There’s a reason no one ever said “Be like Chuck.”
But maybe it’s time to reconsider.
Not for your kids, at least not yet, nor anyone who isn’t in line for a tax break under President Obama’s current plan. It might be fun being Charles Barkley sometimes, but it’s always expensive, embarrassing on occasion and as this latest episode demonstrated, dangerous every once in a while.
Still, if you’re someone with a taste for nightlife, a big mouth and the wallet to match — sound like any pro athlete you’ve read about lately? — you could do a lot worse than Chuck.
If Barkley turns out to be as sincere about this latest scrape as he was candid about previous ones, he could actually make a dent in some very thick skulls — beginning with his own.
Barkley made a commercial almost 20 years ago vowing he wouldn’t be a role model. Then he made it a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Guys who spend half of what he has to cover gambling losses, legal fees and “donations” to the NBA’s coffers (even though the league prefers to call them “fines”) usually wind up with a charity, a law firm or a casino named after them. For all we know, he may still be under consideration for all three.
But Barkley could get a statue erected in his honor by week’s end simply by keeping his promise to “challenge other people, not just celebrities or jocks” who make the same mistake he did, climbing behind the wheel of a car after a couple of drinks. He’s never been shy about using the bully pulpit before.
Barkley is scheduled to walk out of a Phoenix-area jail Monday morning after three days as a guest of Maricopa County. He pleaded guilty to drunk driving and two related misdemeanors resulting from his arrest Dec. 31, after leaving a nightclub in nearby Scottsdale. A field sobriety test showed his blood-alcohol level was nearly twice the legal limit of .08 percent in Arizona.
Just so we’re clear one more time: nobody needs to emulate that.
Barkley had to pay $2,000 in fines, attend an alcohol treatment program, install an ignition interlock device on his vehicles and take a six-week leave of absence from his studio job at TNT. And even though he wound up in Tent City, the jail run by Sheriff Joe Arpaio, a notoriously tough-talking lawman with his own reality TV show, Barkley’s stay could have been a lot worse.
He was given his own tent and work release from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. both Saturday and Sunday, meaning he was required to spend only 36 hours behind bars — or in this case, curtains. To his credit, Chuck didn’t waste much of that time.
On Arpaio’s request, he talked to some 200 county inmates ages 15 to 17 on Saturday. Then with Arpaio putting in a good word for his latest “model inmate,” Barkley sat behind a table in the yard for a brief news conference.
He was focused enough at the outset, saying the mistake that landed him there “was completely my own.” But soon enough, it became a State-of-the-Chuckster address. He noted that Martha Stewart had no problem resuming her career after serving time, told Rush Limbaugh, among others, to lay off his pal, the president, and closed by returning to his law-and-order theme by telling R&B singer Chris Brown, charged with assaulting his superstar girlfriend, Rihanna, “You can’t ever hit a woman. That’s unacceptable.”
The same can be said about drunk driving, and if the target audience is rich young athletes, few better people to say it. He has a hard-earned reputation for straight talk, and never more credibility to talk straight about the problem than now.
When Barkley took a swing at Bill Laimbeer in a game years ago, he paid the $20,000 fine and said his only regret was that he didn’t make better contact. After he smacked a wiseguy who was harassing him in a Cleveland bar in 1996, Barkley smacked him again in civil court when the jury threw out a $550,000 lawsuit. After the trial, the salesman who brought the suit admitted being stunned that Barkley turned down a final offer to settle for $12,000, less than what Charles spends on golf balls most months.
“Why should I give him $12,000?” Barkley replied with flawless logic. “He doesn’t get a rebound. He doesn’t get hit in the head by Karl Malone.”
The way Barkley carries on, you never know whether he’s telling the truth, or just giving voice to the first funny thing that pops into his head. Once it comes out of his mouth, though, he swears by it. He insists that never got him in trouble because he always speaks the truth.
“I don’t create controversies. They’re there long before I open my mouth,” Barkley once said. “I just bring them to your attention.”
Here’s hoping the weekend in Ten City returned the favor. If Barkley didn’t think driving after a few drinks was a problem before, he knows better now.
Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitkeap.org