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Barkley Makes the Suns Rise

Controversial Phoenix froward helps a good team shine even brighter

`OUTRAGEOUS" is the title of his paperback autobiography, and the word fits. Charles Barkley's behavior is as infamous as his basketball playing.

Take his "impossible" game-winning shot last week against the Portland Trailblazers: an off-balance rebound that scored with .5 seconds on the clock - Phoenix won, 115 to 114. Take his behavior: chasing a referee into a locker room, being ejected from games for fighting or saying unprintable things to game officials (or fans, or anyone, for that matter). He also can be undeniably warm and entertaining. He often stops to shake hands with fans, sign autographs, or pose for pictures.

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The Phoenix Suns acquired Barkley this season in a three-for-one trade with the Philadelphia 76ers. For the past few years, the Suns have had winning seasons, but this year their record is the best in the league - and they are on their way to the National Basketball Association (NBA) playoffs for the first time. Come June, many expect the Suns to be in the final round.

Here are excerpts from an interview with Barkley earlier this month when the Suns were in Boston to play the Celtics (Phoenix won, 118 to 114):

What about the transformation of the Phoenix team?

I think we've got a very good team. We've got a lot of weapons. We play well from the beginning to the end. We can hurt you with a lot of different people. I think the thing we've got to concentrate on is stay consistent - play solid defense and rebound the ball.

Are you enjoying this season more than last?

Any time you win, you have a lot more fun. You know it was a struggle because we weren't winning last year in Philadelphia. Any time you win, that makes the game a lot more fun.

I don't think anybody can stop me. I know anybody can't stop me. And tonight [the Celtics] weren't [double-teaming] me as much as some of the other teams were. I'm just very fortunate; I've got a lot of good players out there. I appreciate it more because you take winning for granted. I took winning for granted my first few years in the league, and I think the big difference is now I appreciate winning a lot more. I think [my teammates] help me and I help them. It's hard to cover me when other guys can m ake shots.

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Did you enjoy playing on the US Olympic `Dream Team'?

It was a lot of fun. I got a chance to play on the best basketball team ever assembled. And it was a great honor and something I can cherish.

Are you tired of all the media attention?

It's hard and very physically demanding on you. I think what you've got to do is concentrate and come out ready to play every night. That's my objective: to play well. I don't care about that other stuff.

MANY pick Charles Barkley to be named the league's most valuable player (MVP) this season. Three local sports reporters from each of the 27 NBA-franchise cities and 17 national sports reporters will cast ballots; the winner will be announced near the end of the playoffs (the final round will begin in early June).

Here are some comments from other basketball players on Barkley's chances of winning the MVP award:

Scottie Pippen of the Chicago Bulls: I pretty much see Charles Barkley [winning the MVP award]. He's cannonballed that Phoenix team a long way, even though they were a team that had been on the uprise. They just needed one more player to really get them over the hump, and he's pretty much done that.

Chicago Bulls' Michael Jordan, three-time winner of the MVP award: I'd love to see Charles win it. He's had that type of year. His team's been successful. Hakeem [Olajuwon of the Houston Rockets] - I don't think you can sit down and write him off.... And Patrick [Ewing] in New York. Those three have had MVP-style years, and you know any one of them could win it, and I wish them all well.

[Barkley] is happy. And I know he says that he doesn't need winning to be happy. There is some truth to that - I mean, you should be happy with your family and whatever. But winning is going to make you happy on the basketball court no matter who you are. And I think he's happy because of his success, and certainly he feels he has a strong opportunity of winning a championship, which is something he desires very, very strongly....

I'd love to win [the MVP].... I'd love to win as many as I can. But I don't want to start off the year saying "Hey, I'm going to win the MVP," or "I want to win the MVP so I'm going to start campaigning for it." I'm going to let my work do my talking, and hopefully my numbers are good enough to help me win that, and not that someone gives it to me.

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