Give Charles Barkley credit. He’s trying to make an argument when other candidates won’t even bother.
James’ brilliance has sucked the drama out of the NBA’s MVP debate, and
the only real race is to see who can be first to text him
congratulations after he wins the award again.
Barkley favors San
Antonio’s Tony Parker for MVP if the Spurs finish with the league’s best
record, rejecting the notion that best player has to mean the most
valuable one. Yet make no mistake, Barkley is no James hater.
In fact, give the Hall of Famer and TNT analyst props for something else:
He’s willing to make the Michael Jordan comparison that scares off so
“They’ve got to get off saying it’s not even close, because I think it is close,” Barkley said.
And if James keeps this up, it’s only going to get closer.
away from his peers, James’ only competition will soon — if it’s not
already — be history. He’s averaging 27.3 points, 8.1 rebounds and 7.3 assists for a team that won its final 12 games in February, when he shot
a ridiculous 64.1 percent from the field. Miami coach Erik Spoelstra used the term “video game numbers” after James had 40 points and 16 assists against Sacramento on Wednesday, but video games become boring
once they’re this easy.
Perhaps because of Jordan’s popularity or his currently lopsided advantage in championships, many aren’t willing
to consider what Barkley believes.
“It’s unfair to compare eras,”
is the common answer from those who won’t touch the topic, such as
Philadelphia coach Doug Collins, who coached Jordan twice and whose
76ers were just beaten by James’ triple-double last week.
think you can never compare a 1996 BMW to a 2013 BMW. Different
technologies, they all look sleek and look fast, but it’s just
different,” said Shaquille O’Neal, Barkley’s TNT teammate.
who aren’t ready to give James his due usually point to his lone title —
six-time champion Jordan among them. Sometimes the argument is more
laughable, such as the one from former Seattle guard Gary Payton, who
argued that James wouldn’t have been as effective during his era because
players would have pushed him around more.
“You can’t guard him
now because it seems like you can’t put your hands on him. You know what
I’m saying?” Payton said during the All-Star break. “With LeBron, if
somebody can hand check him and muscle him, I still think it could be
the same. It’s a lot different when somebody can hand-check you and
control you and be stronger than you on the block or whatever and not
let you go anywhere.
“It’s a little bit different, as being free
and being a freak of nature and his body that he has right now, nobody
can guard him, you know what I’m saying? So right now, if he could come
back in our era and we could hand check him and guard him and bigger
guys get on him and when he gets to the bucket we hit him and knock him
like (Bill) Laimbeer, like the Boston Celtic
days, it’d be a little bit different. I guarantee you it would be. But
he’s still great, he’s still a great basketball player and like I said
he’s playing in a great era because he can get to the bucket whenever he
feels like it.”
James is listed at 6-foot-8 and 250 pounds —
though he’s called himself over 260. Who exactly are these people that
were going to outmuscle him?
James is quicker than most guards and
stronger than just about every big man. He can play or defend all five
positions, and even the 6-6 Jordan couldn’t match all James’ physical
“I don’t think his physical advantages were as great as LeBron is,” Barkley said.
even draws a comparison between James and Wilt Chamberlain, another
player who athletically just blew away the competition. Nobody will ever
put up the kind of stats the 7-1 Chamberlain did — he averaged 50.4
points and 25.7 rebounds one season — but Barkley sees a similarity.
never seen Wilt play in person, but he was somebody who was just so
physically better than everybody else,” Barkley said. “Wilt probably
never got his credit because the Celtics had
much better teams, but like, the guy averaged 50 points and 30 rebounds
in a year. You’re like ... that’s crazy. LeBron is so much physically
bigger and better than everyone else, like, Wilt’s the only other person
you would think is in that conversation.”
Kevin Durant might win a
fourth straight scoring title, but after the Heat have beaten Oklahoma
City six straight times dating to the NBA Finals and have a better
record, it would be awfully difficult to pick him over James as the
league’s MVP. Parker’s team has had the best record for a while even
while having to play so often without either Tim Duncan or Manu
Ginobili, but in typical Spurs fashion, he insists he’s more interested
in team success than individual recognition. Chris Paul, who has turned
the Clippers from longtime laughingstock into a legitimate contender,
seems more of a James cheerleader than MVP threat.
“What Bron is
doing right now is unbelievable, I mean unbelievable,” Paul said. “The
way he’s playing, the confidence that he’s playing with, and the biggest
thing about LeBron is he’s doing it on both ends. Obviously I’m a
little biased because that’s like my best friend, but he’s playing great
basketball right now.”
James arrived at last month’s All-Star
weekend after a stretch where he scored more than 30 points and shot
better than 60 percent in six straight games, an NBA first. Yet the
weekend still belonged just as much to
Jordan, who turned 50 on the day
of the game and who, to believe some players, could still play in the
Jordan made news that weekend when he told NBA TV in a
televised special that he would pick Kobe Bryant over James because of
Bryant’s five titles. James downplayed the remarks and Barkley
practically dismissed them.
“I think that’s Michael taking shots
at him, because I think, listen, as great as Kobe has been, I’ve never
thought he was as good as Michael Jordan,” Barkley said. “But this guy,
and everybody wants to talk — I don’t know how many rings he’s going to
win, nobody knows that. If this guy can win five or six rings, I think
that’s a very legitimate contest.
“I mean this guy, man, think
about it. He can guard anybody. A couple of years ago he took Derrick
Rose, the MVP, out of a playoff series. I mean, that was amazing, and
the guy gets 30 points, let’s say 20ish a night, eight, nine rebounds.
He’s getting eight, nine assists, that’s amazing.”
James can’t get
around the rings argument, though, largely because his talent — and his
bolting Cleveland to build a potential powerhouse in Miami — mandate
him winning many. When Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen finally
one won with Boston in 2008, or Dirk Nowitzki
and Jason Kidd finally got theirs by beating the Heat in 2011, it seemed
that was all they needed to clinch what were already Hall of Fame
But for James, winning one last year only led to the
questions about when he’d win another, the kind of expectations O’Neal
faced once he finally broke through eight years into his career.
“It’s very unfair but it was life and for me it was nothing but motivation,” O’Neal said.
Heat will surge into springtime with a great shot at another one, and
after next season James can decide if he wants to keep chasing
championships in Miami or go somewhere else to continue his quest.
Is he Jordan? No, not yet.
Maybe not ever.
But check back when his fingers are a little more filled up.
this guy can win five or six championships, I think it will squash all
those rumors, all those gripes,” Barkley said. “Because this guy, I’ve
never seen anything like him.”