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Few jobs could be more entertaining than raising the respective hackles of Charles Barkley and Karl Malone, the two baddest men in Sunday's All-Star Game.

All it took was several loaded questions and the energy to walk back and forth between the behemoths for the latest retort.And, to be sure, it generated more excitement than being trapped in a tiny elevator with Morganna, the Laker Girls and the SI swimsuit models. Well, almost.

Anyway, Barkley, who at last year's All-Star Game in Chicago proclaimed Malone to be "the second-baddest man in the league," was asked if he felt the same way.

"Karl is still the second-baddest man in the NBA," Barkley said with a semi-smirk. "I'm not saying that to be cocky - it's just the way I feel."

Reminded that The Mailman scored his career-high 44 points against him in Philadelphia earlier this season, Barkley smiled again.

"It's a real challenge to face a player of that magnitude - he's a monster," Barkley said. "I think he's a little too strong for me, but I can outthink him with my great mind."

Malone's instant response? "Yeah, he's got more headroom up there."

Then Malone started on Barkley's marital status, which Thursday changed from single to married.

"What I don't believe is he got married," Malone began. "Who wants to roll over and look at that ugly mug every morning, and she's good-looking, too.

"If I talked to her, I'd say, `Baby, how'd you get messed up with him?' "

Barkley savored that information, then reminded listeners that Malone was single. For good reason.

"People in glass houses shouldn't throw stones," Barkley said. "Day at the beach? Man, looking at him is more like climbing a mountain. He's a paint-peeler, man, a real paint-peeler.

"Damned right he's single, but there's got to be an ugly, stupid woman out there somewhere who'd take him."

Malone, however, managed to get in the last words.

"I'm smart being single," he said. "And, playing in this league, I don't have to tell you why. Charles had to get married. He was totally out of control.

"And, by the way, tell Charlie to get a haircut."

That was too much. The Mailman has to deliever that message himself.