PHILADELPHIA -- Now Charles Barkley has become a victim of his own reputation.
Now the whackos and the brave-on-beer midnight cowboys, the prowlers and the predators, the mischief-makers and the just plain mean -- they all want to try him. They all want a piece of him.
Now Charles Barkley has come to represent the lottery in reverse -- get him to hit you and then sue.
Now Charles Barkley needs do nothing more than walk into a bar and some quick-draw guy wants to challenge him.
Obviously, the easiest way for the Philadelphia 76ers star to avoid this would be to stay out of bars in the first place. Logic 101. But, whether too prideful, too stubborn, too macho or too defiant, Barkley refuses.
What apparently continue to elude him are the concepts of discretion and good judgment. He may not be out looking for trouble, but he makes it awfully convenient for trouble to find him.
It still does not occur to him to avoid those obviously dangerous places, where courage comes from a bottle and where the patrons have had a running start on turning their minds to mush.
Charles Barkley, who will be at the Baltimore Arena
Saturday night to play the Washington Bullets, is going to have to become a prisoner when the Sixers are on the road -- chained to his hotel room, shackled to room service. It will be deprivation, but hardly bread-and-water solitary confinement.
Celebrities in every field, including Barkley's, have learned to make the adjustments that are required when fame has found them. They all bemoan their surrender of freedom, but they realize the alternative is to be the tempting target.
The most recent incendiary incident involving Barkley occurred in the early hours Wednesday in Chicago, after the 76ers had lost -- badly -- to the Bulls.
Barkley and Jayson Williams, in the company of two women, were approached by a 34-year-old man in the bar of the team's hotel.
According to police reports, the man intimated that he had a knife.
As conversational ice-breakers go, this one was an inventive attention-grabber. Presumably, the man was not a knife salesman.
The Barkley party, according to reports, began to
edge uneasily toward the door.
The man followed.
The police report used the word "persisted." It is a word that suggests that a person will not be discouraged or distracted from what he has in mind.
Rather like Barkley going after a rebound.
Williams, a second-year Sixer whose playing time is minimal, put an efficient and abrupt end to the unpleasantness. He lifted a beer mug from the bar and crocked the man on the cranium.
The man was charged with aggravated assault. Also, his head was sewn.
Neither Barkley nor Williams was charged with anything.
Twenty-three days earlier, in Milwaukee, at around 2:30 in the morning, Barkley had one-punched an alleged provocateur, breaking his nose, on the street outside a saloon. That case is grinding its way through the legal process.
This time, Barkley did nothing but show up.
But that was enough.
It's always enough when someone, because of envy or alcohol or resentment or ignorance, wants to make a name by taking on a name.
By all accounts, Barkley was the innocent bystander this time. But he must know that, after all that has hap
pened, he need do nothing but stand in one spot -- especially if that spot is in a volatile location -- and something will happen.
There is a part of him that likes the danger, likes walking the edge.
He is not exactly Mike Tyson, not out stalking the mean streets purposefully, hoping someone will challenge him, getting off on that adrenalin rush. But a part of Barkley is intrigued by testing limits.
Actually, he is quite adept at defusing explosive situations. More than once, he has charmed a taunter in a bar, walking over, buying drinks all around and skillfully finessing him. More than once, he has charmed and converted a loudmouth into a fawning fan.
It is an art, and he is skillful at it. It is also fraught with potential danger, and that appeals to him, too.
But there are people whom he cannot sway, situations he cannot control, bombs he cannot defuse.
The prudent approach would be to stay away from them.
If he can't, then his employer is going to have to make it a requirement.
That or just give up and trade him.
More and more, he makes it difficult not to believe that's what he has had in mind all along.