I put myself through college at UCF working at Church Street Station, a now defunct dining/drinking/entertainment complex located in Downtown Orlando, FL. This was during the early 1990s, just before the Orlando Magic NBA team became my then part-time employer.
Church Street Station, and Downtown Orlando in general, was the place to be during that time frame. Those were the days when the NBA celebrities would come down to Church Street and check out the scene after that night’s game was over. One visiting player who came in every chance he got was Charles Barkley. The crowd loved Charles; Charles loved the crowd.
Barkey was this larger-than-life guy – literally – who seemed to enjoy being the personna he created. He accepted the moniker “The Round Mound of Rebound” with pride. He’d take control of the DJ booth at Phoggs (Church Street Station’s dance club) and the people loved it. He’d stop to shake hands with everyone and genuinely seemed comfortable with everyone.
Then one night in 1997 after his Houston Rockets paid a visit to the Orlando Arena, Barkley once again headed for his favorite Downtown Orlando hangout. Once there, he allegedly got into a dispute with a man named Jorge Lugo. Apparently, Barkley took exception to Lugo throwing a glass of ice at him, and subsequently used Lugo as a human catapult, flinging him with much velocity through a giant plate glass window in the front of Phoggs.
Now comes the report that Barkley recently received a DUI and has been sentenced to five days in jail. “I think it’s going to be good for me, to be honest,” Barkley says. “I need to make sure drinking is not a problem for me. I just want some professionals to talk to me about it.”
I don’t know Charles Barkley. But he strikes me as a “what-you-see-is-what-you-get” kind of person who isn’t going to make believe he likes you when he doesn’t – and if you cross him you’d better be ready to defend yourself. And when you’re a national figure and have a reputation like that and go to nightclubs, there are plenty of liquored up idiots that will be perfectly willing to challenge you.
For Charles Barkley’s sake, I hope he truly has learned from his life experiences. He’s a superior NBA commentator; very knowledgeable and quite funny. He’s one of the all-time great players, doing amazing things for someone as short as he was for the position he played (at about 6’5″, he’d routinely be about four inches shorter than the person he went up against most nights). He is outspoken in many areas, often not just pertaining to sports. He’s even spoken of running for Governor of Alabama, his home state.
But if he doesn’t keep his temper and alcohol consumption in check, he may lose out on the public’s adoration and a career that a ton of ex-athletes would be thrilled to have.
I truly wish him luck, because unlike some of the other athletes I’ve written about, I don’t think he’s a knucklehead.