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For Barkley, credibility is no laughing matter

Adrian Wojnarowski
Yahoo Sports

The back story of the bust turned out to be vintage Sir Charles: A late evening of drinking with Michael Strahan and Urkel and a nightcap of a willing woman waiting beyond the bar. Charles Barkley ran a stop sign in Scottsdale, failed a field sobriety test and couldn’t wait to offer his reasoning for such recklessness to the booking officer.

“I was gonna drive around the corner and get a … ”

The rest of Barkley’s boast is available with a simple ’net search, but understand: With his arrest on suspicion of DUI this week, Barkley lost his head.

He turned one more embarrassing episode into weeks worth of material for Ernie Johnson and Kenny Smith on the TNT set. He turned the police report on his arrest into a Saturday Night Live skit. That’s Charles. No harm, no foul. He’s forever the class clown shooting spitballs at the teacher. People feel like they should tsk-tsk-tsk him, but he just cracks everyone up. He never did win a title, except this one: champion of the people.

He’s 45 years old now, and Charles Barkley talks about a big life beyond a Hall of Fame basketball career. He says he’s going to run for governor of Alabama in 2014. Barkley is an endless laugh track, but he barely knows who’s playing on the Raptors and Warriors, never mind the Democrats and Republicans.

Nevertheless, Campbell Brown had him on CNN in the election cycle discussing presidential politics and his possible gubernatorial bid. “I can’t screw up Alabama,” Barkley said. “We are number 48 in everything and Arkansas and Mississippi aren't going anywhere.”

If Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jesse Ventura became governors, maybe Charles could’ve gotten elected in Alabama. He probably would’ve had a better shot than Turner Gill did at Auburn. Of course, Barkley is never running for governor. And he’s never going to be a GM in the NBA. He’s never taken anything that seriously – just like no one takes him seriously.

The gambling debts and the suspected DUI won’t keep Barkley out of the governor’s or the GM’s office. Nobody’s giving him those jobs. Here’s the thing, though: Barkley could be a player on the national stage, but these incidents are destroying his credibility.

For instance, there isn’t a sports figure willing to speak as loudly and forcefully on issues of race as Barkley. He was right railing on his alma mater Auburn’s hiring of Gene Chizik over Gill as football coach. When everyone else is too fearful to talk about race and sports, he’s unafraid. He fears no repercussions. He doesn’t lose endorsements and he doesn’t lose jobs. In that way, Barkley is strangely immune.

What he’s losing is the chance to be taken seriously, to have a legitimate platform beyond bugging on EJ and The Jet. More than anything, Barkley is costing himself the chance to be a serious commentator on issues. He’s lost tens of millions of dollars gambling. The stories of unpaid debts and binge betting became such an embarrassment for the NBA that commissioner David Stern had to talk to him about it.

Barkley could do a lot more than celebrity golf tournaments, commercials and two nights a week cracking wise on TNT. Yet, there’s a sad, self-destructive bent to him that suggests he’ll never graduate to bigger things. There’s no shame there. He’s got a good life, good gigs. He’s capable of a lot more and it seems like that gnaws at him.

Barkley is famously generous, with kindness and money. He’s given millions to institutions such as his high school and college, and thousands and thousands more to waiters and ballboys and perfect strangers. When a young man busing tables at one of Barkley’s favorite Philadelphia restaurants had dropped out of Temple University and lost his dream to become a teacher because he was out of money, Barkley insisted on paying his tuition.

For every foolish thing that Barkley did as a player – accidentally spitting on a girl courtside, throwing a smart-mouth through a glass window – there have been endless accounts of random kindness. He’s got a big heart, a big spirit.

Of course, he’s got a big ego, too. He thinks he can be a GM. He thinks he can be a governor. Not like this, no.

Through the years, the story never changes with Charles; something he’s chasing makes him look like a fool. Maybe it’s a stack of chips late night in Vegas or a you-know-what late night in Scottsdale. Whatever it is, it’s forever held him back. Even Michael Jordan believed that Barkley was never committed enough to be a championship player.

The blood tests will tell the truth of Barkley’s sobriety the other night, but his refusal to take the breathalyzer suggests he didn’t like his odds of passing it. Too many people have lost their lives, lost loved ones to drinking and driving, for Barkley to get laughs out of that booking-room routine.

“The Scottsdale police were fantastic,” Barkley gushed in a brief public statement.

As it turned out, it was the Gilbert police that busted him. Whatever. Charles Barkley has never been too good with the details. Even so, they were a good audience for him. He told them how that lovely lady had recently given him some of the best you-know-what of his life, and that maybe a civilian police employee in the booking station could get her name tattooed on his butt for getting him out of trouble.

“I am disappointed that I put myself in that situation,” Barkley said.

Embarrassed? That’s harder to do. “He has a chance to do some good with this,” the police spokesman said. “I hope he does.”

There’s a lot more good for Charles Barkley to do, but none of it comes out of a DUI arrest. That’s for the young knuckleheads. Barkley is 45 and he still talks about such big plans, big ideas for himself. At this rate, it doesn’t look so good.