Will Barkley listen, or play Ugly American role?

July 27, 1992|By Phil Jasner | Phil Jasner,Knight-Ridder

BADALONA, Spain -- Charles Barkley, who insists on portraying himself as the Ugly American, has done it again. In his first game at the Olympics. For a reason that seemed perfectly clear to him, but to no one else.

Angola, the African nation that absorbed a 116-48 beating yesterday against the United States in the opening game for both teams, didn't like it. Barkley's teammates didn't like it, and told him so. The people in the Palau d'Esports didn't like it, either.

The concept of the Ugly American just got a little uglier.

This was a game in which the Angolans never had a chance, not even if they had played six against four, or even seven against three. The Dream Team almost effortlessly unfurled runs of 31-0 and 46-1 in the first half and left their opponent without an assist for the first 33 minutes.

So why, with 7:39 left in the first half, did Barkley insist on drilling heretofore unknown Herlander Coimbra? Why did he shove David Dias, another Angolan? Why, on a second-half fast-break, did he insist on trying to flip the ball off the glass to set up a failed attempt at a just-for-the-hell-of-it dunk?

Barkley, predictably, wondered why anyone even would ask. He placed the questions in the same category as those about why the NBA players were not living in the athletes' village, and why they even were participating in the Olympics in the first place.

The elbow to Coimbra's sternum?

"He hit me [earlier], I hit him," Barkley said. "You guys don't understand that. It's a ghetto thing."

Whatever ghetto Barkley was talking about is likely to pale in comparison to the troubles the Angolans have seen. Their country has been ripped apart by a long-standing civil war that was settled with a cease-fire a year ago. They rebuild one painful day at a time. Their players work part-time, or go to school, or both. They scrimped and saved just to make it to the Olympics.

"Somebody hits me, I'm going to hit him back," Barkley repeated. "You [media] guys bitch and complain. If we lose the gold medal, you'll bitch and complain. You never complained about Steffi Graf and Jim Courier [competing in the Olympics as tennis professionals], so quit complaining about us.

"I don't understand why we're taking heat. Typical Americans. If they don't like it, turn the bleeping television off. . . . Magic [Johnson] and Michael [Jordan] shouldn't stay with the other athletes, that's just the way it is."

The Dream Teamers appreciated Barkley's performance, which included team-highs of 24 points (10-for-13 shooting) and six rebounds. They enjoy the entertainment value of his strident one-liners. They laugh with him, not at him. But they don't want to see him cross the line into unnecessary mayhem. They don't want to lose whatever good graces they still have left.

Is Barkley listening? Does he want to listen? Will it matter?

"There wasn't a need [for the elbow]," Jordan said. "I think it sends a mixed message. We were dominating. It wasn't needed; it's not going to help."

Forward Karl Malone also voiced his displeasure.

"We're not here to baby-sit Charles," Malone said. "We just need to go out and play and not rub things in people's faces. I don't think we need to be degrading people."

Jordan and several teammates tried to counsel Barkley afterward, to let him know they needed his bark and bite, but not his spite.

"I think he took it that he did something wrong, that he could get thrown out," Jordan said. "If Charles quits doing what he does, we'll get cheers instead of whistles [the European version of boos].

"Charles is his own person. You can try and calm him down, but he's [still] his own person. We all have spoken to Charles. Charles knows his limits. He's going to take [his behavior] to a point and not exceed it. He's not a crazy individual."

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