It doesn't take long to figure out where Charles Barkley learned to speak his mind. Just ask his grandmother.
"Charles talks a heap, and I like to talk, too," said Barkley's grandmother, Johnnie Mickens. "People who meet me say they know where Charles got it from."
Mickens doesn't waste any time telling you what she thinks of the media: "A lot of reporters I've talked to I wouldn't give the time of day to now."
Or how she feels about the referees' treatment of her grandson: "He gets bad calls. Because he's so outspoken, they don't give him nothing."
Mickens, 66, is not even bashful about scolding her grandson.
"Charles runs his mouth when sometimes he ought to keep quiet," she said, recalling a recent game when Barkley's salty language was clear to the national TV audience. "I called Charles and told him I knew what he said. I told him to stop swearing because they've got the camera dead on your mouth.
"He tried to tell me he didn't say it, but I knew what he said. I can read lips."
But again, like grandmother, like grandson.
"I have a tendency to swear," Mickens said. "It just comes out natural."
She said her grandson still calls after nearly every game.
"When he calls, I tell him I love him _ and I tell him to play a little more defense," she said. "He can play good defense when he wants to, but it seems like sometimes he forgets."
Mickens flew to Phoenix last week to watch the first two games of the NBA Finals between Phoenix and Chicago. The Suns lost both on their home court but narrowed the best-of-seven series to 2-1 with a triple-overtime victory in Chicago on Sunday.
"It never looked like we would get the lead," Mickens said. "Charles' elbow was hurting and K.J. (Kevin Johnson) had to play so many minutes."
Mickens lives in this blue-collar suburb of Birmingham in a comfortable brick-and-wood house she shares with her husband, Frank, and Barkley's mother, Charcey Glenn. The fence surrounding the yard is engraved with the initials "C.B."
Barkley has offered to move his family out of Leeds, but this is home. The walls are covered with pictures from his days at Auburn (when he still had hair) and the Philadelphia 76ers. In one corner of the den is a large poster showing "Charles vs. Godzilla," a memento from one of his Nike television commercials.
"Charles has never forgotten that he was raised in Leeds," Mickens said. "I remember when he went to Auburn and they tried to get him to say he was from Birmingham. He told them to say Leeds."
Across the street is the house in which Mickens' father lived before his death. Just down the road is the projects the family worked its way out of 21 years ago.
"That rusty goal down there is where Charles used to play," she said.
Mickens said those who criticize her grandson for incidents like his spitting on a spectator or nearly causing an international incident in the Olympics with his aggressive play don't know the real Charles.
"He's two different people on the floor and when you take time to meet him. He loves children. When kids comes up to him, he'll always take time to talk to them," she said.
"When I tell him something, he might not want to do it, but he's not going to talk back to me or sass me."
Mickens said she taught her grandson the basics of the game: "I don't profess to know it all, but I played a little bit when I was in school." Barkley took over from there.
"Where all those moves Charles got came from, I'll never know," she said, shaking her head.
Mickens never expected Barkley to become the star he is today, one of those rare athletes who almost transcends his sport.
"In the ninth grade, he told me he was going to play in the NBA," she said. "I didn't think anything about it at the time. He was tall for his age, but he was also fat. No, say he was chubby. There's already been enough people getting on him about being fat."
She recalled Barkley becoming discouraged when he was kept on the "B' team in high school for a couple of years, even though he thought he was good enough to be playing on the varsity.
"I told him not to get discouraged," Mickens said. "I told him, "If God gives you talent, man cannot take it away. But God can take it back if you don't use it.' "