OUTRAGEOUS!; by Charles Barkley and Roy S. Johnson; Simon and Schuster; $20; 317 pages.
Now this would have been the libel case of all time - eight-year Philadelphia 76er veteran Charles Barkley suing himself for libel. The wildly outspoken forward complained that he had been misquoted in this, his first book, which theoretically meant that his lawyer could have interrogated him about whether he knew he was quoting himself incorrectly, and whether malice aforethought existed.Barkley could have been the star of another kind of court, except that he then retracted his complaint and decided to live with the misquote. He seems, from this smartly written autobiography, to live on the run like that, his words always about a half-mile ahead of him. And, like anyone who loves the sound of his own voice, Barkley will pontificate on just about any subject, as long as it has a peripheral connection to hoops - whether it be the need for drug-testing, the possibility that a player might beat up his wife, a call for better behavior from players on the road (complemented by a short insert about Magic Johnson's sobering news).
When words fail, he resorts to pantomime, like the punch he aimed at Bill Laimbeer. The question of whether Barkley makes a suitable role model (teaching children to be loudmouthed, disrespectful, self-absorbed and stubborn) is, he insists, beside the point. There is no reason to glorify athletes, though Barkley is perfectly happy to bask in the adoration, as long as it's being offered. To quote him: "I know drug dealers who can dunk. Can drug dealers be role models too?"
ELEVATING THE GAME: Black Men and Basketball; by Nelson George; HarperCollins $20; 261 pages.
Dr. James Naismith invented the game of basketball 100 years ago, at a YMCA in Springfield, Mass. It took another 59 years before a black man was allowed to play the game professionally, even though, as with baseball, there was a thriving circuit of barnstorming teams, and even greater enthusiasm in schoolyards around the country. Since Earl Lloyd joined the Boston Celtics in 1950, professional basketball has become a sport dominated by black athletes, from Bill Russell to Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and, too briefly, Magic Johnson.
Author Nelson George, who has previously written a biography of Michael Jackson and "The Death of Rhythm and Blues," attempts here to provide more than just the history of the sport; he traces the social history of blacks in the sport, their tragedies as well as their more publicized successes.