Up Next

NBA

Barkley on LeBron: ‘My criticism was fair’

Says Cavaliers star has no reason to complain with two other All-Stars beside him

When the NBA’s most prominent critic and its greatest active player spar going on a week, it’s bound to produce clicks. But at this point, why doesn’t Charles Barkley just reach out to LeBron James and bury the hatchet?

“For what?” Barkley asked rhetorically Wednesday. “For tellin’ the truth? What am I supposed to say, ‘You’re the greatest player in the world’? You’ve got two All-Stars and you want me to feel sorry for you? Do you think Carmelo [Anthony] would be happy with two All-Stars? I think he’d be happy.”

“I thought my criticism was fair,” Barkley told The Undefeated. “So I don’t understand why he took it so personally. But you know what, I’m a big boy. I’m good.”

The rift began last week on TNT’s Inside the NBA when Barkley took aim at James for publicly scolding Cleveland Cavaliers management about its inability to secure better players as the reeling Cavs seek to defend their title. Barkley called the comments “whiny” and “inappropriate.”

At first, James let those comments brush off his shoulders. Then on Monday he let loose, via ESPN’s Dave McMenamin. Calling Barkley a “hater,” he launched into a diatribe about Barkley’s off-court behavior during and after his playing career.

“I’m not going to let him disrespect my legacy like that,” James said. “I’m not the one who threw somebody through a window. I never spit on a kid. I never had unpaid debt in Las Vegas. I never said, ‘I’m not a role model.’ I never showed up to All-Star Weekend on Sunday because I was in Vegas all weekend partying.

“All I’ve done for my entire career is represent the NBA the right way. Fourteen years, never got in trouble. Respected the game. Print that.”

Barkley also clearly hit a nerve when he alluded to James and, by association, his business team as Cleveland’s de facto general manager, urging the Cavs to sign J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert last season. It bothered James because he feels the criticism is partly leveled at Rich Paul, his childhood friend who’s now become a successful agent representing numerous players.

Barkley went on ESPN radio in Chicago Tuesday, saying he was surprised James ratcheted up the enmity rather than just addressing the criticism. On Wednesday, he still didn’t understand why James got so bent out of shape over “me doing my job.”

Told that James might have conflated several of Barkley’s criticisms about his game and public comments over the years — including once saying James would never be listed among his top five NBA players of all time, Barkley still didn’t get James’ ire:

“First of all, [the Top 5 conversation] originally had nothing to do with him – it was a conversation about Kobe Bryant,” Barkley said. “And I said, ‘I’m never going to change my top five players of all time.’ Kobe is 6. Tim Duncan is 7. I said if LeBron keeps winning, I might move him up to 6 or 7.

“But in my mind, as a guy who knows the heritage of the game, my top five are never gonna change. It’s Michael, Oscar, Kareem, Wilt and Bill Russell. That wasn’t a shot at him.”

It should be noted that neither Magic Johnson nor Larry Bird made Barkley’s top five, either. Bottom line, Barkley still doesn’t get why a defending NBA champion, whose team happens to have gone through a January slump, is so down about a roster that includes Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love.

“And Tristan Thompson,” Barkley said. “You have to always put it in perspective. If you’ve got two All-Stars and Tristan Thompson, you know what – I’m going to take my chances and let the chips fall where they may. I’m not going to be complainin’ that my team sucks.”

Barkley ended the conversation with an in-my-day musing: “It’s a different generation,” he said. “If we don’t say everything positive about them all the time, we’re a hater. But I’ve gotten more support than I saw coming. To be honest with you, it’s been great. Especially the guys in the media who are like, ‘Thank you. I can’t say it because I need to talk to him.’ ”

When it was suggested that the only two people he had yet to criticize were Mother Teresa and Mahatma Gandhi, Barkley added, “Hey, man, I’m going to do my job – I’m going to do the job to the best of my ability. My job isn’t playing anymore. It’s commenting on what I see and believe about the game.”

Mike Wise is a former senior writer and columnist at The Undefeated. Barack Obama once got to meet him.