How can we not love Charles Barkley? He's always said he would someday run for governor of Alabama (he used to be known as the "Round Mound of Rebound" back there at Auburn University), but we wish he'd go for that office here in the AZ.

What a soundbite he'd be! No more of that wishy-washy politspeak from the likes of Janet Napolitano. Wouldn't it be refreshing to have him yelling to the Capitol press corps, "I am not a role model!" It would be eyebrow-raising, because when have you ever heard of a wack-job politician not thinking he's indeed a role model, and don't you forget it? Honestly!

That's what we like about Sir Charles. Even when he's criticizing our beloved Phoenix Suns for lack of defense, we know he means it. We didn't say he was correct or that he wasn't drunk when he said it, but we know it was his honest assessment. He's famous for speaking his mind, like when he put himself inside 7-foot-6 Yao Ming's head on Yao's coming to America: "Whew, even white guys can play over here!" Or when he said before his All-Star Game foot-race with 70-something referee Dick Bevetta last season: "I have nothing against old people; I want to be one myself one day." In a town full of sports legends (Muhammad Ali lives here, the greatest hockey player of all time, Wayne Gretzky, coaches here, and every month or so we hear about a Kirby Puckett or a George Mikan dying here), Charles Barkley is our legend. He golfs (badly) here; we've seen him at our local Starbucks. He's also the only sports legend in our midst to have taken our Suns to the NBA finals, albeit in a losing effort in 1993 to Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls, despite his having declared to Jordan that it was "destiny" for the Suns to win.

Like we say, he's not always right. The most dominating power forward in the league during his salad days, he was named MVP for the 1992-93 season. Barkley retired seven years ago as the fourth player in the history of the professional game to rack up 20,000 points, 10,000 rebounds, and 4,000 assists.

And we don't just mean in the Phoenix metroplex. Anywhere! That the greatest athlete, much less the greatest prizefighter of all time, lives in Scottsdale is more a testament to our lower taxes (than places like Southern California) and our reputation as a bastion for the aged and infirm than anything else. But it's great to see the star of When We Were Kings, the brilliant documentary about Ali's famous "Rumble in the Jungle" with a young George Foreman, at charity events in Phoenix.

In case you haven't noticed him lately, the one-time silver-tongued Adonis of the ring has been humbled by Parkinson's disease. There are several names that seem to wind up on best-athlete-ever lists — Pelé, Michael Jordan, Jim Thorpe — but Ali's mentioned the most. He was dubbed Sportsman of the [20th] Century by Sports Illustrated. He's a three-time world heavyweight champion and the winner of an Olympic gold medal as a light heavyweight. Of his 56 pro bouts, he won 35 by knockouts. Think about how hard it is to be a boxing champ. Not only must you be an incredible physical specimen, especially in the weight class in which Cassius Clay-turned-Ali fought, you must be fleet of foot, more conditioned than an NBA point guard, and possess the street smarts of a drug kingpin. Ali had the best combination of that. He wasn't the most muscular fighter in the ring in his era, but he made up for it with style: You know, he "floated like a butterfly, stung like a bee."

Until his talents began to fade, opponents had trouble landing a blow to his head because of his quickness — which is why, he would brag to the likes of sportscaster Howard Cosell, he remained so "pretty." He didn't suffer his first professional loss until Joe Frazier floored him in his 32nd fight. He bounced back after that and knocked out Foreman in the "Rumble." He wound up losing three of his last four fights to Leon Spinks, Larry Holmes, and Trevor Berbick.

Though he never lost by a knockout, opponents started landing hard blows to his head in his latter fights. Whether his Parkinson's (a malady sometimes caused by sharp blows to the noggin) resulted from his boxing career is a subject of great debate.

Remember the opening sequence in Jackass: The Movie, when the superstars of idiocy push each other down a bridge in a shopping cart? Then you're close to imagining the tomfoolery on display during the Idiotarod Shopping Cart Race. The event, named sardonically after the 1,151-mile Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in Alaska, originated in San Francisco and has spread to other major metropolises like New York City and Chicago. The inaugural Phoenix race began and ended at Bikini Lounge on a beautiful February afternoon and showcased three to four team members, all tied to "found" shopping carts, pushing one cart-sitter around the streets of downtown. The fun and competitive race made pit stops at The News Room and .anti_space before Double Team and Dance Dance Armageddon took first and second, respectively, with the Renegade Rollercart Girls winning the "Best Sabotage" distinction. What can we say? Our town is filled with lovable idiots. Registration is $5 per person, $30 per team.
Fort McDowell Casino
We've decided that playing bingo has gone past ironic to kind of sad and come back around again to some kind of post-irony level of acceptable things to do with your weekend. (And that was before that stupid television show.)

There's something inherently soothing about watching those little white balls roll around their cage while you hope your number will be called. And if you're going to gamble, we feel it's a lot smarter to buy in at a bingo game for $5 than waste hours of life (and a lot more money) at a poker table.

