PHILADELPHIA -- Trouble is never hard to find. But there are some places where it's a little easier to locate than others.
And one of those places is in a lot where people park their cars while they frequent a saloon.
Trouble doesn't exactly punch a time clock, but 2:30 in the morning figures to be prime time. Sunday morning coming down, as the balladeer once wrote.
Well, friend, the Philadelphia 76ers have got trouble with a capital T, trouble right there in Barkleyville. Charles Barkley, lightning rod, has caught another bolt.
He was arrested early yesterday morning in the Sixers' Milwaukee hotel after a man charged that Barkley broke his nose. Barkley spent more than four hours in jail and was released after posting his own bail, $500, in cash.
Presumably Barkley was taunted into a fight. Someone with liquid bravery may have gotten in his face, may have provoked him from behind.
Barkley, according to the play-by-play filed with the Milwaukee Police Department, responded with a crisp, efficient one-punch facial and relocated his provocateur's nose, much as he once realigned the entire basket in the Spectrum -- backboard, underpinning, support, the works.
That is his flaw -- he just seems unable to walk away. It is his most obvious asset in basketball and his most obvious shortcoming in life.
On a court, he is relentless. He never knows when to back off. TC Off the court, there are times when knowing when to back off is not a weakness at all, but a strength, and one that requires the summoning of even more courage.
The obvious lesson is that if you are unable to walk away from confrontation, then try not to expose yourself to it in the first place. Avoid it altogether.
Early of a Sunday morning, outside a watering hole in an "enemy" city seems to be not a perspicacious detour but a direct and rash route to trouble.
The easy response is that this is still a free country and a man can go where he pleases. And the counter-response is that you know perfectly well that while all men may be created equal, their circumstances are not equal, and one of the inequities is that celebrities forfeit certain rights and freedoms that are available to the public. They forfeit that in exchange for being celebrities, and for the many millions that usually accrue.
It goes with the territory, just assurely as having to serve as a role model goes with the territory. And no, it isn't fair and it isn't right.
It just is.
Barkley resists, nonetheless. Typically. Part of you admires his independence, his stubborn refusal to be what everyone else wants him to be. And part of you wonders how much of it is adolescent machismo, rebellion for rebellion's sake, terminal immaturity, and a phobia about accepting responsibility.
With Barkley, the "incidents" are coming at an alarming rate now.
Consider all that has gone on with him in just the last 10 months.
There was a disorderly conduct charge -- since dropped -- when he threw a tray of water cups at fans in Milwaukee during a playoff game. There was the infamous spitting incident, where he wanted to hit an antagonist in the front row but missed and moistened an innocent 8-year-old girl instead. There was the thoughtless, insensitive blurt about wife-beating. The scuffle with Manute Bol. The $5,000 fine after he reacted childishly to coach Jim Lynam's pulling him from a game. The public castigation of his teammates. The flap about Philadelphia being the epitome of racism. The tempest in a teapot about wearing Magic Johnson's number, followed by Barkley's expression of open contempt for Philadelphia fans ("I don't give a flying bleepity-bleep-bleep what the bleepity-bleep fans in this bleeping town think.")
Oh yes. The book. His autobiography. The one in which he initially claimed he was misquoted but then recanted, thus saving himself from litigation history -- the first man to sue himself for libel.
He has managed to cram a lifetime of controversy into less than a calendar year.
Maybe there is a hidden motive. Maybe he seeks to force the Sixers to trade him. Certainly, he makes them cringe every time the phone rings.
And the Sixers' official stance this time is intriguing. Not involved, they say. Personal matter between Charles and the police, they say. It was as though they had developed sudden amnesia: "Who's that, you say? Charles who? Can you spell that last name?"
Certainly there must now be times when they wish Charles Barkley would just go away. He makes it increasingly difficult not to suspect that is his intent.
Then again, maybe there's nothing devious at work here at all. Maybe it's just this simple -- Charles Barkley has an affinity for trouble.
And vice versa.
They sure know where to find each other.