PHILADELPHIA -- Charles Barkley, who this season has made scathing comments about nearly everyone connected with the Philadelphia 76ers except the Spectrum organist, turned his wrath on a new target yesterday: general manager Gene Shue.
With the Sixers about to miss the NBA playoffs for only the second time in 17 seasons, Barkley said that Shue, a former Sixers coach, had done nothing to improve the team since he rejoined it two years ago.
Barkley called Shue "a clown whose only ambition is to caddie for [owner] Harold Katz."
The team captain, who missed a practice at St. Joseph's University because of the dislocated middle finger on his left hand, was about to leave the locker room when he was asked about comments made by an unnamed Sixers official in a Philadelphia Inquirer article Sunday on the team's slide from 53 regular-season victories two years ago to 33 victories this season. The official had said that Barkley plays hard only on offense and "doesn't play to win."
Barkley clearly was furious at the comments. He chose to direct his response at Shue.
"I have no respect for Gene Shue," he said. "He's just a robot who does what he's told. He doesn't do his job. He's just a caddie."
Asked several times whether he wanted to retract those words, Barkley declined.
Shue was unavailable for comment. Katz also was unavailable.
Said Barkley of the Sixers' management: "They don't want to turn this into a war of words because they'll lose. I've been really nice to the Sixers organization, and I haven't told the true story about what's happening around here. I've been really nice. . .
"I'll tell you something. People can say what they want to say about me, but two years ago, I was the best player on the planet, and I haven't become a [liability] in two years . . . I don't think I've changed that much in two years."
The Sixers' fortunes certainly have changed in the last two seasons. Atlanta's loss to Chicago last night means the Sixers are still mathematically in contention for a spot in the NBA playoffs. To squeeze in, they must win their last four games -- beginning tonight against surging Boston at the Spectrum -- and Atlanta and Miami must lose the rest of their games.