TRUMPETING THE SUNS

Then the announcer intones:
" . . . and from Auburn--Charles Barkley!"
The crowd goes wild. Barkley remains stonefaced.

It is an interesting ritual. As the starting five runs through a gauntlet of teammates, the starters are pummeled on the shoulders and back for encouragement. But no one dares to reach out to pound and pummel upon Barkley. One wonders why. Would he look down upon this as nonsense? Would he look upon this as an affront to his dignity?

I am reminded of something. Not once, during the entire season, has a single player on an opposing team ever indicated he wanted to mix it up with Barkley physically. And, remember, Barkley is playing in a league populated by dozens of impressive physical specimens. Now, seconds before the game begins, Barkley reaches the other four starters on the floor. He encircles them in his big arms and pulls them to him. Barkley is ready.

I brought a pocket television set with me to the game, so that I could monitor the NBC broadcast. I watched as the screen switched to Phoenix and the announcer, standing out on the playing floor, read his introduction from a sheet of paper and then tossed it to the floor for an assistant to pick up.

They switched back to the studio, where I saw Bill Walton predicting the Sonics would win. Walton, once a great player, has a weird background. He went native with Patty Hearst when she was wanted for bank robbery. During that period, he reportedly subsisted on pine nuts and marijuana. He returned to the basketball scene in plenty of time to introduce his friend and business associate, Richard Esquinas, to Michael Jordan.

Since then Esquinas has written a book about Jordan, in which he claims that Jordan is a compulsive gambler willing to bet $1 million on a round of golf.

It is an interesting commentary about the integrity of NBC Sports that it brought Esquinas on to talk about the $1.2 million that Jordan allegedly lost to him on the golf course. Esquinas explained that the two agreed to cut the amount to $300,000. Jordan has paid $200,000, but apparently welshed on the final $100,000, at least according to Esquinas. Why not bring Walton into the mix? He is also mentioned in the book, as is Quinn Buckner, the other NBC expert for the playoffs. Instead, the interview with Esquinas was conducted all alone by the network's favorite little mannequin, Bob Costas.

Peter Vecsey, another member of the so-called expert panel, is the most repugnant figure in all of television sports. Vecsey, a native New Yorker, looks and dresses like a salesman in a cut-rate shoe store on Fordham Road in the Bronx. Vecsey insists it's "poor journalism" for anyone to repeat tales about Jordan's million-dollar gambling habit. What can Vecsey possibly know about journalistic ethics? He's certainly never practiced them. Vecsey probably felt he was being put upon a few years back when the Village Voice in New York City broke the story that Vecsey borrowed money to buy a house from the New Jersey Nets' owner while he was assigned to cover the team for the New York Post.

Peter, that's a no-no.
@rule:
@body:The excitement and anticipation of the opening tip are almost too much to bear. All the build-up. And then, suddenly, it happens so fast. Now there's no turning back. Six seconds into the game, Mark West slams home a dunk shot and the Suns lead, 2 to 0. And less than a minute later, Barkley steals the ball near midcourt and drives to the hoop all alone for a slam dunk. The Suns are alive. So is the crowd.

The defining moments of the game come in the second period, after the Sonics take a four-point lead. It is then that Barkley really takes over the game for the first time.

"I really got pissed," Barkley said later. "That's when I knew I had to make something happen. We got to the sidelines for a time-out, and the guys are arguing among themselves. I said, 'Shut the fuck up and play. We are in this shit together.'"
In a period of four minutes, Barkley scores five baskets for ten points. Four of the baskets come because he powers his way to the basket. The fifth is an outside jumper . . . yes, the kind that makes everyone cringe whenever he takes them.

Before it's over, Barkley plays all but two minutes of the game, scores 44 points and collects 24 rebounds. Barkley takes on the role of the bully boy throughout. He pushes. He shoves. He shouts at the referees. He taunts George Karl, the Sonics coach. He threatens to throttle Gary Payton, the Sonics point guard. He curses at his teammates when they make mistakes.

And then what happens when the game is decided? Suns coach Paul Westphal takes Barkley out of the game toward the end and Barkley sits down on the bench, puts a towel over his face and bursts into tears. Some tough guy!

Colangelo must have money in a tee-shirt business. Why else is it that every time you turn around, the Suns are issuing a brand-new tee shirt announcing some fresh reason to celebrate?

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