"As far as the spitting," Barkley said yesterday, "that was totally wrong. It was just a stupid thing to do. I snapped at somebody. It's not like I killed somebody or beat them to a pulp. In the heat of the moment, I tried to spit on the floor. If it doesn't get on somebody, it's not a big deal. But, unfortunately, they say it got on somebody."
Barkley made his remarks to former NBA coach Pat Riley in an interview to be aired today, during NBC's nationally televised game between the Boston Celtics and Chicago Bulls. The Sixers also play today, meeting the Cleveland Cavaliers in a 12:30 p.m. game at the Spectrum. But while the slipping Sixers don't merit national attention - NBC had their game on its original schedule but dropped it - Barkley's actions once again have made him hot news.
March has been an interesting month for Barkley. He engaged in a fight during practice with teammate Manute Bol, was fined $5,000 by the Sixers for yelling at coach Jim Lynam in the locker room after a game and, finally, received a $10,000 fine and a game's suspension from the NBA after Tuesday's spitting incident at the Meadowlands Arena in East Rutherford, N.J.
Late in the fourth quarter of Tuesday's overtime loss to the Nets, Barkley became incensed at a courtside fan who he said had berated him all evening. When the fan moved toward him late in the fourth quarter, as Barkley stood on the baseline, the Sixers captain spit. Some of the spit apparently landed on the 8-year-old daughter of a longtime Nets season-ticket holder. But Barkley questions that.
"I don't know, in my heart, if the spit got on the little girl," Barkley said yesterday. "If you look at the replays, I didn't spit up in the air. It's not like I lifted my head and spit. I spit directly down. I looked at the replay 50 times because I felt bad about what happened.
"I talked to the little girl (later in the week), and that's the first time I was really able to get over it. She just said she loves me, she's still a big fan of mine and she knows I didn't try to do it. As long as I talked to her, I was relieved.
"I have a select group of family and friends who really, deeply love me. I feel bad for them. I feel bad for the little girl and her family. But for everybody else in the world, this is not any of their business."
The NBA disagrees with that, however. The fine and one-game suspension without pay given Barkley by the league cost him a total of about $45,000 and almost certainly cost the Sixers a game. Without Barkley, the Sixers lost in Charlotte on Thursday night, 94-90.
Barkley also was suspended for one game last season, after a fight at Detroit with Bill Laimbeer, and he has been rebuked by the league on several occasions for crude remarks and gestures made to fans. According to Rod Thorn, the NBA's director of operations, Barkley has been fined a total of 13 times in his seven-year career, with the bill coming to nearly $100,000.
Although he admits that his emotions often get him in trouble, Barkley thinks his reputation as a bad boy prevents him from being judged fairly. He also says that fans do not have the right to abuse players and that he probably will continue to match them taunt for taunt.
"Last year, I had 28 technical fouls," Barkley said yesterday. "This year, I have 12. Last year, everybody loved me and thought I was the best player on the planet. It seems to me everybody should have been on me last year. Basically, I've been in fewer incidents this year. But people don't think like that.
"Everything has been compounded by this last incident, but the fact is that I haven't been as emotional as I have in the past. I've had 16 fewer technicals, but nobody cares about that, because this is just everybody's chance to bury me. I accept that."
Barkley's technical count might be higher if fans had whistles. He has continued this season to spew dry wit and invective at those who question his playing ability from the seats. One particularly nasty exchange, complete with a crude anatomical suggestion, took place at New York's Madison Square Garden, just a few yards from where several league officials sat in stunned silence. Barkley has been lectured about his conduct. But Barkley has a lecture for the NBA as well.
"I don't think a fan has the right to come to the game and be abusive," Barkley told Riley. "I sit down to talk, and the NBA says, 'Why do you say rude things?' And I say, 'Have you ever thought they say rude things to me?' It's not like I go to the games and say, 'Well, I'm really going to curse somebody out good today.' The NBA sits in their office and says, 'They pay the money. They can do whatever they want to.' But that's not right. I don't think just because a fan pays $35, he can call me every name in the book.
"When I curse out the fans, I feel bad for the people around who didn't say anything. I don't feel bad for the guy who is there to harass me. I feel bad for the nice little families who came to enjoy the game and somebody had to come there just to call me every name in the book."
Barkley said he was only remorseful about two incidents in his career - the time he punched a fan in Indianapolis in 1986 and Tuesday's Gaylord Perry impersonation. Other than that, he has no regrets - and certainly none about his candor, regardless of consequences.
"I'm sorry about the spitting, but this one incident is not going to make me sit around and say, 'Man, you should have been lying and going along with the system all the whole time,' " Barkley said yesterday. "When I look in the mirror, if you take away this one incident, the only thing I'm guilty of is telling the truth. Maybe people don't want to hear the truth.
"When you get asked a question, you're supposed to answer. You're not supposed to think, 'Let me say something, but don't say anything.' If you lose respect for yourself, you don't have anything."
So don't expect Barkley to change. He says he has suffered more inner turmoil over the spit that (people say) hit the little girl than about any other incident in his life. He says he won't spit anymore. But he'll still be Charles.
"The day I get to the point where I don't do something wrong," Barkley said, "I'm going to be dead."