But now . . .
"I have to vacuum the upstairs," Barkley said, referring to his spacious, new town house in Bala Cynwyd.
This is what's known as settling down. It happens to almost everyone sooner or later.
It's just that Barkley never thought it would happen to him, not at age 26, anyway. He really enjoyed being single. He enjoyed being free and flirtatious. Frankly, the idea of marriage scared him a little.
"I had never been around a successful marriage my whole life," said Barkley, whose parents split up when he was a toddler in Leeds, Ala. "I didn't want to wind up the same way . . . making a mistake, getting burned."
Then he met Maureen Lynn Blumhardt, 25, a legal aide and part-time model
from Bucks County. They met by chance at a City Avenue restaurant last year, survived a rocky first date (more on that later) and fell in love.
They were married quietly in Elkton, Md., Feb. 9. Last month, they had their first child: an 8-pound, 12-ounce daughter named Christiana.
Today, Charles Barkley's universe, which once measured baseline to NBA baseline, has taken on new dimension and responsibility.
The obvious question: Is he ready for it?
After all, this is the same Charles Barkley who is known to stomp around the basketball court like a petulant 6-year-old when he doesn't get his way. How will he cope in the role of husband and father?
"It's a challenge," Barkley said, "but I thrive on challenges. Besides, I feel like I've matured a lot in the last year."
There is a reason for that. Consider all that the Sixers' co-captain had to deal with in the last four months:
* Tension stemming from his interracial marriage.
An unidentified man harassed Maureen for weeks, approaching her in malls and leaving notes on her car. He never actually threatened her, but his behavior was unsettling to say the least. He finally disappeared after the couple notified police.
Also, there were the disapproving stares and whispers whenever Charles and Maureen were seen together in public.
"I used to get mad at people like that," Barkley said last week in an interview that offered a rare glimpse at his private thoughts. "Now I realize they're just ignorant . . . For someone to dislike another person because of their skin color is asinine.
"What we're talking about here is pretty simple: It's two people who love each other. Our family and friends understand. The other people . . . I don't care about."
* Financial losses.
An audit of Barkley's agent, Lance Jay Luchnick, revealed a large sum of money missing from the player's account. Barkley fired Luchnick, who since has filed for bankruptcy and lost most of his NBA clients, including Alton Lister (Seattle) and Terry Catledge (Orlando). Barkley now is represented by Glen Guthrie, a financial planner in Birmingham, Ala.
"There was money missing," Barkley said, although no one would be specific about the amount. "Lance said my accountant misplaced or stole the money. But my relationship was with Lance and I hold him responsible, so we are no longer associated."
Attempts to reach Luchnick for comment were unsuccessful.
Barkley wants to make it clear that he is not broke. He has five years remaining on a contract that will pay him $9.3 million through 1994. He also has a Nike endorsement deal worth $500,000 a year. He is doing OK, but he could be better. The Luchnick connection was a real setback.
* Family problems.
Barkley was called home last month when his brother, Darryl, 22, was arrested and charged with selling cocaine near Leeds Junior High School. Darryl is awaiting trial, and if convicted, he faces a minimum five-year sentence under Alabama law.
Charles, the oldest of three brothers, has taken a forceful role in the family crisis.
"I love my brother," Charles said last week, "but I told him if he does that (sell drugs) he is out of our lives forever. He will be my brother in name only. I mean it.
"I've got no sympathy for anyone who gets involved with drugs. I told him if he did this, he deserves to go away for a long, long time. Maybe he'll wake up if he hears those (prison) doors slam behind him.
"He listened to me," Barkley said. "I think he got the message."
All in all, it was a lot of stress coming down on Barkley at the end of a grueling NBA season that saw the forward rank eighth among league scorers (25.8 average) and tied for second among rebounders (12.5), behind only Houston center Akeem Olajuwon.
It left Barkley mentally and physically exhausted, but it also made him older and wiser in the ways of the world.
Looking back, Barkley said: "It was a good experience. I think I can deal with just about anything now."
And looking ahead . . .
"I realize there is more to life than basketball," Barkley said. "I want to have a good marriage. I want to have a big, happy family. I want to build something permanent.
"I feel like, for the first time in my life, I have my priorities in order. I'm settled. I'm happy. It's a good feeling."
Charles Barkley was talking about how great it was to be in the delivery room that night, watching his wife give birth.
