Charles Barkley: An American Idiot By JAY MARIOTTI, AOL He stood in the corner of a Scottsdale bar, our Round Mound of Clown, grinning as a procession of female admirers angled to meet him. When each of these strangers moved forward, Charles Barkley leaned over and responded with either a swarming hug or a full-blown makeout kiss. Particularly odd about his impromptu game of Spin The Bottle was the timing: It was dead-smack in the middle of the NBA Finals, his only legitimate chance at a championship as a basketball legend. When Barkley and the Phoenix Suns withered in Game 6, missed critical shots in the final minutes and lost to Michael Jordan's Bulls, I was left to ponder the effects of the Chuckster's public partying those two weeks. What if he had been getting his rest instead of his jollies? Might he have nailed the game-winning shot, a hero's role left for journeyman shooter John Paxson? Might the Suns have gone on to win the title at home in Game 7? Would Charles not go to his grave with a Grand Canyon-sized crater on his Hall of Fame/Dream Team resume? I'd like to say Barkley simply was an immature guy who eventually grew up. But 15 1/2 years later, only a few blocks from the same tavern location, he was busted last week on drunk driving charges after a night of partying at the Dirty Pretty Rock Bar, where his companions included Jaleel White, better known as Steve Urkel of TV geek infamy. When questioned why he ran a stop sign in his black Infinity SUV, Barkley said he was in a rush to have oral sex with his female passenger, according to the police report. He also told a civilian employee that he would "tattoo my name on your ass'' if it helped him avoid a DUI arrest, the report said. Almost 46, Barkley is less mature now than when White was still Urkel. He is stuck in permanent adolescence and has become a perpetual circus onto himself, which wouldn't be a societal concern if: 1. He wasn't one of America's more influential voices. 2. He wasn't running for governor of Alabama in 2014. 3. He wasn't, quite possibly, the most visible ambassador of his sport. "I'm disappointed that I put myself in that situation,'' Barkley said after the DUI bust, in a statement to the Associated Press. I'm disgusted that he never learns. In a country undergoing historic change, Barkley is a tragicomic waste of potential leadership. One day, he comes off like a great unifier of humankind, ready to attack racism and bond the masses with his perspective and humor. Then, without warning, he morphs into a national buffoon, dropping gratuitous obscenities on TNT's "Inside The NBA'' and firing provocative opinions with no regard for his glaring hypocrisy and contradictions. In his most disturbing professional sin, he has admitted to having a gambling problem, which should deeply bother an NBA commissioner, David Stern, who has spent his recent tenure battling an officiating gambling scandal and long-held perceptions that his league is susceptible to game-fixing. If Barkley is allowed to be the preeminent TV voice of that league, how can he go on gambling sprees that contradict Stern's values? While he says he doesn't gamble on NBA games, how do I know that to be true? This is the man who told ESPN in 2006 that he'd frittered away $10 million on gambling. This is the man who says he made the wrong wager on last year's Super Bowl, owed a $400,000 debt to a Las Vegas casino and didn't repay it for months until he faced criminal charges. This is the man who has been in denial about it all, once saying on his TV show, "It's not a problem. If you're a drug addict or an alcoholic, those are problems. I gamble for too much money. As long as I can continue to do it, I don't think it's a problem. Do I think it's a bad habit? Yes, I think it's a bad habit. Am I going to continue to do it? Yes, I'm going to continue to do it.'' See, he plays by The Charles Rules, which mock the sport as much as The Jordan Rules -- part of the shimmering legacy of his close friend -- brought intrigue. He has the gall to trash LeBron James for being "disrespectful to the game'' because James hasn't ruled out signing with New York in 2010, which pales in comparison to Barkley's relentless disrespect for the game for the better part of two decades. He tells James to "shut the hell up,'' when, obviously, Barkley has made a fine living as a blowhard who can't shut up. He is critical of players who aren't loyal to their teams when, of course, Barkley moped his way out of Philadelphia and Phoenix and let dissension overwhelm his last chance in Houston. Every time his lips move, he seems to lose more credibility, yet Barkley is shamelessly enabled by sports media friends who enjoy his quote-ability and company, fans who love his freewheeling commentary and a league that overlooks his issues because he sells the game. The time has come to stop protecting the Round Mound of Clown. He must be saved from himself so we can like him, not loathe him. For that to happen, the bosses at TNT must chart a drastic course that isn't in the DNA of most TV programmers: They have to prioritize responsibility over ratings. With Stern's encouragement, they should summon Barkley, cite the accumulation of his misdeeds and suspend him for a lengthy period. Too often, he has slipped away with mere wrist slaps, typical of a "Charles Being Charles'' forgiveness pattern. This time, how about suspending him until the playoffs in late April? Can you do that, TNT? How about you, HBO? Can you keep him off the roundtables with Bob Costas? Peter Vecsey, a veteran basketball columnist with an extensive history in network TV, says it won't happen. He says Turner Sports President David Levy doesn't have the guts to punish his meal ticket. "Do not, I reiterate, do not, expect Levy to take any action -- other than a token scolding, complete with Barkley's normal insincere apology -- in the wake of his latest incident,'' Vecsey wrote in the New York Post, adding that Levy "protects, excuses, enables and overlooks.'' Stern could push the network to expedite the disciplinary process, yet for all his flowing opinions about his league and the media who cover it, he is curiously quiet on the Barkley front. "We take these matters very seriously,'' TNT said in a statement. "Obviously, there's a legal process and we have to wait for that to play out, so we won't have any comment at this time." Barkley will have his day in court. "Mr. Barkley, who has no prior DUI convictions, believes wholeheartedly in the court system and is cooperating fully with the court's process," attorney Scott Maasen, who is representing Barkley, said Monday. "Mr. Barkley wishes to thank family, friends and his ardent fans for their tremendous outpouring of support during this difficult time ... Our firm has begun an independent investigation into the facts of the case and charges against Mr. Barkley." But the bleary-eyed mugshot and damning police report -- along with a couple of issues in the 1990s, such as the night in Orlando when he was charged with heaving a bar patron through a glass window -- don't paint an encouraging backdrop. There is a how-to model in full showcase, of course. Have Stern and TNT noticed how the PGA Tour dealt with John Daly? Tired of his alcohol-fueled antics, the Tour suspended the problem child last week for six months. One could argue that Daly, an active pro golfer, should be disciplined more severely than Barkley, who is merely a commentator. I would respond that Daly doesn't want to run for governor and be a regular social spokesman on numerous platforms. Charles Barkley does want to be that guy which is impossible when he's acting like a friggin' idiot. Jay Mariotti is a national columnist and commentator for AOL Sports. He is a daily panelist on ESPN's sports-debate show, "Around The Horn," seen Monday through Friday at 5 p.m. ET. Mariotti spent 17 years as a lead sports columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times and has covered every major sporting event -- national and worldwide -- on multiple occasions. More on the BJ: http://thesuperficial.com/2009/01/charles_barkley_on_dui_i_just.php Barkley to take leave of absence from TNT after DUI arrest: http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/front/6202769.html I haven't seen any T-Mobile ads recently featuring one of the NBA's top fifty (how he got into that exalted list is a mystery and defies logic and reason).