These days, one can find Charles Barkley nestled comfortably between the likes of Ernie Johnson, Kenny Smith, and Shaquille O'Neal on the set of TNT's Inside the NBA. Once upon a time, though, Barkley was an elite NBA forward, finishing in the top 8 in player efficiency ratings for 14 consecutive years and earning the ridiculous moniker, "The Round Mound of Rebound." (Poking fun at Barkley's portly stature.) Due to his experience both as a player and as an analyst, one can make the argument that Barkley's opinions on basketball are perhaps more legitimate than others'. Thus, when Barkley criticizes Carmelo Anthony for wanting to explore the free-agency market and leaves LeBron out of his top 5 NBA players of all time, people take notice.
In a statement to the New York Observer, Anthony stated, "I want to be a free agent. I think everybody in the NBA dreams to be a free agent at least one time in their career. It’s like you have an evaluation period, you know. It’s like if I’m in the gym and I have all the coaches, all the owners, all the GMs come into the gym and just evaluate everything I do. So yes, I want that experience.”
Carmelo's statement of wanting to explore the waters of free-agency blew up when commentators from Inside the NBA heard wind. Charles Barkley took special offense at the utterance: "He owns the city, he should be trying to get guys to come here and not like `I’ll stay here a couple of years – I forced my way here, No. 1, I got here, now I want to leave.’ That’s just not cool at all to be honest with you.”
Barkley's partner-in-crime, Kenny "The Jet" Smith, agreed with his analysis: “What happened to the law of attraction? Like, you’re good enough where you can attract guys that want to play with you. And that’s what’s missing, I think from the Knicks, and I think what’s missing from Carmelo, is just the law of attraction. Like, there aren’t a lot of guys saying they want to come to New York and play here with this guy.”
Smith would go on to add that “What he should say is, `The Knicks have to, they’re going to give me the max. I’m going to be in New York.’” Many people believe that Anthony's decision to test free-agency is linked to obtaining the largest contract he possibly can, which makes sense. If the Knicks really want to keep Carmelo around, then they would be forced to cough up more money due to bids coming from other teams. This factor seemingly doesn't matter to Barkley, who is "ticked off" that Anthony is seeking free-agency when he practically begged to come to New York.
Barkley's barbs did not end with Carmelo Anthony, though. In an interview with Sports Illustrated, Barkley stated that LeBron James would not be included in his Top 5 NBA players of all-time. When asked if LeBron was a Top 10 all-time player, Barkley responded:
I have him there. But he can't get any higher than where he is. I have Michael [Jordan] at No. 1. Oscar [Robertson] at No. 2. Then Wilt [Chamberlain], Kareem [Abdul-Jabbar] and [Bill] Russell. I have Kobe [Bryant], LeBron, Tim Duncan, Jerry West and Elgin Baylor after that. Those are my top 10. Those second five fluctuate, but who do I take off my top five? LeBron can get to No. 6 on my list, but here's the thing that bothers me about the whole LeBron debate: I want to know why y'all killed Kobe Bryant! Y'all don't even compare him to LeBron anymore. You are skipping him for LeBron and going right to Michael. I'm still going to take five [titles] over two.
Barkley's argument is a fair one. At this point in James's career, could one legitimately make the claim that he is better than Jordan, Oscar Robertson (who averaged a triple-double), Wilt "The Stilt", Kareem, or Bill "11-Time NBA Champion" Russell? I think the short answer is no.
Barkley's ranking of Kobe above LeBron makes sense as well. When one compares their achievements side-by-side (Kobe left, LeBron right), it's easy to see that Kobe is more deserving of the 6th spot on Barkley's list than LeBron:
Barkley is not the only former NBA player to leave LeBron off of an all-time starting five. When asked to name his all-time starters, Jason Kidd also snubbed LeBron James in favor of Scottie Pippen, a move that was seconded by Karl Malone. However, Malone perhaps proved himself to be even more insane than Barkley by leaving Michael Jordan off his own list.
While one can make the legitimate argument to leave LeBron off of an all-time NBA top 5 list (He is still playing and has room to improve his standings), anyone who tries to argue that Michael Jordan is not one of the greatest of all time is simply delusional. It appears that after all these years, Karl Malone is still bitter about the 1998 NBA Championship.
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