You’re not going to believe this, but Charles Barkley didn’t take criticism to heart.
A week after the Hall of Fame player turned Emmy award-winning analyst suggested millionaire NBA players should not be susceptible to anxiety and depression, demonstrating a stunning lack of awareness about mental health, he is taking more shots at the mental state of All-Stars Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.
This time, with Sports Illustrated media podcast host Jimmy Traina:
I asked Charles Barkley today what he would say to Kevin Durant if Durant came to him for advice about signing with the Knicks: “You ain’t tough enough to play in New York."
— Jimmy Traina (@JimmyTraina) March 12, 2019
More Barkley: " I dont think Durant or Kyrie are tough enough to play in NY. Kyrie's a very good player. Kevin's a great, great player. But Im not sure they have the mental make up to play in NY. Those guys are complaining about the media asking questions. Maybe NY isnt for them.
— Jimmy Traina (@JimmyTraina) March 12, 2019
How did we get here?
For the uninitiated, Durant and Irving are both unrestricted free agents at season’s end, and both have been linked to the New York Knicks via various dot-connecting, including amateur lip-reading of a recorded conversation between the two friends.
Both Durant and Irving snapped at the media amid this recent speculation, offering further evidence for anyone looking to draw conclusions about their unhappiness (or lack thereof) on the Golden State Warriors and Boston Celtics, respectively.
This topic became the subject of a larger conversation about mental health in the league between NBA commissioner Adam Silver and The Ringer’s Bill Simmons.
“We are living in a time of anxiety,” Silver told Simmons during a panel at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference earlier this month. “I think it's a direct result of social media. A lot of players are unhappy.”
Irving confirmed Silver’s statements with Yahoo Sports’ Chris Haynes this week.
“Look, I respect the ones that came before me, but they didn’t endure social media, the 24/7 news cycle,” the Celtics star said. “Adam Silver was right; it really affects people in different ways. These are just different times. People are dealing with anxiety, depression and other disorders that affects their well-being. Some people can’t handle all of this, and we need to be mindful of that.”
“I don’t need anything in this basketball world to fulfill anything in me,” Durant told NBC Sports Bay Area’s Kerith Burke last week. “The NBA is never going to fulfill me. It’s going to make me feel good about all of the work that I’ve put in, but I think those days of me wanting to prove something to anybody or walk around with a huge chip on my shoulder is not my thing.
“It wasn't before, and I felt like I had to program myself to play with a chip on my shoulder, but I’m never good in that situation. I’m more relaxed and letting these days flow. I’m the best version of me.”
Where does Barkley fit into all of this?
Barkley, of course, ignored this nuance, telling ESPN of Silver’s comments, “That’s probably the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard Adam say. Listen, he’s a great guy. But that’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard any commissioner say. These guys are making 20, 30, 40 million dollars a year. They work six, seven months a year. We stay at the best hotels in the world. They ain’t got no problems. That’s total bogus.”
Barkley went on to describe Irving as “one of the most miserable people I’ve ever seen,” despite conceding, “I don’t know him that well.” This all seems problematic, and a more nuanced conversation about Irving and Durant’s approach to the game is a worthwhile one, but Barkley has never been one to take a subtle approach.
It’s also worthwhile exploring whether or not the sheer volume of media in New York is an ideal fit for two people who have made their issues with the press known, but that is not what Barkley did on Tuesday. He flatly pegs Durant and Irving as “not tough enough to play in New York” while again questioning their “mental make-up.”
Never mind that one-note (mis)categorizations like these are the very source of player frustration with the media. Barkley again ignores any and all context. Durant and Irving have both excelled on the highest-pressure stages, each delivering titles in the clutch, and there is reason to believe those performances would translate in Madison Square Garden. There is also reason to believe they understand the level of mental toughness it takes to meet those moments better than Barkley.
And how tough is it, really, to play in New York these days? Expectations have sunken so low in the decades since the Knicks’ last bout with relevance that the city has embraced anyone approaching above-average value as if they were a superstar. Imagine if they had actual superstars. Durant and Irving would come with increased expectations, to be sure, and the amount of reporters may overwhelm at times, but would it be any more intrusive than the constant social media streams they have been swimming against since their highly publicized team changes?
They are surely tougher than we think and undoubtedly tougher than Barkley thinks. And even if they weren’t, can we talk about all of this in a way that isn’t so flippant?
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