Happy Tuesday, WFNY!
Another day, another frustrating loss for the Cleveland Cavaliers against a mediocre team, and another touch of drama and angst. Such is life these days with the Cavaliers. On Christmas Day the Cavaliers were on top of the world. They had just beaten their rivals (yes, rivals) the Golden State Warriors to move to 23-6 on the season and everything seemed perfectly set up for a nice, breezy ride to the NBA Finals for the ultimate grudge match against the Warriors.
Unfortunately, this season has pretty much been all downhill after Christmas. They would lose the next night against the Detroit Pistons, kicking off a stretch of the season in which they would go 9-9 leading up to today. The Cavs are 4-7 in their last 11 games. Things are not exactly fun right now for the Cavaliers. But hey, the good news is that it’s only January and none of this matters, right? Playoffs are the only thing that matters and nobody wants to talk about regular season basketball unless things are going great. And how are things going right now, Pete Campell?
If only there was something else we could talk about, some other kind of drama to keep us entertained. Hmmm, let’s see, give me a second to scan the internet. Anyone say anything interesting last night? Scanning…..scanning…….scanning…….sca- OH MY GOD!
Last night LeBron James absolutely went in on Charles Barkley in a major way. Throughout LeBron’s career, Barkley has been pretty critical. First it was that LeBron wasn’t doing enough to lead his teams to Championships, then he criticized LeBron for leaving Cleveland1, then he criticized LeBron for not winning enough Championships, then he said LeBron could never be in the list of top five players of all time, and now he’s been criticizing LeBron’s comments last week about the Cavs franchise.
After LeBron questioned whether the franchise was satisfied with their one Championship and if the front office was really doing enough to put the team in position to win, Barkley took exception to the comments, saying:
“Inappropriate, whiny, all of the above. The Cleveland Cavaliers, they have given him everything he wanted. They have the highest payroll in NBA history. He wanted JR Smith last summer, they paid him. He wanted Shumpert last summer. They brought in Kyle Korver. He’s the best player in the world. Does he want all of the good players? He don’t want to compete? He is an amazing player. They’re the defending champs.”
Initially, LeBron brushed off Barkley’s comments like he always does. That’s just Charles being Charles, was the sentiment expressed. After dropping an incredibly frustrating game in Dallas on Monday night, LeBron finally had enough. Speaking to ESPN’s Dave McMenamin, LeBron decided to stick up for himself and his career.
“He’s a hater,” James told ESPN of Barkley following the Cleveland Cavaliers’ 104-97 loss to the Dallas Mavericks on Monday. “What makes what he says credible? Because he’s on TV?”
“I’m not going to let him disrespect my legacy like that,” James told ESPN. “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.”
James, whose friendships with Dwyane Wade, Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony have also been called into question, recalled watching a 1993 NBA Finals game between Jordan’s Chicago Bulls and Barkley’s Phoenix Suns and being surprised what he saw on his screen.
“Go watch the ’93 Finals when John Paxson hit the shot,” James said. “Barkley and Jordan were laughing and joking with each other during one of the games while somebody’s shooting a free throw. In the Finals. But, oh, nobody were friends back then.”
LeBron didn’t limit his ire to just Barkley, though. He also decided to throw a little shade in Phil Jackson’s direction as well.
“I went to see Melo at the Garden two years ago when we were in New York,” James said. “They played Portland. I went up to a suite at halftime, and Phil Jackson didn’t say one word to me.”
This fall, Jackson brought up James unprompted in an interview with ESPN’s Jackie MacMullan and described James and his close circle of business associates — Rich Paul, Maverick Carter and Randy Mims — as his “posse.”
“I’m here to win ballgames and take care of my teammates and take care of my, what’s that word, oh, my ‘posse,'” James said, animatedly.
And then back to Barkley:
James also spoke up about the perception he and his inner circle face as young, successful black businessmen, believing that identity being so rare in the power structure of professional sports makes him and his partners targets.
“I collect one paycheck from this,” James said of his role with the Cavs. “There’s the owner, Griff’s [David Griffin] the GM, I’m the player. Screw Charles Barkley.”
Wow. There’s an awful lot to take in here and it’s tough to know where to begin. First of all, it’s worth pointing out that Barkley’s comments were strictly about basketball and LeBron’s rebuttal went a little more personal diving into off-court taboos. What Barkley said wasn’t exactly incorrect. The Cavaliers have indeed done almost everything LeBron has asked for2 and Dan Gilbert has paid a hefty price to put this team together.
But having said all of that, my gut reaction was “Good for you, LeBron.” When LeBron left Cleveland, it was a bitter, bitter pain. It hurt more than any other sports loss in my life. I was angry just like everyone else associated with the Cavaliers. It sucked. I said and wrote things at that time that I now look back on and don’t exactly feel great about. And not just because LeBron came back to Cleveland. I made my peace with it long before there were even rumors of LeBron’s interest in someday coming home. I’m not proud of the things I said about LeBron because in every way LeBron has been more or less the ideal professional athlete to root for.