When the bingo itch strikes, we don't so much want to play in a church with a bunch of saggy old ladies. No, we'd much rather go somewhere we can drink and smoke while waiting for our numbers to pop up. That's why Fort McDowell Casino is perfect. It's got the biggest bingo room in the state and includes a smoking section. On top of that, there are games starting as late as 3:15 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays — sounds a little weird, but late at night in a bingo room is prime people-watching.

Thanks to the folks who run the Arizona WiffleBall League, big kids of all ages can baffle hitters with nasty, perforated plastic ball benders or go way downtown by swinging a Herculean, yellow synthetic bat.

The league is part of the 19-region Fast Plastic association, which grants division winners a spot in the wiffle national championships (this year's version was held in Austin, Texas). Don't fret if you can't recruit enough rubber-armed pitchers or bases-clearing sluggers. Just hit up the organizers and they'll match you with (hopefully) a fellow Warren Spahn or Ted Kluszewski. Tournaments are held outdoors at Cactus Park and feature round-robin duels and a home run contest. Chicks most definitely dig the long ball, and, depending on the woman, they may already dig the plastic, too.

Glen Fair Lanes
Retro furnishings such as orange shag rugs and chrome diner tables are back in style, and vintage-style threads dominate the runways. That's why we love Glen Fair, an old-school alley with beige stucco walls and a curvaceous sign that mimics the monogramming on your dad's old polyester bowling shirt. There are league nights for youth and adults, dollar days and senior afternoons where old-timers can earn a buck or two for multiple strikes. But we think Friday and Saturday's Neon Karaoke Night, complete with groovy singers and acid-flashback lighting, is the real winner here. The swank lounge atmosphere is great for a casual, no-hassle first date. And though the live entertainment is generally off-key, there's plenty of cheap beer to dull your senses. So brush up on your Lionel Richie lyrics, throw on some bell-bottoms and go singing in the lanes.
Golfland Family Entertainment Center
Screw the FBR Open. Who needs it? The only golfer we follow with any regularity is Korean-American sweetie Michelle Wie, and she doesn't have the plumbing to play the PGA. After all, what kind of golf is it when there's no windmill to putt-putt through, no Lost Dutchman-themed course, or King Arthur-themed greens? Hey, we've seen the FBR on TV, and all those putting greens are obstacle-free. Where's the challenge, the thrill of whether or not you'll make it past a mini-sawmill, or through a perilous medieval fortress? Heck, do you think when the Scots invented this game back in the early 17th century, they intended for it to be played on open expanses free of clutter and childlike distractions? Okay, maybe they did. But then again, those crazy Scots wear skirts, too, and that's the last thing we want to see Tiger Woods wearing. (Michelle Wie's another story.) Point is, Mesa's Golfland allows one the opportunity to knock around ye ole gutta percha in civilized environs, with water slides, bumper boats and video games nearby. Hey, they don't call it Golfland for nothing.
Encanto 9 Golf Course
Ah, the lush smell of bermuda grass and dried mud. The dull thwack of metal on polymer. The shower of grass in the air and the white smudge of a ball rolling on the ground.There's nothing like passing a summer day at Encanto, where the greens are flat as prairieland and our confidence is as high as it gets. Except for a few thirsty-looking trees, there's little to get in our way except the carts and bodies of other players. Fore!We love Encanto's treasure of esteem-building par threes and fours, and the fact that the course is accessible to the masses, smack in the middle of town. But it's those City of Phoenix greens fees that keeps us coming back — just $27 in the morning and $23 if you start after 11 a.m. (that's with a cart). With that kind of rate, we can hail down the beer girl every time she rolls by.
Ken McDonald Golf Course
What we enjoy most about this easily accessible course is the dress code, as in there is NONE! You want to yank the ball around in your favorite ratty T-shirt and goofy shorts that cover at least most of your behind, go for it. That's not to say, however, that this mature track — which opened for business back in 1974 — is a piece of cake. No, if you're like us, that is to say, cursed with an errant swing pattern, unfortunate club choices and the putting stroke of an ax murderer, you'll end up using more mulligans than any self-respecting hacker ever ought to consider. Think trees, big trees, and lots of 'em. Also think water — the Western Canal zigs and zags through the course, and comes into play here and there. We also like the fact that the course is mostly flat and the fairways generally wide and forgiving. And the cost is relatively minimal. Summer rates are $18.50 for 18 holes and a motorized cart. Price-wise, the rest of the year ain't bad, either. So tee it up and give it a swack.
Troon North Golf Course
Most of the super-luxe courses in the Valley are super-private, but a few will let you on the links if you have the cash. We asked our favorite golfer for his favorite course — price being no object — and he didn't hesitate to spew out verbiage worthy of a Madison Avenue public relations firm:

"Troon North," came the immediate response. "The service is outstanding; all employees are well-trained and appreciate great customer service. The course is in incredible shape, tee to green. The fairways are immaculate, the sand traps well-manicured, and putts roll on the fast greens true to the line. The views of Pinnacle Peak and Four Peaks are spectacular."

We're sold, and we don't even like to golf. Maybe that's because it really is all about the course — of course. This one'll run you $75 or so, per player, and that's in the dead of summer. Could be hundreds in-season. But hey, great view. And bragging rights.

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