In the end, it's Charles vs. Michael Dream matchup, even with flaws

June 09, 1993|By Dan Shaughnessy | Dan Shaughnessy,Boston Globe

PHOENIX, Ariz. -- Both have been Most Valuable Players. Bot are Dream Team alumni. Both sell shoes for Nike. Neither wants to be ambassador to Rome.

Michael and Charles. Charles and Michael. Two bald guys at the top of their game.

It is the hook. It is the attraction. It is what we want to see.

The NBA Finals start tonight. It'll be the world champion Chicago Bulls playing against the best-record-in-the-NBA Phoenix Suns. They'll play as many as seven games in two weeks, all in prime time (too late for the kids). The winning team will be NBA champion.

We care not. We just want to see Michael and Charles. Charles and Michael.

Think about it. Wouldn't this be a more entertaining series if the NBA simply staged a best-of-seven, one-on-one challenge pitting Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley? Do you think Richard Esquinas and Pete Rose might want a little action on that?

The NBA is the league of superstars and here in the spring of '93, Michael and Charles are the ones. Just a few years ago we had Michael and Magic. Before that it was Magic and Larry. And of course, it goes all the way back to Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain.

Stuffy hoopologists remind us that Charles and Michael won't actually guard each other in this series (they tried to douse the Larry-Magic rivalry with the same tired telestrator talk). It's not really a duel of superstars.

Yes, it is. This isn't about the Suns vs. the Bulls, or the good people of Phoenix vs. the good people of Chicago. It's not about America West vs. the O'Hare Hilton. It's not about blazing heat vs. big shoulders, or Bruce Babbitt vs. Richard Daley.

It's about Michael and Charles. Charles and Michael. And we are here to give you matchup details:

* NICKNAMES -- There's been some evolution here. When Charles Barkley came into the NBA, he had two nicknames, "Tub," and "Round Mound of Rebound." When's the last time you heard anybody call him "Tub"? Probably not since some guy tried it late at night on the streets of Milwaukee. Today Barkley is "Sir Charles." He no longer is a tub. He is not a round mound. Michael forever will be Air Jordan. You've got to like the prospect of Air Jordan playing as many as four championship games in the America West Arena. Nickname Edge: Michael.

* COMMERCIALS -- What a duel. These are the Superpowers of the 30-second spot. Charles has fought with Godzilla in a television commercial. More lately, he has denied his status as a role model and told America that he should not be in charge of raising our kids (and to think I had just finished telling my Sarah, Kate and Sam to Be Like Charles). Michael, or course, is ubiquitous. Wheaties. McDs. Be Like Mike. Did we forget shoes? Michael is to commercials what Mickey Mouse is to cartoons. Commercial Edge: Michael.

* ASSOCIATIONS WITH UNSAVORY CHARACTERS -- Michael's got some baggage here. A murdered bail bondsman had checks from Michael. Convicted cocaine dealer James "Slim" Bouler won $57,000 from Michael. Sleazebag Esquinas has published a book about his golf gambling with Michael. Worst of all, of course, is Michael's ongoing dialogue with the back-slapping, parasitic Ahmad Rashad. Charles, meanwhile, has met Madonna. Associations With Unsavory Characters Edge: Charles.

* INTERNATIONAL INCIDENTS -- Charles takes the cake. In Barcelona, he busted a 160-pound Angolan upside the head, then said, "The guy might have been carrying a spear or something." And that was only the beginning. Michael dropped big dough at the tables in Monte Carlo. No crime there. International Incidents Edge: Charles.

* DUNKING -- Charles is a power guy. He is a Frigidaire with rockets on the soles of his shoes. But Michael is equal parts Julius Erving and Gus Johnson. There are children who think Michael invented the dunk. The only thing Michael does better than dunking is commercials. Dunking Edge: Michael.

* TALKING -- Ahhhh. Revenge for Charles. Back in the days when he was talking, Michael was OK. He filled the quote quota and occasionally lapsed into sincerity. Charles is to talking what Michael is to dunking and commercials. Charles is a merry mix of Winston Churchill and Oil Can Boyd. Talking Edge: Charles.

* TRASH TALKING -- Michael will wag his tongue and an occasional finger. He baited Doc Rivers and John Starks a little in the conference finals. Charles will take on the Bulls, the city of Chicago, Mike Royko, Studs Terkel and the Second City Players. Trash Talking Edge: Charles.

* BASKETBALL -- Oh yes, basketball. Charles is Charles and we love him. But Michael is Michael. Basketball Edge: Michael.

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