Sir Charles is still large and in charge

Former NBA great makes his bread in the booth these days

His greatest love in life, other than making people laugh and having a good time, is playing golf. Not that he does the latter all that well.

But last year, with the stars evidently in some kind of wacky alignment, Charles Barkley captured a slice (poor choice of words) of heaven when he teamed with former NFL standout Roy Green to win the Scott Thomason/Neil Lomax Quarterback Shootout championship.

It was akin to the Cleveland Cavaliers taking on the rest of the NBA and prevailing. The great thing of it was, Barkley carried his partner all day. Right, Roy?

'Anyone in the golf world knows the answer to that question,' says Green, an 8-handicapper. 'But Charles did play well. We are a good team.'

Barkley understands his place on the celebrity golfing hierarchy, and it is not near the top. But after years of playing charity events, this was his first victory, and he is riding it for all it's worth.

'I have a lot of friends who play in this tournament, and it was good to win, because it gives you bragging rights for a year,' says Barkley, who will defend his title with Green in Saturday's 13th annual Shootout at Heron Lakes Golf Course. 'I hope we win again because I enjoy walking around telling everyone how good we are.

'Last year, I told Roy, 'I just need to hit three good shots today,' and I hit them all on the first hole. I hit a great drive, a great second shot, then holed the birdie putt. Then I told Roy, 'Those are my three shots. Good luck. You're on your own the rest of the way.' '

Barkley has just started playing golf again in recent weeks, so he probably won't be in midseason form as he plays in the Shootout, an event he hasn't missed for several years. Seems the former NBA great has been kind of busy in the broadcasting booth, working the playoffs for TNT.

'The thing about this job, you work one day a week for a long time, then you work 40 straight days in the playoffs,' he says in mock complaint. 'We work hard during the playoffs. Really.'

Big talker

If it's possible, Barkley is even more on top of the world than when he left the NBA as a player after the 1999-2000 season. If there was one thing he could do better than play basketball it was talk, and now he's getting paid good money Ñ $6 million over four years Ñ to expound on whatever his big old heart desires.

Barkley, 40, is informative and opinionated when he sits in the booth alongside Ernie Johnson, Kenny Smith and sometimes Magic Johnson. But more than that, he's entertaining.

'That is the one thing why this has been so good for me,' Barkley says of his new career. 'I understand it's supposed to just be fun. It's not life or death or anything. It's basketball.

'Sometimes people don't understand what sports are all about. As players, we are supposed to bust our ass, entertain and stay out of jail. As media types, we are supposed to make sure the fans enjoy the game. Somewhere along the way, that gets lost. Hopefully, I can help get that back. I love it when people tell me, 'You have a good time on your show, and you are honest.' That's the best compliment I can get.'

Six months ago, Barkley forecast San Antonio as the NBA champion.

'I have been pulling for the Nets because I like Jason Kidd and Kenyon Martin, but the Nets can't score,' Barkley says. 'It's ugly to watch. The one thing (broadcaster) Fred Carter was right about was when he said if you can't score, the game is hard. If New Jersey doesn't get wide-open shots, they are in big trouble.

'The Spurs play great defense. The thing that makes them raggedy sometimes is, they have trouble scoring unless Tim Duncan gets double-teamed. (Nets coach) Byron Scott is doing a good job mixing up his defenses and not doubling Tim all the time.'

Barkley acknowledges West superiority over the Eastern Conference teams but says it's not as pronounced as some people think.

'Only two West teams probably would have beaten New Jersey in the Finals Ñ San Antonio and the Lakers,' he says. 'Dallas, I'm not so sure about. The West is better now, but it is cyclical. When I played in Philadelphia (from 1984-92), we had zero respect for the Western Conference. Even those great Trail Blazer teams of the early '90s, they had all the talent, but they couldn't win a title because they couldn't score in a halfcourt set. And in the playoffs, it's a halfcourt game.'

Blazer banter

Barkley says he has not spoken with his former teammate and friend, Maurice Cheeks, since the Blazers denied Philadelphia officials permission to speak to him about their vacant coaching position.

'With his relationship with the 76ers, having his number retired and having been there so long, they should have let him talk to them,' Barkley says. 'If I'm Portland, that's probably the only job I would let him talk to another team about.'

Barkley's quick analysis of Portland's 2002-03 season: 'Typical Blazers. They are living proof it takes more than talent to win. They need to shake things up. They have to do something. They are not going to win with the mix they have now.'

Barkley took on an additional role as talk show host this season with his 'Listen Up' half-hour weekly segment on TNT. Among his guests were Masters adversary Martha Burke and a federal judge, who spoke on affirmative action in sports.

'The only request I had (of network heads) was, I wanted to talk about serious subjects and make it more than a puff show,' Barkley says. 'I enjoyed it. If all I do is play basketball and make a lot of money, I'm missing the boat in life. It's important to me to try to make a difference.'

Barkley is pleased that his recent book, 'I May Be Wrong, but I Doubt It,' was on the New York Times best-seller list for five months.

'I was surprised to get such positive feedback from it,' he says. 'It lets me know that people are reading and listen to what I say. That's the best thing about TV Ñ people get to hear me speak for myself, without it being taken out of context by somebody else.'

Contact Kerry Eggers at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..