"Were you nervous?" someone asked.
"Not at all," Barkley replied.
Maureen shot him a look.
"How can you say that, Charles?" she asked. "You were a nervous wreck."
"No, I wasn't," Barkley protested.
Maureen turned to the visitor. "Charles was white if that's any indication," she said.
Barkley laughed. "OK," he said. "Maybe I was a little nervous."
It didn't help that two other visitors recognized Charles while he was in the labor room. They kept peeking around the curtain and saying things such as, "Yeah, that's him," and "Do you think he'd mind signing an autograph?" This went on for an hour.
"I was in labor the whole time," Maureen said. "When you're married to someone like Charles, there's no such thing as privacy. Anywhere."
Barkley accepts the intrusions as part of the same celebrity package that pays him in excess of $2 million a year.
He will sign autographs for an hour after a game. He makes himself available to the media, win or lose. He figures it all comes with the territory.
But Maureen is new to this bandwagon lifestyle, and she sometimes feels the need to set limits.
Their wedding was a good example. Maureen would have preferred a traditional church service, but she was afraid it would turn into a circus with paparazzi and autograph hounds all over the place. So she agreed to a very private ceremony before a judge in Elkton late one night.
"No one knew we were going to do it," Barkley said. "It was the All-Star
break and I was going to Houston (for the game). We just decided, 'Let's do it.'
"It was great. No fuss, no hassle. I don't see why people waste all that money on big weddings anyway."
Maureen was six months pregnant at the time, but the couple insists that wasn't the reason they got married.
"We were going to do it anyway," Charles said. "We knew we wanted to stay together. We just figured, 'Why wait? Let's make it official.' We caught everyone by surprise."
The decision delighted Charles's mother, Charcey Glenn, who had been nudging the couple in that direction for several months with broad hints that usually began, "Now that you're starting a family . . . "
"Charles had other girlfriends, but Maureen was the first one I thought was right for him," Glenn said.
"She stood up to him," Glenn said. "I liked that. In the past, Charles got his way too much. He isn't perfect and he needs to be told that sometimes.
"Maureen would speak her mind, but in a ladylike way. And Charles would listen. I'd see them together and think, 'Well, Charles. You've finally met your match.' "
Glenn says she was not troubled by her son's decision to marry a white woman.
"I was more concerned with what kind of girl Charles married, not what color," Glenn said. "And Maureen was wonderful."
"Did you talk to Charles about it?" someone asked.
"I talked to both of them," Glenn said. "They knew there might be problems, but there are problems in every marriage. The two people just have to be strong enough to work things out."
Barkley is working at it, all right. He helps out with the baby and the household chores. He still sneaks in an occasional round of golf and basketball clinic, but only after clearing it with Maureen.
"That's the key, respecting the other person's wishes," Barkley said.
Maureen says Charles has adapted to married life quite nicely. He is neat, for one thing. Actually, compulsive would be a better word.
"Last week, Charles got up in the middle of the night and started vacuuming," she said. "I told him he was going a little overboard."
Last season, rookie guard Scott Brooks moved in with Charles and Maureen. They had two empty bedrooms and the baby wasn't due until the spring, so it worked out nicely.
But each day began with Charles nagging Scott: "Did you make your bed? Did you pick up your clothes?"
Try to imagine "The Odd Couple" with Barkley as Felix and the 5-11 Brooks as Oscar. That's what it was like.
"That's how I was raised," Barkley said. "Our family didn't have much money, but my mother made sure the house was clean. She said there was no excuse for a dirty house, and that stayed with me."
Home is Barkley's place of refuge. He keeps it clean and he keeps it private. He is gracious and approachable in public, but Barkley makes it clear that his personal life is off limits.
"People should only be concerned with what I do on the court," Barkley said.
It's not that simple, of course. When you are that rich and visible, everything you touch becomes news.
Example: He was stopped last summer for speeding on the Atlantic City Expressway and the state trooper found a loaded handgun in Barkley's 1988 Porsche. Barkley had a permit to carry the gun in Pennsylvania but not in New Jersey, so he was arrested.
The next day, the newspapers played the story on page one. The Daily News headline read, "Barkley Busted."
Later, the charges were dropped (it was ruled the trooper conducted an improper search). That story was buried deep in the sports section with a one- column headline.
"Why was one (story) so big and the other so small?" Barkley asked. ''They were both news, right?
