By Skip Bayless
Page 2

Let's say some unknown but wealthy white guy with absolutely no experience in politics called the Birmingham News and announced he was running for governor of Alabama.

Let's say he publicly admitted he has a gambling problem and that "I am not a role model." Let's say it was no secret he hasn't always been the best husband. And let's say he once threw somebody through a plate-glass window in a bar.

Would he have a snowball's chance in Mobile of winning? Of course not. He would become a short-lived laughingstock, the butt of jokes on talk shows and editorial pages. Leno and Letterman might even do a joke about this character. CNN surely would send a crew.

His campaign slogan would have to be "Roll, Tide … detergent." He would need boxes and boxes of the stuff to clean his reputation.

Now, back to reality. Or surreality.

Charles Barkley is once again talking -- dead seriously -- about running for governor of his home state of Alabama in 2010. He is exactly as described above, except that he's African-American and famous (and infamous) for playing basketball and making hilariously outrageous statements, especially as the clown prince of TNT's "Inside the NBA."

Yet, even in a state in which you can still see confederate flags on pickup trucks, Barkley probably would be … I can't believe I'm writing these words … elected governor. Yes, the guess here is that at least as many whites as blacks would vote for him. And, on second and third thought, maybe this wouldn't signal the apocalypse.

For voters, at least Barkley wouldn't be just another cliché-speaking, truth-dodging, lie-living politician. At least he would be a native son who had made it big (literally and figuratively). At least he would enliven their lives on a daily basis.

Gov. Barkley would bring Alabama national attention it hasn't had since Bear Bryant died -- and some of it might even be positive. Barkley is beloved by media members all over the country because he just might be the best interview in or out of sports. Heck, he could do Leno or Letterman every week just to talk about what he's been up to as governor and what he thinks about national and international issues.

In a crazy way, he might even restore some pride in the state. If he surrounded himself with sharp, devoted staffers who could walk his talk, maybe he could even solve some problems.

Wait, what am I thinking?

No, on fourth thought, Barkley would turn out to be the most laughable governor since Mel Brooks played Gov. William J. LePetomaine in "Blazing Saddles."

We're talking about Charles Barkley, who did Nike commercials saying, "I am not a role model" … who as a player was regarded as a remarkably gifted underachiever who fought his weight and couldn't always be trusted in the clutch … whom best buddies Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods laugh at as well as with … who plays golf four or fives times a week, year-round, even though his swing is nearly as embarrassing as Gov. LePetomaine trying to play paddle ball.

And this man could be entrusted to lead an entire state?

I know, a pro wrestler/actor got elected in Minnesota. But did Jesse "The Body" Ventura admit to having a gambling problem? And yes, a bodybuilder/actor got elected in California. But Gov. Schwarzenegger appears to take his job as seriously as he's being taken, and it's no longer preposterous to imagine him as a presidential candidate -- even though that would require a Constitutional amendment for a man born in Austria.

It also isn't at all a stretch to imagine many other African-American athletes or coaches running a state. Magic Johnson would be a phenomenal governor. Grant Hill would be a politician you could trust. So would Tony Dungy or Avery Johnson or Mike Singletary. I could go on and on.

But do-as-I-say, not-as-I-do Charles Barkley?

That's Barkley's only saving grace: Wisdom does occasionally spill from his lips, even as he's on his way to the casino to win or lose another million. He can suddenly offer startling perspective on many things, except himself.

While speaking this week to a convention of school board members, Barkley said: "There are too many black kids and their parents who do not value a good education. There are places where a black kid who is a good student and tries to speak correctly, you hear stuff like, 'He's trying to be white.' Well, I say, if that's true, we need more kids trying to be white."

In a 2002 Sports Illustrated story -- cover: Barkley in chains -- he said of Rev. Jesse Jackson: "Jesse had his chance, but he hasn't done enough with it. Instead of running for president, which was stupid because he wasn't going to win, he should have been trying to make social change in the black community, work on education, on stopping black-on-black crime, on all these teenage pregnancies. But no, he was too busy getting other women pregnant. He's a good speaker, but you can't speak it if you don't live it."

And Barkley lives it? Again, maybe few politicians are what they say. Lord knows enough presidents haven't been faithful husbands. For that matter, Bear Bryant was no saint, though he was just a football coach who was treated like Alabama's governor.

Yet very few Americans, black or white, have been able to make as much money as easily and quickly as Barkley, whose worth Sports Illustrated estimated four years ago at $35 million. Could he really come off the golf course or out of the nightclubs long enough to put in the hours required to be governor? It sounds great for him to say, "I really believe I was put on Earth to do more than play basketball and stockpile money," but would he really sacrifice his lifestyle to do so?

You surely remember the story of how, in 1988, Barkley's mother scolded him for thinking about voting for the first Bush. "He'll only work for the rich people," she said. "Mom," Charles said, "I am rich."

Now, Sir Charles says he's a Democrat: "I was a Republican until they lost their minds."

Which is pretty much what Alabama would have to lose to elect Charles Barkley.

Skip Bayless can be seen Monday through Friday on "Cold Pizza," ESPN2's morning show, and at 4 p.m. ET on ESPN's "1st & 10." His column appears twice a week on Page 2. You can e-mail Skip here.