Remember when you were a kid and your parents told you not to stare at the sun because it's harmful to your eyes? That's sort of how people treat the 76ers.

The fans are taking the necessary precautions to avoid prolonged exposure. When Allen Iverson returned to Philly, the Sixers' attendance momentarily spiked, hitting approximately 20,000 for his first game back.

After that, the numbers quickly plummeted, falling below 14,000 for the games against Detroit, Houston, and Golden State. The Sixers drew better than 19,500 when Cleveland came to town the other night, but that wasn't because people were excited to see Thad Young.

Iverson may not be the answer the Sixers are looking for after all. The fans are rightly bored with this team, but that doesn't mean the franchise should stop searching for a way to make people pay attention.

Forget what the Sixers can (or rather can't) achieve this season. The chances of their doing something significant this year are about the same as those of Tiger Woods' escaping his golf-club-wielding wife.

The Sixers need something to keep the fans interested while simultaneously distracting them from a team that has just six sad wins and the fourth-worst attendance in the NBA. They need a big personality to get the city talking about pro hoops again. They need to make a bold move. They need to hire Charles Barkley.

A few months ago, Barkley told the Boston Globe he'd like to become a general manager. It's Charles, so you have to wonder how sincere he was when he made that statement. In the past, he has said he'd like to become a lot of things when he grows up, among them the governor of Alabama and a professional golfer, but it's still an intriguing notion.

"It's time for me to be a general manager," he told the Globe. "I think everybody around me knows it's time for me to take a different challenge. . . . I need to grow as a person, and it's time for me. And certainly I can do a better job than some of these guys have been doing."

As the old Latin saying goes, "In Barkley veritas."

The idea of hiring Charles as the Sixers' GM feels right - like finding those old parachute pants in the back of your closet and slipping them on for a little impromptu Hammer Time. It's not as if anyone's watching, anyway.

What does the franchise have to lose? Maybe Barkley fixes the Sixers. Maybe not. But, at the very least, finding out what kind of GM chops he has (or doesn't have) wouldn't be boring. The circus never is. And, unlike the Iverson idea, this particular big-top to-do wouldn't fold up the tent and leave town after one season.

Ostensibly, we'd have Barkley (and his giant mouth) around for a few seasons. Think of the publicity it would earn for the otherwise overlooked Sixers. No one has ever captivated, amused, horrified, enchanted, and generally entertained this city better and more consistently than the Round Mound of Sound.

It's a gimmick, sure, but the Sixers love that stuff. This is an organization that already offers all-you-can-eat packages to gluttons and meet-and-greets with the Sixers' dancers to shameless frat boys in a transparent attempt to get more people into the building.

Things have gotten so bad on that front that the Sixers recently outsourced the task to students at Harry S Truman High School. Some sports-marketing classes there tried to sell 180 tickets to tomorrow's Clippers game. It doesn't get sadder than a pro franchise's allowing earnest teens to hawk its product.

Barkley can't play anymore, but he can fill the still-vacant ambassador's role once occupied by fan favorite Pat Croce. Dress Barkley up and have him glad-hand the fans before and after the games, and make sure there's always a TV camera close by. It would be a sort of never-ending reality show. Who wouldn't watch?

There's a slight problem, of course: Ed Stefanski already has the gig. I like Stefanski. He's a local guy with a good sense of humor, and he genuinely wants to fix the team. I'd love to give him that chance. Instead, the Sixers should give him something else: an award. It's standard practice when you want to move someone into a different role without hurting his feelings.

Remember former CIA director George Tenet? G.W. gave him the Freedom Medal - I think it came in a Happy Meal Bush picked up at a D.C. McDonald's shortly before the ceremony - then sent him on his way.

The Sixers should give Stefanski a shiny trophy or a pretty blue ribbon - maybe call it the Ben Franklin Liberty and Super Swell Guy Award or something similarly catchy - then bring in Barkley and let him tinker. Stefanski could even retain his title as president and check on Chuck now and again.

Everyone wins that way - as opposed to the current situation, where no one wins. Especially the Sixers.