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Barkley Wants A Ring... Bad

With the NBA lockout approaching its third month,Charles Barkley is gearing up for what could be his final season.

The free-agent forward is recovering from surgery to repair two hernias and a torn tricep, but said he is ready for another year. Doctors could clear Barkley for workouts as soon as Labor Day.

"I'm a good, solid player," he said. "I'm not a great player anymore, but I'm solid. I finished third in the league in rebounding last year, and I feel like I can do it again without those two hernias, so I'm excited."

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Barkley, 35, who spent the last two seasons with Houston, talked about the ongoing lockout and his future Saturday after a round of golf at the Central Baptist Hospital Charity Classic, a Celebrity Players Tour event.

"I'm a little concerned about the season starting on time, but I'm not over-concerned right now," he said. "A lockout doesn't mean anything in August or September. Training camp starts in October."

While Barkley acknowledges the importance of keeping fan interest, he fears little for a baseball-like fan fallout, he said. Right now, he said, the focus is economics.

"I don't think anybody ever wants to go on strike, but it's not just the fans, the players too," he said. "You can't put the fans in the forefront, because we as players want to make as much money as we can in a short period of time, and that's what the owners want also."

Barkley talked with six or seven teams before the lockout and said he would only leave Houston if he felt the Rockets couldn't compete for a championship.

In order to make staying an option, he said, management must pursue top-shelf free-agent talent.

"If the right situation does not come along, I'm not going to play," Barkley said. "I hope the right situation comes along.

"There are five or six teams that told me not to sign until I talked with them, and I'm going to be very patient, and I'm going to go to the best team possible, because the only goal I have now to accomplish is to win a championship.

"That's my only goal, even if I have to sign fo the minimum or the million-dollar exemption. I don't care about money at this stage of my life. I have enough money, but I would love to win a championship."

©1998 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed

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