Don't get me wrong. Don't sit there and assume I'm astonished that the Phoenix Suns pay Tom Chambers $2,060,000 a year for halfheartedly bouncing and throwing a round ball.

I'm not astonished by a salary that makes Chambers the most overpaid man in all of professional sports. I am amazed, astounded, dumbfounded and staggered. Come to think of it, I actually am surprised.

For some peculiar reason that puzzles me, it is considered bad form among the sporting media to mention the matter of how overpaid some players in the National Basketball Association have become.

Since I'm not a member in good standing, allow me to bring it up for discussion.

Does anyone really think Kevin Johnson is worth $1,750,000 a year? Should Xavier McDaniel get $1,400,000 or Jeff Hornacek get $1,100,000?

I don't mention Dan Majerle, who has just been raised over the million-dollar mark because he seems to me the one player on the team who might conceivably be worth that kind of money.

Next time you watch the Suns play, take a look at them huddled up before the game. This season's salary for the entire roster is $11,833,000.

Who are we all kidding here? Is this a group of young men that you can easily identify with?

But it is the Chambers-salary caper that points up where the money has become ridiculous. To cite the most extreme example, an ordinary performer like John Williams of the Cleveland Cavaliers is being paid $5,000,000 for this single season of play.

The way I see it, even if Chambers were engaged in successfully slam-dunking Kuwait's flaming oil wells, his current salary should be regarded as criminally excessive.

Here in Phoenix, which is a veritable Land of Enchantment for charlatans, only those engaged in selling land planned for freeway interchanges are generally so overpaid.

But for Jerry Colangelo to willingly spend that much of his stockholders' money for cybernetic and robotic Chambers was close to madness.

He could have done better buying bonds from Charles Keating. The Keating bonds, of course, turned out to be worthless.

So is Chambers.
He is great when things are going well. If the Suns are romping to an obvious victory, you can expect Chambers to hang around at midcourt and streak for easy passes from Kevin Johnson that will help him build up his scoring average.

The easy, uncontested basket is his way of life. But in the Utah Jazz series, Chambers has generally been matched up inside against players like Karl Malone.

They don't call the Utah power forward The Mailman for nothing. Every time Malone gets close to Chambers, he snatches the basketball away and stuffs it in his bag.

Every time Chambers makes a move, Malone reaches in and swats the ball from Chambers' hands and heads for a delivery in the opposite direction.

After a few of these traumatic episodes, Chambers loses his composure. He falls apart. He misses the long shots. He misses the lay-ups. He drops passes, throws the ball away.

The only shots you can expect him to make for the remainder of the time in a game like this are from the free-throw line. He becomes the two-million-dollar-a-year free-throw shooter.

Forget about Chambers ever making a clutch shot. Don't expect him to dive for loose balls. That's not his style. Men who make $2,060,000 a season don't do things that are so socially demeaning.

Lest we forget, Chambers pulled the same thing in the playoffs last season when Buck Williams of the Portland Trail Blazers kept stripping him of the ball inside.

That became obvious after KJ was injured and point production and enthusiasm from Chambers became imperative. He didn't come through then, and we shouldn't expect him to do so in the playoffs this year, either.

Colangelo must have thought Chambers was perfect for the Suns. The so-called drug scandal had just ended. Something had to be done to remove the terrible image the irresponsible indictments by the County Attorney's Office had been.

So Colangelo leaped at the opportunity to get Chambers from the Seattle SuperSonics as a free agent. He was, of course, far from being a free agent. He was pretty damned expensive.

Colangelo knew Chambers could score over a long season, and the fact that he was white was a major plus. Chambers' face would be great on billboards and television advertising. His was an innocent white face that could help bring white season ticketholders back into the fold. The ploy worked.

Dan Majerle fits the same mold. He is also white. The difference, however, is that Majerle is also one of the hardest-working players in the entire NBA. He never quits. He never gets flustered when the league's tough guys start working on him.

What I notice now about the local sports media is that they have all risen to Chambers' defense. Listen to announcers Al McCoy and Dick Van Arsdale the next time the Suns play. Notice how often they will point out that Chambers is "trying hard." Listen to them urge the fans not to heap abuse from their seats.

Listen to KTAR Radio, which is inextricably bound to the Suns' fortunes in the playoffs and hear Jude ("I am not a homer") LaCava moaning that fans are "being unfair to poor Tom Chambers."

LaCava will be wrong on at least one count. Not by any stretch of the imagination can Tom Chambers be described as "poor."

For Jerry Colangelo to willingly spend that much of his stockholders' money for cybernetic and robotic Chambers was close to madness.

Forget about Chambers ever making a clutch shot. Don't expect him to dive for loose balls. That's not his style.

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Tom Fitzpatrick