Philadelphia's first beloved No. 34 is very excited about Cliff Lee's return to the Phillies.

"It's great for the Philly fans," Charles Barkley told us yesterday. "As a fan, I just think that you want a legitimate shot to win every year.

"The Phillies for the next three or five years are going to have a legitimate shot to win, and that's awesome," said the Sixers legend, now living in Arizona.

We asked if Lee's having worn 34, Barkley's old Sixers number, made him more fond of the pitcher, and it turns out it does. "I'd be honored if they both wore 34," Barkley said of Lee and Roy Halladay, who took over 34 after Lee was traded to Seattle.

Barkley noted that some college football teams allow two players to wear the same number.

His wish is unlikely to happen. Word is, Lee will wear No. 33 next season with the Phillies, as he did with the Rangers last season.

Barkley, who spends four months a year in the Philadelphia area, says that he flees to Arizona "at the first sign of cold."

Sir Charles spends most of his time golfing, and reading about and watching pro and college basketball. He works for TNT, broadcasting pro games, and is studying up on college hoops for TNT's coverage of the NCAA March Madness.

"I'm just watching as many teams as I can play," said the Round Mound of Rebound.

"You have to watch a team play five times before you can get a fair impression on them."

Speaking of impressions, we asked about his thoughts on the Sixers' season. After about 10 seconds of chuckling, Barkley composed himself and said, "I'm pulling for the Sixers, and I wish Doug Collins luck."

On a more serious note, we asked for Barkley's thoughts on legendary Daily News basketball writer Phil Jasner, who died of cancer on Dec. 3.

"He was a really good dude," said Barkley.

He was indeed.