ELVIS IS BACK, AND HE'S TERROR IN THE PAINT
"There's only one Elvis," Suns coach Paul Westphal has said, "and there's only one Charles Barkley." Maybe so. But has anybody considered the possibility that our Sir Charles and the immortal King of Rock n' Roll are the same guy? In addition to wealth, fame and Southern accents, the two share an amazing list of attributes and achievements. For example, both use their rear ends at work. And both have that wild thing behind their eyes that says: "I'm hot shit. This is fun." There's more: Both grew up in small Southern towns. Both battle a weight problem. Both perform in large arenas wearing splashy costumes. Both worship their mother. Both have sandy-haired father figures. (Elvis had his real father, Vernon Presley. Barkley has Cotton Fitzsimmons.) Both have megalomaniacal management figures pulling strings behind the scenes.
(Elvis had Colonel Tom Parker. Barkley has Jerry Colangelo.) Both admire opera.
(Though his greatest musical achievement was presiding over the white-trash wedding of country and blues, the King throughout his life hankered to be considered a more serious vocal performer. "It's Now or Never," a No. 1 hit in 1960 and Elvis' best-selling single around the world, was an adaptation of "O Sole Mio," an Italian ditty written in 1901. It was said to be his favorite recording. Barkley did that Nike commercial.)
Both like nice cars. Both indulge in hobbies that require goofy clothing. (Elvis had karate. Barkley has golf.) Both get mobbed in public by crowds. Both toss damp pieces of cloth at spectators. (The distribution of sweaty scarves became a ritual at Elvis' latter-period concerts. At Suns games, Barkley tosses sweaty towels on benchwarming teammates.) Both are good rebounders. (In 1968, Elvis hadn't performed in public in seven years, concentrating instead on his dubious film career. Meanwhile, popular music had seemingly passed him by. But the television special aired on NBC at Christmastime of 68--in which the sweaty, sneering, leather-clad King of Rock n' Roll belted out his old hits--reinvigorated Elvis' career. Shortly following the special, Elvis began a brief recording renaissance, cutting such timeless sides as "In the Ghetto," "Kentucky Rain" and the majestic "Suspicious Minds," and delighted fans by returning to the performance stage. Barkley averages more than 12 rebounds per game.) Both have daughters whom they adore.
Both have marriage problems. Both live in big houses. Both surround themselves with sycophantic yes men. (Elvis had the famed Memphis Mafia, many of whom were former jocks who once picked on Elvis at Humes High. Barkley has members of the local sports media, many of whom are former jocks.) Both had careers interrupted by overseas duty. (Elvis was stationed in Germany for much of his Army service, which spanned the years 1958-60. Barkley played for the American Dream Team at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, and recently invaded Germany for that silly exhibition gig.) Both travel a lot for work. Both have dated sex kittens. (Among the many glamorous babes Elvis was linked with were Ann-Margret, Nancy Sinatra and Cybill Shepherd. Last year, Barkley had dinner with Madonna.) Both perspire heavily while working. Both have played Madison Square Garden. Both stay up late. Both have close associates with gambling problems. (According to rock historians, Colonel Tom Parker was a notorious denizen of Las Vegas casinos. Barkley is good friends with Michael Jordan.)
Both are rich. Both are introduced before performances while loud music is playing. (Elvis' late-period theme song was "Also Sprach Zarathustra." At Suns games, the Alan Parsons Project tune "Sirius" signals the start of player introductions.)
Both are big sellers on the memorabilia market. Both have associates who are self-destructive substance-abusers. (One of Elvis' label mates at Sun Records was Jerry Lee Lewis. One of Barkley's teammates was Richard Dumas.) Both have been photographed with right-wing authority figures.
(In 1970, Elvis flew to Washington, D.C., seeking credentials as a drug-enforcement official, and was granted an audience with then-president Richard Nixon. Barkley is coached by proud dittohead Paul Westphal.) Both have Dr. Feelgood types ministering to every ache and pain. (Elvis had Dr. George Nichopoulous. Barkley has Joe Proski.) Both overcame major setbacks early in their careers.
(In 1954, Elvis played the Grand Ole Opry radio show for the first and only time. According to legend, after the performance, an Opry official suggested to Elvis that he go back to driving a truck. Bobby Knight refused to pick Barkley for the 1984 Olympic team.) Both have a "bad boy" image. Both have many pale imitators. (Wayne Newton, especially, continues to evoke the spirit of Elvis in his Las Vegas act. Barkley wanna-bes in the NBA include the Philadelphia 76ers' Clarence Weatherspoon.)
Both have assumed ranks of royalty. (Elvis was the King. Barkley is Sir Charles.) Both have violent tempers. (Elvis shot TV sets. Barkley squabbles with fans.) Both are gun nuts. Both have a solar connection. (Elvis first recorded for Sun Records. Barkley plays for the Suns.)
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