It’s all over sports talk radio here in Miami. Heat fans everywhere are celebrating the beginning of a new NBA dynasty. LeBron James, in the eyes of the local fans has done a great thing. He took less money and made winning a championship priority number one. In South Florida, two sentiments run very strong. LeBron James is right. Charles Barkley is wrong.
There are always at least two sides to every story and in this case that has rocked the NBA world, there are seemingly unlimited opinions. You can use whatever cliche you like(next Jordan, heir apparent, chosen one, etc…), but Lebron James has been regarded as the greatest talent ever since his days in high school. He has had an unthinkable amount of pressure on him throughout his basketball career. Of course, we all need to keep some perspective on what type of pressure we are talking about. This is sports and not politics, war, or some type of disaster. Although fans of the Knicks and Cavaliers would probably disagree with the last part of that statement. James, even with said pressure and almost impossible expectations, has lived up to the hype. Well, almost.
King James joined his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers in 2003. The addition of LeBron, all by itself was good for an eighteen game improvement in the 2003-04 season. In fact, his rookie season was the only time he’s ever been on a losing team. Two years later he led the Cavs back to the NBA playoffs for the first time since 1997-98. Then in the 2006-07 season he basically ran over the Detroit Pistons all by himself and took Cleveland to their only NBA Finals appearance. They were swept by the San Antonio Spurs. His last three seasons in Cleveland were his best individually. His team won over sixty games in each of the last two years. King James appeared to be ready for a true coronation. He seemed to have the Cleveland Cavaliers, his hometown team, and the championship starved city of Cleveland both on the brink of ending years of frustration. Cleveland was ready to win it all. Then he left for South Beach.
Miami is home to the 2006 NBA Champions, the Heat. It is also the home of one of LeBron’s best friends since entering the NBA, fellow 2003 draftee Dwayne Wade.The temptation of playing in a more attractive city with not just Wade, but another star from the 2003 draft, Chris Bosh, proved to be too much too pass up. The reaction around the country was overwhelmingly negative, with the obvious exception of Miami. Cleveland, as could be expected, was emotionally destroyed. Disbelief and anger seemed to ravage the hearts of Cleveland faithful. From the Cavs owner all the way down to the blue-collar workers watching in sports bars. The reaction in Cleveland was understandable even if a bit extreme in some cases, but what about the rest of the country? Ok, New Yorkers were mad because, um…, he didn’t pick New York. How could anybody pass up New York for anything? That subject is for another day. So why the negative reaction in all the other places in the country?
Certainly, LeBron’s decision to take part in a poorly conceived program titled “The Decision” didn’t help. He made a bad choice there, but in terms of choosing a team, he was a free agent. James never went to college, so he missed out on the excitement of being recruited out of high school. Free agency gives you the opportunity to choose where you play. Period. So what is the reasoning for all of the negativity? Cheating. Not like using steroids cheating or any other type of illicit activity. More like taking a shortcut to a championship type of cheating. All-Time NBA greats have come out one after the other making statements indicting LeBron of taking the easy path. Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Karl Malone, and Air Jordan himself have all made comments that this is not like anything they would have done. They all wanted to beat the other guy, not join him. One man has come out stronger than anyone against what James has done and how he did it. Say hello to Charles Barkley.
Sir Charles has come out and said that he is very disappointed with King James decision to basically give up in Cleveland. Barkley says it would be more honorable to win as “the guy”, rather than join someone else who has already established himself as the face of the team and an NBA champion. His thinking is that if you are regarded by many as the best player on the planet, you shouldn’t be the second option on any team. People in Miami don’t want to believe it, but Charles is correct on all of the above. Watching D-Wade play with LeBron will be surreal at times, but it will never be as good as watching the two of them go at each other. I have felt for a few years that Wade is a more valuable player in big games than James and now I am sure of it. For a comparison that anyone can relate to, imagine playing your very good friend, or even brother and not caring if you lost. Watch the manner in which these two play in games. Both are capable of great plays on both ends of the court, but Dwayne is the closest thing we have seen to Jordan in terms of competitive spirit. When Wade is on a roll he appears to be a Pitbull, while LeBron glides along more like a German Shepard. Each one is formidable to be sure, but the Pitbull will stop at nothing to win the battle and take your heart in the process. So now, LeBron James has gone from maybe the best player on the planet to the second best player on his own team. He has also removed himself from the greatest player of all-time discussion permanently. I am sure that he is looking forward to playing with his friends. That does not change the fact that he is taking an easier road to be a champion. Charles Barkley never won an NBA title, but he was also well in to his thirties before he wasn’t the leader of his own team. The main reason he, like Patrick Ewing, never won a title is because of a guy named Mike.
Why has everyone come out against Barkley more so than the other Hall of Famers that have made similar comments? The lack of a championship is one contributing factor, but there is a bigger one. Charles is brutally honest and everyone claims to love him for it. At least until his thoughts come in to conflict with what somebody believes. The icing on the cake is that, unlike some of the other stars that have commented, Barkley will not try to be politically correct. He will not take a position near the middle to avoid contraversy. Most importantly, he will not back down from a position he has taken for the sake of appeasing anyone. These are the reasons we have come to love Charles Barkley as a player and as an analyst. So Heat fans, we should enjoy this superteam, because we may never see another one like it. Unfortunately, we may never see Wade vs. LeBron ever again either. The choice LeBron James made may not be all wrong, but it doesn’t change the simple truth. Charles Barkley is right.
About the Author
Written by Sean Eckhardt
Univ of Alabama alumni. Born and raised outside Chicago, IL. Currently live in Florida. Some of my favorite teams include the Chicago Cubs, Minnesota Vikings, Miami Heat, and the Florida Panthers. My interests outside of sports include music, outdoor activities, and anything with a motor(cars, bikes, boats, etc...).