotherly Love. Instead, he was treated by his old fans as though he were General Charles de Gaulle marching victoriously up the slight incline of the Champs élys‚es to the Arc de Triomphe.
But even after it concludes and the playoffs begin, we will still be looking back on that unforgettable Suns battle here against the New York Knicks as the pivotal game of this or any year.
As an event, it pales before the My Lai Massacre, the Battle of Little Bighorn and Governor J. Fife Symington III's sack of the Esplanade project. But the near-riot became an incident of such monumental proportions in basketball that it deserved the secret meeting held in the New York offices of Commissioner David Stern. All parties taking part have been sworn to secrecy, but New Times, by nefarious means, has obtained a copy of the minutes of that fateful event. "Mr. Stern is ready to commence the hearing," said the sergeant-at-arms.
David Stern, commissioner of the National Basketball Association, raised his head slowly. He looked out over the witnesses who were in his sumptuous office to testify.
"I am of two minds about this brawl between the New York Knicks and the Phoenix Suns," Stern said. "My first thought, as an American citizen and father, is that we can't condone hooliganism.
"But I have a second thought." Stern grinned.
"It sure is goddamned good for business. Hell, everyone in the country is talking about the NBA. "Baseball is in the climax of spring training and the college kids are playing their Final Four. But everyone's still talking about NBA basketball. This is wonderful.
"Generally, at this time of year, you can't even find the NBA box scores in the sports sections."
Seated in Stern's office in midtown Manhattan was a cornucopia of witnesses and experts from all sides of the spectrum. They had been called to this summit to assess blame for the donnybrook, which erupted seconds before halftime with the Suns leading the Knicks by six points. The sad part is that it brought to a conclusion one of the truly good games of the year. Once the players from the Knicks and Suns had been ejected, the second half was no longer a true contest. The Knicks, bereft of their two best guards, were crippled. "We are going to watch the films one more time," Stern said. "Then we'll discuss what must be done."
By now, everyone had studied the films to the point where the scenes were virtually committed to memory. Media excitement was unparalleled. Jude LaCava, a local sportscaster, became so apoplectic while battling verbally with sportscasters from WFAN in New York that he fell to the floor in a swoon. The New Yorkers hung up the telephone on him. LaCava had to be helicoptered to the nearest hospital emergency room. J.D. Hayworth, the political aspirant, who reads the sports scores for Channel 10, was so inspired by the excitement that he came to the Milwaukee game several nights later and actually remained on the premises through the entire first quarter.
It was such a major event that even David Casstevens rushed all the way back from a Dallas tennis tournament to comment upon the frailty of man.
E.J. Montini, who normally confines his outrage to rascality in the legislature, denounced Kevin Johnson for causing the contretemps. Montini insisted KJ was trying to assert his manhood.
It was never actually a battle to compare with Waterloo, Austerlitz or even the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago. And when it was over, remarkably little real damage had been inflicted. There were more hurt feelings and injured psyches than black eyes. KJ suffered a slight bump on the side of his head. But he remained fractious and combative, storming by sportswriters who sought to find out what was going on for several days.
Pat Riley, the Knicks' coach, who was wearing a pair of Giorgio Armani suit pants valued at $1,000, suffered the most. The pants were ripped apart as he tumbled about on the America West Arena floor with KJ and his own point guard, Greg Anthony. However, Riley's hair, held firmly in place by his favorite brand of mousse, remained eerily perfect.
Anthony, once the vice president of the student Republican party on the University of Nevada-Las Vegas campus, suffered the loss of his costly but garish multicolored shirt. That item was torn to shreds when Anthony was tossed from the battling heap by Tom Chambers of the Suns. No price was set on the shirt. In some quarters, the destruction of such a bizarre piece of apparel was even considered something of a public service. Looking back upon the carnage in which he had played the part of a peacemaker, Barkley opined:
"I blame the media. They caused all this."
The statement is remarkable because no one is a bigger or more active figure in the media than Barkley himself.