NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

March 2, 2013

Better than peers, LeBron's competition is history

By Brian Mahoney Associated Press,
Newburyport Daily News

---- — Give Charles Barkley credit. He’s trying to make an argument when other candidates won’t even bother.

LeBron

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

many others.

“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.

Pulling

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.

“I just

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.

Those

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

tools.

“I don’t think his physical advantages were as great as LeBron is,” Barkley said.

Barkley

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.

“I

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

league now.

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

resumes.

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.

The

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.

“If

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.”