When Charles Barkley talks hoops, people listen.
Let’s face it. When Barkley talks almost anything people listen.
So Murfreesboro Daily News Journal reporter Joseph Spears took advantage of Barkley being in Tennessee for a fundraiser to pick his brain about his playing days.
Barkley obliged and was happy to name the best player he ever had to go toe-to-toe with.
And it wasn’t Michael Jordan.
But that’s not because he doesn’t think Jordan is the greatest player ever. He told Spears plainly that Jordan gets his GOAT vote.
Barkley calls Celtics great best he ‘had to guard’
But Barkley was talking about players he faced directly during his Hall of Fame career — simply put, other power forwards.
And for Barkley’s money, Boston Celtics forward Kevin McHale is the toughest opponent of his era.
"He's one of the greatest basketball players ever," Barkley told the Journal during a Boys and Girls Club fundraiser. "He's the best player I ever played against and had to guard."
That’s high praise from Barkley, whose Philadelphia 76ers regularly played McHale’s Celtics during their time in the league together in the late 1980s and early 90s.
What about Karl Malone?
The answer gets us thinking about other power forwards of the era, and who Barkley believes McHale beat out in terms of basketball ability.
One player who was considered the best power forward of all time by the time he retired immediately comes to mind — Utah Jazz Hall of Famer Karl Malone.
Malone joined the league in 1985, a year after Barkley. The pair’s primes coincided with each of them making every All-Star game from 1988 to 1997.
But Barkley spent much of the early portion of his career with the 76ers doing battle with a more established McHale. By the time he moved West to join the Phoenix Suns for regular matchups against Malone, he found a foe who was on more equal footing.
But most would argue that Malone was better than either McHale or Barkley.
Barkley gave Malone his due
Barkley made sure to clarify he wasn’t slighting Malone in his interview with the Journal.
"I enjoyed playing against players like Larry Bird and Karl Malone because they were great," Barkley said. "When you're at this level, you're better than 99 percent of the people in the world, so there's a few guys you look at it and go, 'That guy is just as good as me.' So whenever you meet someone like that, it's a big deal.”
Barkley also battled with younger greats
The tail end of Barkley’s career overlapped with some of the game’s other greats at his position, most notably Tim Duncan, Dirk Nowitzki and Kevin Garnett.
But those guys represented the new school relative to Barkley’s era and dominated the league in the 2000s. And by the time they hit the scene, Barkley was limping through his late days with the Houston Rockets.
He can be forgiven for leaning on his 80s and 90s nostalgia.
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