Basketball Hall of Famers Charles Barkley and Michael Jordan have a decades-long friendship that is probably the most documented and detailed in NBA history. Sure, Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell had their good times toward the end, and Larry Bird and Magic Johnson have had books and even documentaries created around their relationship, but both of those adversaries spent the bulk of their basketball careers warily regarding one another. Even Magic and Isiah Thomas, who famously pecked each other on the cheek at the 1988 and 1989 NBA Finals, had a falling out in the early 1990s.
Michael and Charles may not have completely fallen out, but as you’ll see in the interview above with Yahoo Sports’ Graham Bensinger, it appears as if Jordan and Barkley aren’t on the easiest of terms in the wake of continued Barkley criticism about Jordan’s work with the former Charlotte Bobcats.
(Wait, are you sure it wasn’t about the on-air criticism, on two different Turner programs, about MJ’s one-time choice of facial hair?)
Barkley is probably correct in his estimation. Jordan is, shall we say, a noted competitor; and noted competitors are noted for their thin skin, lack of nuance, and inability to take an objective view on what went wrong in hindsight. And for years following the Bobcats’ 2010 run to a first-round sweep in the Eastern Conference playoffs, the Bobcats did a whole hell of a lot of things wrong.
Even before that, Jordan’s management of the team was off. He drafted poorly, most notably with Adam Morrison in 2006, and threw heaps of money at win-now and veteran players with limited upside as both general manager and eventual owner. The result was that glorious 44-win season in 2010, but even then most outside of Jordan’s offices could see the writing on the wall.
Larry Brown, a win-now coach if there ever was one, was let go partway into the next season. Jordan desperately tried to hang on to a stab at mediocrity, dealing what very well could have been a high end lottery pick (had MJ’s ways continued apace) for Tyrus Thomas, but a year after that deal Michael had all but resigned to the fact that his work was lacking.
Barkley mentioned as much, in the rare instances where the Bobcats were discussed on the TNT airwaves. Charles didn’t drop any names, but Jordan’s continued reliance on longtime friends in the front office (friends that did have significant NBA experience, and friends that were no doubt likely more than chummy with Barkley) was his lead criticism. A correct criticism.
Charlotte lost 59 out of 66 games during the 2011-12 lockout year. Jordan handed former Portland Trail Blazer GM Rich Cho the keys the following offseason to engage in a rebuilding process, and we rightfully wondered if Jordan was truly capable of letting some other executive run the basketball end of the franchise he paid quite a bit of money for. That’s a worry with all owners, many of whom overrule their GMs on transactions for both basketball and business reasons.
For Jordan? The guy that cheated at cards to beat a North Carolina teammate’s mother in one round? He’s an entirely different case.
So far, so good. The Bobcats don’t boast a ton of potential superstar talent, but Al Jefferson played at an All-Star level last season, and while we’re still slightly wary of Charlotte paying him $13.5 million when he’s 31, worse moves have been made. Charlotte made the playoffs again in 2013-14 in their last year as “the Bobcats,” they made two solid signings in Lance Stephenson and Marvin Williams, and though rookie Noah Vonleh’s recent injury is a worry, there are some encouraging signs in his currently raw skill set.
In the interview, Barkley laments the idea that Jordan took his criticism of MJ the Executive “personally,” and reminded Bensinger and the viewers that despite all the laffs and gags on the "Inside the NBA" set, he’s there to do his job correctly – noting that viewers “know when you’re being dishonest and disingenuous.”
There’s nothing incorrect about pointing to a limited upside roster and wondering about its future viability. There’s nothing incorrect about pointing to a team that finished with the worst single season winning percentage in NBA history and calling it “tuurrible,” and there’s nothing incorrect about noting that Jordan hamstrung his efforts as a personnel boss by lining his boardroom with yes men.
Jordan’s Charlotte Hornets don’t currently look the part of a future conference contender, but they’re a good enough team considering all those whiffs in the draft lottery (it didn’t stop at Morrison, as Bismack Biyombo and even Michael Kidd-Gilchrist continue to fall short of their selection numbers), the team’s financial issues, and the coaching upheaval that figures to stop after the impressive rookie run of Steve Clifford. If everyone stays healthy and each of the particulars continues on his expected career arcs, they’re going to make life hell for a more prominent team in the second round this season. And starting in 2016, they’ll have scads of cap room all over again.
Charles was correct, MJ, and he was also correct to point out that you’ve done fine work since the low point in 2012. It’s time to give your buddy the same credit about his astute analysis.
In this instance, at least.
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