PHILADELPHIA -- Help.
That's what Charles Barkley says he will ask for early next week when he meets with 76ers owner Harold Katz and coach Jim Lynam.
That's what the vast majority of visitors and telephone-callers were offering, at least on an emotional level, during the two hours of Barkley's radio show on station WIP Thursday night at Al E. Gators, a restaurant on Lancaster Avenue in Haverford, Pa.
It was pure, unadulterated Barkleymania, complete with a phone call from his mother-in-law; a phone call from Roy Johnson, who is writing a book with him; and a visit from a woman from Reading who was delivering a birthday present for Barkley's daughter.
Beyond that, there were parents who came to have photos taken with their children and the Sixers' captain, kids who waited patiently for autographs, adults who waited breathlessly to talk to him.
This was no place to come for breaking news, but it was a fascinating entertainment venue. More than 350 people packed into the area around the podium where Barkley sat with host Neil Hartman. During a break, Hartman said that only a show that featured Rick Mahorn and the (unfulfilled) promise of a visit by Manute Bol drew more.
Still, the closest Barkley came to breaking new ground was when someone asked whether he wanted to be with the Sixers next season.
"Not with the same team [we] have now," Barkley shot back. "We need some help.
"Obviously, we need a center. Everything starts there. You can't win without a center . . . You've got to try and do something."
In the course of the show, Barkley established that San Antonio's David Robinson, New York's Patrick Ewing and Houston's Hakeem Olajuwon were probably unavailable, then brought up Sacramento's Bill Wennington, Charlotte's Eric Leckner, Boston's Joe Kleine and Denver's Blair Rasmussen.
Atlanta's Moses Malone?
"We need a starting center, and I don't know if Moses is a starting center anymore," he said.
Someone suggested the possibility of obtaining forward John "Hot Rod" Williams from Cleveland.
0 "I'd kill to play with [Williams]," he said.
This was no place to discuss the limitations or restrictions of the National Basketball Association's complex salary cap, or -- because of huge salaries and long-term deals -- the growing difficulty of consummating trades.
The people in the audience were filled with adulation, curiosity and appreciation.
"He wants to be unconditionally loved," said John DiSantis, an attorney from Radnor. "Only your mother gives you that.
"He's in a class of athlete that's unparalleled. But in any big city, if you're [a star], outspoken, critical, you're going to be criticized. But I think he's generally worshiped by the populace."
Elma Walton, who came from Reading with a gift for Barkley's daughter, was unabashed with her feelings.
"If I had $1 million, I could give it to him and know that every penny would be there," she said.
"Have you heard me say I want to be traded?" Barkley said. "That's never come out of my lips.
"[But] . . . You know how the media is. I have a problem with the majority of the media. I don't think they treat any athlete with any popularity [in Philadelphia] fairly. Myself, Buddy Ryan, Randall Cunningham, Ron Hextall . . .
"I think the media's a part of the problem, 'cause they're not part of the solution."
Amen, said Joyce McIlhenny, of the Overbrook section of Philadelphia.
"I have respect for [Barkley] and Ryan," she said, identifying herself by saying she "ran the Buddy Backers," a group that supported Ryan when he coached the Eagles.
"The press helped Buddy get sent out," she said. "It would be very boring if Charles isn't here [next season] . . . In some ways the press is unfair to Charles. The man is frustrated. He tried to win and didn't have the [team support] to do it."