LeBron James exited the high road and struck back at longtime tormenter Charles Barkley, calling him a “hater” days after Barkley called him “whiny.”
There is no love lost between James, four-time MVP of the NBA, and Barkley, TNT’s provocative “Inside the NBA” analyst who never won a league title but seems to take special glee in criticizing three-time champion James.
James’ anger boiled over following the Cleveland Cavaliers’ 104-97 loss in Dallas on Monday, which dropped the slumping Cavs to 7-8 for January as they struggle to find the form that enabled them to come back from a 3-1 deficit and defeat the Golden State Warriors for the crown last season, mostly by riding on James’ shoulders.
“I’m not going to let him disrespect my legacy like that,” James told ESPN after the game, then alluded to some of Barkley’s infamous transgressions. “I’m not the one who threw somebody through a window. I never spit on a kid. I never had an 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.”
James, who teamed with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to win the 2012 and 2013 titles for the Miami Heat after he made his ballyhooed “Decision” to leave hometown Cleveland and take his talents to South Beach, expressed frustration with the Cavs last week, saying they need another playmaker to contend for a repeat.
“Inappropriate, whiny, all of the above,” Barkley said of James, who has played the GM/coach/prima donna role at times in the past. “The Cleveland Cavaliers, they have given him everything he wanted. They have the highest payroll in NBA history. He wanted J.R. Smith last summer, they paid him. He wanted [Imam] Shumpert last summer. They brought in Kyle Korver. He’s the best player in the world. Does he want all of the good players? He don’t want to compete? He is an amazing player. They’re the defending champs.”
At first, James played along, calling Barkley’s comments “good for the ratings.” By Monday, he had enough.
“What makes what he says credible? Because he’s on TV? I know he wanted to retire a long time ago, but he can’t; he’s stuck up on that stage every week,” James said of Barkley, who has stated that James will never join Michael Jordan, Oscar Robertson, Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Wilt Chamberlin on pro basketball’s highest tier.
Wade defended James on Tuesday, saying his ex-teammate’s greatness makes him a target of constant comparison with basketball’s best. He’s so good and has been such a strong role model that he can make insecure people envious, or jealous.
“Thank God he finally said something,” said Wade, who left the Heat last summer to join his hometown Bulls. “LeBron, a lot of guys take a lot of shots at him, for whatever reason. He just has kept his mouth closed.
“Sometimes when guys get on a microphone in front of their face they just talk and talk and talk and forget about their history. We all make that mistake, but especially that guy on TV. He acts like he just walked on water. I like the fact that Bron called him out.”
James is intolerant of old-school thinking that he can’t be friends with opponents Wade, Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony, so he ripped Barkley for being a hypocrite.
“Go watch the ’93 Finals when John Paxson hit the shot,” said James, a connoisseur of NBA history. “Barkley and Jordan were laughing and joking with each other during one of the games while somebody’s shooting a free throw. In the Finals. But, oh, nobody [was] friends back then.”
James then took the opportunity to tweak New York Knicks president and ex-Chicago coach Phil Jackson, who, like Barkley, can’t seem to bridge the generation gap with James. Jackson has called James’ group of longtime friends and business partners his “posse.”
“I’m here to win ballgames and take care of my teammates and take care of my, what’s that word, oh, my ‘posse,’” James said, smiling broadly but clearly miffed at any resentment aimed at himself and his circle for being young, black and rich — and breaking the power structure stereotype.
James, who is married to his high school girlfriend and has a clean conduct record, told ESPN he’d welcome the chance to talk to Barkley face to face.
“I’m tired of biting my tongue,” James said. “There’s a new sheriff in town.”