We demand so much from our heroes today. Maybe we’ve always demanded a lot, but with social media’s role in sports and in our daily lives, criticism is everywhere. I’ve long said that LeBron James is easily the most over-scrutinized athlete of my lifetime. The spotlight has been squarely on LeBron since his sophomore year in high school and outside of one poor decision to publicize his departure from Cleveland in an ESPN special TV show, he has exceeded every expectation while always putting forth the image of a great teammate, a great father, a great husband, and a great example for kids from all walks of life.
I don’t know LeBron and I doubt anyone reading this does either. So maybe it’s all just an image. We’ve been let down by beloved athletes before. But there has been no indication whatsoever that LeBron is anything other than what we see. It would have been so incredibly easy for LeBron to lose his way at any step on his path to where he is today. He could have been swallowed up by the basketball hype machine, he could have given in to the temptations that life as a superstar NBA player provides. LeBron is by no means perfect, none of us are. But at some point, I can honestly say I understand LeBron’s frustration. When will enough be enough?
It’s worth pointing something out here. Charles Barkley is my favorite basketball player of all time. Growing up, I collected all of Barkley’s cards. I read his books. I watched him play every time he was on TV. I loved his personality, I loved his way of playing, I loved everything about him. To this day I put Barkley on my short list of personal sports heroes. So I’m not here to just blast Barkley for his comments.
I think much of what Barkley said was perfectly fair. As a basketball analyst asked his opinion on it, Barkley obliged. But when he starts questioning LeBron’s desire to compete, he starts to go a little too far. Barkley is so quick to judge today’s players, even when they are doing some of the same things he did.
When Barkley judges the friendships of today’s players, LeBron rightly points out that it’s not like Barkley wasn’t friendly with his competition. Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley’s friendship when they were playing was legendary. They were great friends who loved to gamble and hang out. No, they didn’t team up, but you think if the Bulls had a chance at some point to get Barkley that Charles wouldn’t have jumped at the opportunity? Please.
Remember, it was Barkley who once threatened to retire if the Phoenix Suns didn’t trade him to a contender. It was Barkley alone who orchestrated his move to Houston to team up with Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler to try to win a title with the Rockets, the very team that stunned the Suns in the playoffs in 1994 to end Barkley’s best shot at a Championship after Michael Jordan’s original retirement. What, Charles didn’t want to compete in Phoenix?
LeBron wants to compete. He just realizes that the Cavaliers might need more ammunition than they currently have if they’re going to beat the Warriors. When Dan Gilbert reportedly promised LeBron he would spend whatever it took to win, nobody could see the Warriors coming. Steph Curry and Klay Thompson were nice players, Draymond Green seemed to be an up and coming good player. Harrison Barnes was an intriguing young player and they had some decent vets who had been around like Andre Iguodala, Leandro Barbosa, and Andrew Bogut. But nobody had them as Championship contenders. Nobody saw Steph Curry coming as a two-time MVP.
The Cavaliers made their moves to acquire Kevin Love and bring LeBron home to play with Kyrie Irving. Everyone figured that would be enough. Suddenly, the Warriors turn into a juggernaut and their stars are all signed to extremely team-friendly contracts. This allowed them to go out and sign Kevin Durant as a free agent. Quite frankly, it’s not fair, but that’s life. The Warriors got unbelievably lucky in many ways, although you certainly have to credit them for putting together a team with so many interchangeable parts who all fit into the fluid, team-oriented, pass-heavy style that they play. The Cavaliers fired their bullets to put together the Big Three. Now they don’t have much left to offer other teams to acquire real impact-making players. They don’t have the cap space to sign anyone like Kevin Durant. This is the team the Cavaliers more or less have, and it seems LeBron is a little frustrated by this.
LeBron is facing his own mortality as a player. Time is ticking. And the Cavaliers are sputtering. And with all of this swirling around, LeBron has people like Phil Jackson and Charles Barkley, major names in his sport, picking at him and publicly criticizing him. I get it. I get where LeBron was coming from and I’m happy to see him stand his ground and stick up for himself.
In many ways, I think both LeBron and Charles are right. I think Charles is right in that some of LeBron’s criticisms of the team are a little off. I think LeBron is right in that he’s not doing anything different in his career that hasn’t been done for the last 20-30 years. This is the order of life. We always criticize the generation that follows us. I remember Michael Jordan being picked apart as a player by the generation that came before him. Now those players are highly critical of today’s players. There’s a decent chance before long we’ll see today’s players point out the differences and deficiencies in the generations to come.
There’s still time for LeBron and the Cavaliers, though. They might shake things up with a major trade at some point. The Warriors might have their own issues arise whether it be chemistry, injuries, or anything else. But even if LeBron never wins another title, does that really mean his career will be anything but an incredible success story? How much is enough to satisfy everyone? It’s really a shame that we can’t all just agree to enjoy LeBron’s remaining years for what they are and to just sit back and take it all in. Have fun watching this once in a lifetime player and don’t take him for granted and don’t waste time wanting him to be anything he’s not. Trust me, when he’s gone, we’re all going to miss having him part of this sport and we’re all going to wish we could go back and watch it all over again.
- We all applauded Barkley for that criticism [↩]
- Other than get a backup PG and use the open roster spot this year. This is something that seems to irk LeBron in a major way, although it’s not entirely clear why. It’s not like a backup PG from the D-League would solve the team’s current issues. But that’s something for another time. [↩]