Seriously, Don't Take Barkley Too Seriously Former NBA star Charles Barkley is taking a leave of absence from his television work after his arrest for suspected drunken driving. Commentator Frank Deford says Barkley's career has been marked by his outsized talent and behavior — but his critics should calm down a bit.

Seriously, Don't Take Barkley Too Seriously

Seriously, Don't Take Barkley Too Seriously

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Looming Large: Even on a golf course, former NBA star Charles Barkley is at the center of attention. Claus Andersen/Getty Images hide caption

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Claus Andersen/Getty Images

Looming Large: Even on a golf course, former NBA star Charles Barkley is at the center of attention.

Claus Andersen/Getty Images

Charles Barkley is perennially identified by that dreadful word "controversial," which is all too often employed by the insecure to put down anybody who dares flaunt their originality. And Barkley has been one of a kind — again and again.

To begin with, he was that oddity, a fat basketball player — the Round Mound of Rebound. Middle-aged, he is a large man of large, intemperate habits, especially where booze, betting and sex are concerned.

Sir Charles has baldly admitted losing $2.5 million in six hours at blackjack. When he was arrested on New Year's Eve on suspicion of driving under the influence, he glibly volunteered to the constabulary that he had run through a stop sign so that he might more quickly arrive at a venue where he could enjoy the company of his female companion.

He is unfiltered, without guile.

Most famously, he spoke these words after absolutely hammering a skinny African player in the Olympics: "How was I to know he wasn't carrying a spear?"

In this particular case, Barkley managed to be twice-flagellated: first for being a bad sport, and second for practicing a double standard, making an offensive remark that he could get away with only because he is African-American.

But then, through the years, Barkley has made rather blunt remarks about, say, the athletic limitations of white basketball players. Of course, all sorts of observers, white and back, make the same sort of remarks in private — although they're not nearly as funny as the way Barkley phrases them.

Anyway, now that Sir Charles' transgressions have risen to a point where John Law has intervened, many Pecksniffian sorts who have been offended in the past by the Barkley chorale couldn't wait to rise up to castigate him.

To listen to some, you'd think this off-the-cuff analyst of profound issues like zone defense and the pick-and-roll was a threat to the morality of the state and to the tender sensibilities of the youths of America.

Barkley has agreed to stay away from TNT for a bit. Fair enough. DUI charges are dangerous business, and he deserves to be punished. But for goodness sake, have we reached a point where we take sports so seriously that chubby, chattering old ex-ballplayers are treated to the standard of preachers and presidents?

Amid all the tedious sports analysts who treat games like worship, Sir Charles happens to be three things: fun, unpredictable and blasphemous. And, as always, two outta three ain't bad.

Frank Deford joins us from member station WSHU in Fairfield, Conn.