"It seems like people just want to look for what's bad all the time. That bothers me."
As a result, Barkley is fiercely protective of his wife and daughter. It is no coincidence he bought a town house in a complex that features a high wall and security guard. More than anything, Barkley says, he wants to raise Christiana in a "normal" home.
"You know, a place with peace and quiet and a lot of love," Barkley said. ''I don't want my life to turn into a Mike Tyson-type thing where there's photographers camped in the driveway and we have to sneak in and out the back door.
"Fame is the most overrated thing in the world. It's great to have money, but what good is it if you can't have a normal life? That's why I was careful about the woman I married. She had to be able to keep all this in perspective.
"Maureen and I agree that when we're here, it's family time. We sit by the pool, have a barbecue and play with the baby. We have to enjoy it while we can, before the next season starts."
Christiana had finished lunch and was sleeping peacefully. Charles and Maureen settled down on the couch and were discussing how they met.
It was not exactly love at first sight.
Or second sight, for that matter.
"We passed in the doorway at Friday's (restaurant)," Charles said. "I was rushing out to the bank and she was coming in. She grabbed my arm . . . "
"I didn't grab your arm," Maureen said. "I was holding the door open for my boss (a lawyer) and you came through. I said hello."
"You tried to stop me," Charles said, "and I told you, 'Sorry, I've got to go to the bank before it closes.' "
"You're exaggerating again," Maureen said.
"Anyway, I went back to the restaurant the next day and asked about her," Charles said. "One of the waitresses gave me her name and said, 'She's really nice.' I said, 'Tell her I'd like to go out with her.' "
The contact was made and Charles invited Maureen to the next Sixers game. He also asked one of his friends (a woman) to check out Maureen during the game. "I was curious what she thought of her," Barkley said.
This is where things get complicated.
Maureen showed up that night with her 20-year-old brother. Barkley's scout mistook the brother for a boyfriend and spent the whole evening giving Maureen dirty looks.
Maureen, naturally, assumed this stranger shooting daggers at her from across the aisle was Charles's jealous girlfriend.
"I couldn't believe he would put me in that position," Maureen said. "I thought, 'What a jerk.' "
Charles and Maureen went out after the game, but she gave him the silent treatment. "I thought she was stuck up," Barkley said. "I never wanted to see her again."
The next time he went to Friday's, he told the waitress what happened. She already had heard Maureen's version and she put the pieces together. She explained to Barkley that it was all a misunderstanding.
"She told me to give Maureen another chance," Barkley said. "So I did."
The rest is history.
"I liked her because she was different," Barkley said. "She wasn't just pretty. She was smart and she had a good heart.
"Sometimes," he said, "I think she's too good."
"Yeah, she trusts people too much," Barkley said. "She buys groceries for strangers. People say, 'Oh, I forgot my wallet' and Maureen says, 'Don't worry. How much do you need?' I told her it's an old trick, don't fall for it.
"Then she offers rides to these people. She says, 'They seemed nice.' I say, 'How do you know? They could be crazy. They could be after your money.' I wish she wasn't so naive."
Barkley's biggest concern is that Maureen's kindness could make her the unwitting target of cranks who disapprove of their marriage. The mysterious character who followed her around a few months ago was a case in point.
"Charles and I knew we might face some of this," Maureen said. "We agreed we'd stick together and ride it out. It hasn't been that bad, really. In fact, most people are very nice. Once in a while someone will say something (cruel), but that's the exception."
A good marriage, like a good basketball team, must have the right chemistry, and so far it would seem that Charles and Maureen are doing just fine.
"We've had fun since we've been together," Maureen said. "That's because Charles is such an easy person to live with.
"People who watch him play think he has a bad temper, but that's just his competitive nature. He hates to lose. But around the house, he's as calm as can be.
"We watch TV, we entertain friends. The one thing Charles enjoys more than anything is playing with the baby. He does that for hours."
"I love kids," Barkley said. "We're hoping to have two or three more. I look forward to having a son one of these days. That will be fun."
"You want him to be a basketball player?" someone asked.
"Everyone will expect that," Barkley said, "but I'd rather he didn't. I think there would be too much pressure on him.
"Let him play another sport. Or let him play a musical instrument. I don't want him to feel like he has to follow in my footsteps. I want him to do whatever it is that makes him happy.
"But whatever he decides, I'll be there for him. That much I promise you. I'll be there."