- The Washington Times - Monday, March 9, 2009

Charles Barkley held a news conference Saturday to mark the start of his three-day stay with Joe Arpaio, the self-proclaimed “toughest sheriff in America.”

This was the quintessential Barkley, irascible and amusing, owning up to his mistakes, pontificating on this and that and using an abbreviated jail stay as a public-relations opportunity.

Barkley has made a second career out of the outlandish, of saying things no one ever would utter in public, of turning transgressions into almost badges of honor.

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Barkley seemingly lives by the maxim that all publicity is good publicity, a debatable proposition with most celebrities but apparently true in his case.

Here he was under the Arizona sun, looking not at all contrite but almost delighted, like an adolescent caught in the wrong but certain that he still will have everyone’s love after it is all over.

And Barkley still has America’s love. He is gregarious, full of laughs and ever the showman. He is forever the recipient of the second chance. He has survived spats with fans, late-night brawls with jerks and gambling problems. He has survived because of the sense that lurking inside his loud-mouth persona is a likable, decent person who can laugh at life and himself, who also can be straight with himself.

The latter was one of his messages on his first day with Sheriff Joe.

“You come here when you screw up,” Barkley said. “I don’t blame anybody for this situation but myself.”

Barkley showed up to the “Tent City” prison in Arizona draped in Nike gym attire and armed with two books he planned to read during his short time there.

It came to this after Barkley pled guilty to two misdemeanor DUI charges last month stemming from running a stop sign and being arrested in the wee hours on Dec. 31. After a brief period out of the public eye - he was suspended six weeks as one of TNT’s NBA analysts - Barkley is as ubiquitous and controversial and combative as ever.

He is back on TNT lending his biting commentary to the latest NBA proceedings, playing off the astute Kenny Smith and straight man Ernie Johnson.

And his hideous golf swing has become a YouTube sensation and been turned into a television series titled “The Haney Project,” so named after Hank Haney, the coach entrusted with improving Barkley’s swing while entertaining Golf Channel viewers.

Barkley might be the first inmate to feel a need to come to the defense of the president on his first day at a state facility.

“Rush Limbaugh and a lot of jackasses are giving him a hard time right now,” Barkley said.

Barkley also took exception to those reporters who questioned why he was not wearing the prison stripes and pink underwear of the other inmates in his midst.

“None of the work-release people [wear uniforms],” Barkley said. “But if y’all really, really want to put me as low as I can go, I can do that and make you feel better.”

And he probably would if pressed, if only to generate a laugh and add to the legend.

Barkley was granted work release on the second and third days of his sentence, which required he report back to the Maricopa County jail at 8 p.m. each day. He was given a private tent for security reasons. And, of course, he was given a forum to discuss what was on his mind, be it politics or pop culture.

In wishing Chris Brown and pop star Rihanna the best following the hip-hop artist’s reported beating of her, Barkley said, “It’s never acceptable to hit a woman. Period.”

This was the gospel according to Barkley, who was repentant, charming, sarcastic and opinionated.

He is newly humbled but back in stride after yet another misstep.

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