Charles Barkley was gutless Saturday night.

The constant entertainer, the man who is the essence of the NBA, is out of control, and the NBA has no handle on the situation.As the fourth quarter of the Jazz's 105-90 win on Saturday night wound down, Sir Charles hit John Stockton with a premeditated forearm shiver that was the essence of gutless.

Realizing the game was over, that his team had lost and he lacked any interest in playing, Barkley acted in the most unprofessional fashion. Frustrated and with five fouls, Barkley came across the lane with one goal in mind, and it had nothing to with the basketball game. The goal was to hit Stockton and send a message. Barkley did exactly that, nailing Stockton with a forearm to the upper chest and immediately walking to the bench, done for the night with six fouls. It was without a doubt completely premeditated.

Let's get one thing straight: Barkley did not try to injure Stockton. If he'd wanted to seriously injure Stockton, the forearm would have been aimed at his head. If you believe the act was premeditated, then you have to concede that it wasn't intended to permanently harm Stockton.

That, however, doesn't make it right.

That isn't how the game is supposed to be played. Barkley became a cheap-shot artist, a coward who hit someone knowing the next play he'd be sitting on the bench with his night's work done. It was a shot that would have no productive impact that evening; the game was over, the series was tied and Barkley couldn't let it be.

Barkley is the essence of the NBA. He gets the gig. It is all about entertainment. It is all about fans leaving the arena with a memorable evening, and without fail Barkley provides that. He plays with the mascot, gets kissed by Morgana, keeps a running dialogue with the crowd - whatever it is, there's always a show wherever he goes. The problem is, he's bought into his own show.

Barkley isn't a bad guy; he just believes his own myth. To a man, everyone who is close to Barkley glows about his personality. Just a regular guy who never shuts up, and without a doubt he is infectious. But at the same time, he buys into all the hype and is out of control.

Thirty-plus-year-old men should not be grabbing themselves in their private parts as a reaction to a fan in front of 19,000 people. His constant and excessive use of profanity toward the crowd is a bit over-whelming, and his off-the-court spitting and people-tossing is well-documented. He believes his own show.

I hate to get into the "I'm not a role model" garbage, but it rings true. Barkley never acts like a role model, but the reality is he owes it to the fans of the league and the game to be a respectable role model. The game doesn't need intentional cheap shots for the sake of one's personal show. It's that garbage that brings Barkley down a peg or two - or three or four.

It's really too bad that it now appears on the court. Barkley may be the best quote, best personality and best entertainer to ever be in the NBA. If Michael Jordan has carried this league with his play, Charles has been just as integral with his personality.

If I were a fan, I'd buy a ticket every night Barkley came to town. He always puts on a show, and you're guaranteed a memorable evening. It's exactly what the NBA and Charles want. You just wish he would do it all while being bigger than he was on Saturday night.

But who can blame him? He knows, we know, everyone knows that nobody is going to do anything to stop him. The NBA is flat-out scared of its superstars. Barkley's forearm late Saturday night is exactly the opposite of everything the NBA wants, portrays and promotes. However, a man who is the essence of the NBA committed it.

If P.J. Brown of the Miami Heat, Charles Oakley of the New York Knicks or Dale Davis of the Indiana Pacers did what Barkley did to Stockton, in the same meaningless situation, there would be a one-game suspension.

But we won't see it because the league will protect their king personality. The only problem is you wish that a true legend of the NBA wouldn't have to rely on his gutless actions being ignored by the gutless league office.