LeBron James is tired. Tired of carrying the Cleveland Cavaliers. And tired of Charles Barkley.
A week after James ripped his general manager’s team-building efforts, drawing criticism from the media, including TNT’s “Inside the NBA” crew, the Cavs star let loose to ESPN’s Dave McMenamin:
“I’m not going to let him disrespect my legacy like that,” James said of Barkley. “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.”
If that wasn’t enough, James went on to describe the outspoken Hall of Famer as “a hater” who “wanted to retire a long time ago” from broadcasting, but is “stuck up on that stage every week.” James called for Barkley to convey face-to-face the criticisms he levied on television, pointing to Cleveland’s schedule, which features three games on TNT in February. “Screw Charles Barkley,” added James, before adding, “I’m tired of biting my tongue. There’s a new sheriff in town.” No word on whether LeBron blew on his pointed index fingers and put his hands back into a fake holster on his hip.
LeBron’s comments came in response to Barkley’s criticism a week earlier, when he called James “inappropriate, whiny, all of the above” for his plea to the front office for another “f***ing playmaker.”
“The Cleveland Cavaliers have given him everything he wanted. They have the highest payroll in NBA history,” said Barkley. He added of James, “He’s the best player in the world. Does he want all the good players? He don’t want to compete? He’s an amazing player, but they’re the defending champs. … He’s got Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. Does he want everybody? He don’t want to compete? He want to be the favorite all the time? It just pisses me off that a guy that great doesn’t want to compete.”
Barkley has wavered on LeBron’s legacy for years. He called James “disrespectful” in 2008, suggesting he should “shut the hell up” about his future free agency, and then described “The Decision” special during his eventual departure to the Miami Heat in 2010 “a punk move.” However, after LeBron’s first title, Barkley said, “I do think he can be better than Michael. I thought I would never compare somebody to Michael Jordan, but this guy, LeBron James, he does everything well.” He reversed course again last year, saying, “He’s not going to be in the top three” greatest NBA players in history.
In that same 2016 interview with Bill Simmons on HBO, Barkley added, “I will say this about LeBron James: I’ve never seen a man coming out of high school who has handled the success, been a great player, never got in a stitch of trouble — it’s probably been the greatest career ever.” So, that should give you an idea of Barkley’s true regard for James as well as the 53-year-old’s strange reasoning.
First asked about Barkley’s latest comments after a win over the Brooklyn Nets on Friday, James told reporters, ““He has to do that. mean, it’s good for the ratings. That makes no sense in the world. Ever since I picked up a basketball at age 9 I’ve competed every single time, so you can never question that about me. But that’s Charles. He’s the guy who has to sit on a panel and says stuff like that, but at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter. That means absolutely nothing. I wasn’t even watching last night.”
Asked again after Monday’s loss to the Dallas Mavericks, James changed his tune, setting Barkley ablaze like few have ever done. And Barkley’s come under plenty of fire. The next “NBA on TNT” segment is Thursday night, and Barkley is probably furiously perusing the Internet for ammo to use against his favorite target. I just hope he brings up the time LeBron didn’t pay for his birthday cake.
I think I’m most excited for this new LeBron James who takes a blowtorch to everyone in sight.
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