It was May 21, and the Valley was in mourning.
The Phoenix Suns had just been eliminated from the NBA playoffs by the Houston Rockets after a roller-coaster, seven-game series. To many, the loss was especially bitter, because they feared it would be superstar Charles Barkley's final game in uniform. During the game, the pain of a groin injury and the wear and tear of the long season were evident on Barkley's face. He played heroically, as though he might collapse at any moment.

The team returned to Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport that evening, to be met by thousands of tearful fans grieving about the end of their dream--to bring an NBA championship banner to Phoenix.

But by that evening, Barkley had evidently recovered sufficiently to hit the town for an end-of-season celebration along with teammates Cedric Ceballos and Oliver Miller. They went to a nightclub named Jetz, the locus of the lively, upscale Scottsdale bar scene and a regular postgame watering hole for the team.

The Barkley charm was present in usual abundance, and the players mingled easily with the awestruck club crowd, inviting a few, especially the more attractive ladies in attendance, to a party to be held at Ceballos' north Phoenix home after last call.

According to allegations made by three women who attended that party--allegations recorded in detailed Phoenix police reports and in a New Times interview with one of the women--the event was not what the legions of fans who greeted the players at the airport would have imagined.

The women who went to Ceballos' home that night describe a wild saturnalia in which women were on hand only for the privilege of having sex with the gods of the NBA.

One woman, in an account of the evening supported by her companions, claims she was led into a room by Barkley and raped by Miller while her friends were prevented from coming to her rescue.

The Suns did not respond to repeated requests for comment, or to New Times' request to interview the players alleged to have been involved.

The woman who told police she was raped by Miller now refuses to press charges, citing health concerns and a fear that the Suns organization or the players involved would seek revenge.

What really happened to her that night?
We may never know for sure.
But there are a few things that are certain.

While the allegations of rape would almost certainly never stand up in court, the police reports of the incident--in their cold, clear, detached language--provide a rare glimpse into the lurid lifestyle of young, rich athletes.

That lifestyle stands in stark contrast to the for-family-consumption, civic-heroes image of the Suns propagated by the team's PR machine and Valley media boosters like the Arizona Republic, the Phoenix Gazette and the television news teams (all of whom have had access to the police reports for weeks and failed to disclose them to the public).

It is a morbidly compelling story of arrogant, unchecked desires, of life inside basketball Babylon.

It is also a story of a woman who, either through naivet or fascination with the allure of the basketball superstars, flew into their orbit--and into a world whose unforgiving rules she did not fully understand.

She flew too close to the Suns. And she got burned.
@body:The phone rang at 6:05 a.m., no doubt waking Phoenix police detective Donald Newcomer from his Sunday-morning slumber. Newcomer was instructed to report immediately to a house in east Phoenix to interview a victim of a sexual assault.

Newcomer must have known instantly, however, that this was no ordinary rape investigation. The alleged assault, he was told, involved Suns star Oliver Miller. The sensitivity of the case to the Phoenix police is evident not only in the urgency with which the department summoned one of its top detectives, but also in that he was to join seven other officers already on the job. This case clearly couldn't wait until Monday.

When Newcomer arrived at the house, owned by the ex-husband of the reported victim, he was introduced to the alleged victim, Mary (all the names of the women in the reports have been changed; also, all verbatim material from the police report is italicized, and includes the accounts of several different officers). The report describes the scene:

Mary was laying on the couch and trying to sleep. Mary was dressed in a green robe and I asked her where her clothing was that she had been wearing earlier. She [said] that her pants were somewhere in the residence, but . . . there was no reason to give her clothes to the police since she was not going to prosecute. She also stated that she was not going to have a sexual assault examination.

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Darrin Hostetler