Playing in the same American Century Celebrity Golf Championship as Jimmer Fredette, Charles Barkley heads into the tournament with 500-1 odds. Arguably the most entertaining basketball personality on television, Barkley has no reservations about speaking his mind. I caught up with Chuck yesterday to talk about Jordan, LeBron, Shaq, gambling and the looming NBA lockout.
*** *** ***
Dime: Why do you think LeBron has struggled in the NBA Finals thus far?
Charles Barkley: Well, people overreacted to that one game to be honest with you. I mean he played similar in Game 3 and nobody said anything. You know I think people are being a little bit unfair to LeBron right now…there’s a lot of LeBron hate going on right now. I think…LeBron…people always trying to compare him to Michael Jordan, and that’s just a little bit unfair. I don’t think he has the killer, try to-kill-at-all-costs mentality. I think he’s more like Magic Johnson…more of a facilitator. He wants to pass the ball first. You know, Michael Jordan, he wanted to kill you, and I don’t think that’s LeBron’s personality. And sometimes when Dwyane [Wade] gets going, he becomes a little passive. But I think a lot of the criticism was a bit unfair. If they had made one or two plays here or there, they might’ve been up 3-1.
Dime: With Shaq officially retired, where do you feel he falls on the list of the greatest centers of all time? How would you feel about working with him over at TNT?
CB: Well, he’s the fourth greatest center in NBA history. And the thing that’s funny, I don’t even think…to be honest with you…no matter how well he played, he can’t get to those top three. I mean, Wilt, Kareem and Bill Russell…I don’t think anybody can break into that group. But Shaquille to me is the fourth greatest center of all time. I gotta tell ya, I played in the NBA for 16 years, and Shaq is the only guy who I ever met where I said, “Man, that’s a big dude.” But I’ll tell ya one thing that I will say…we want him at TNT. It would be an honor and a pleasure to work with him. I welcome him to TNT with open arms…it’d be great ’cause we know each other really, really well.
But I will tell you the most amazing thing about Shaquille O’Neal. You look at Greg Oden, you look at Bill Walton, you look at Sam Bowie…for Shaquille O’Neal to be as big as he was and really not get hurt ’til he was past his prime, I think that’s one of the most remarkable things I think I’ve ever seen to be honest with you. That dude is huge, man. That dude is huge.
Dime: What are your thoughts on Jimmer Fredette as a potential NBA player?
CB: Well, I’m pulling for him. I got a chance to meet him…he’s one of those kids you pull for. I think the question has go to be…can he play the point? It’s gonna be a transition for him. And I think the biggest question is, are they gonna try to make him a point or bring him off the bench for instant offense? ‘Cause that’s what you see with a guy who was a terrific player like [Russell] Westrbook. You know, it’s not easy to play the point. It’s one of the most important positions on the team, and the reason is you have to get the ball to the other players. The point guard has the ball on most teams probably 80% or 90% of the time. I don’t think he’s big enough to play the two, cause he can’t guard the two guards in the NBA.
Dime: If Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavericks go on to lose these Finals, has Dirk still gone a long way in this postseason to change the way people look at his career?
CB: You know I’ve been kinda torn for this series, to be honest with you…because Dirk and Jason [Kidd] and LeBron are really the three guys that got something to lose, because the loser of this series is still gonna be on that list that I’m on – and I always feel bad for those guys. Dirk is one of the greatest players, and he already was before this year. All three of these guys are Hall of Famers. They’re legends. But, until you win a championship, you just gotta stay on the list with me and Karl [Malone], and Patrick Ewing and John Stockton and those guys…that’s just the way it is.
Dime: What would be the right circumstances for you to get involved with a team as an owner?
CB: Well, I might do it just as an investment to be honest with you…uh, I don’t have enough money like a Michael to just take complete control of an organization…I don’t have that type of money. Whether it’s in Philadelphia or Phoneix, to put a few million dollars there to be…not a speaking owner, but just you know, a fun, good investment. I mean, but I don’t have enough money to buy my own team. Maybe if I win Lake Tahoe if I put enough money on myself, you never know. 500-1. So if I put down a million dollars, I think I could make this thing work!
Dime: What do you think about Mark Jackson as the Warriors’ new coach?
CB: Mark is a really good friend of mine. I think it’s great for Mark that Jerry West probably had to sign off on the deal. I think that first of all that’s the first smart thing they did out there in years, getting Jerry West on board. I got great admiration and respect for Jerry West. He’s the best. And it’s about time they got some legitimate people out there with that bonehead organization they have had. The key for Mark is gonna be to get good players and good assistant coaches. He wanted to coach and I was really pulling for him, but this game ain’t about X’s and O’s, it’s about jams and Joes. I mean, he got to get some good players. Currently the Warriors don’t have a very good team, but I’m really gonna be rooting for the Golden State Warriors ’cause Mark Jackson is a really good friend of mine. But if I’m a Golden State Warriors’ fan, I’ve got to be encouraged that Jerry West didn’t have any objections to Mark Jackson being the coach.
Dime: Is Inside The NBA on TNT as fun for you as it seems?
CB: Well, the thing we try to do is…we are just talking about basketball…we’re not saving the world. I think that is our number one job, to make sure that the fans have a good time. I truly believe that. I really think about that, the day of the show. You know, I wanna make sure the players are clearly having a good time, they’re all making five, 10, 15, 20 million dollars a year. But I want the fans to enjoy the game. So I honestly just try to make it as fun as possible, to be honest with you. First of all, I can’t believe these suckers are paying me to watch basketball. I’d watch the games anyway. I love basketball. Basketball has given me everything that I have.
Only thing I do at my house on Saturday and Sunday is sit in my movie theater and call my bookie. ‘Cause football, that’s all it’s good for…to bet on. But they pay me to watch basketball, I love sports, and I can’t believe they pay me to watch basketball and that’s the truth, to be honest with you.
Dime: Why are the Miami Heat fans getting so upset with you?
CB: ‘Cause I didn’t pick their team to win! It’s interesting how these fans think that if you don’t pick their team to win, you don’t like their team. First of all, I’ve said it a thousand times, I don’t care who wins. I don’t pull, really, I don’t. I just try to do my job. I don’t ever care who wins. Like I said, this series I’m a little torn ’cause I root for Dirk and Jason and LeBron ’cause they’re on the list with me right now – and it sucks to be on that list. But it is what it is. I say I pick the Mavs to win the series, and the people in Miami took it personally. But that happens every year in the Conference Finals, when you go on the road and you pick the other team, so that’s a thing you can’t go crazy about.
Dime: What do you think would be the ramifications if there were a lockout?
CB: It would be devastating for football and basketball, to be on strike because we are in the middle of a recession. And the truth of the matter is that you got billionaires and millionaires fighting with each other…and I understand there are a lot of complex issues. My only hope is that David Stern, who I think is the best commissioner in all of sports…I trust him. Everybody knows we’re in a recession. The economic climate, you got the tornados in Alabama, you got the tornados in Missouri, you got the floods in Memphis…there are so many people struggling. But, uh…hey man, it’s a tough call. I hope it don’t strike but, man, it’s just tough right now.
Dime: What do you remember about labor issues when you were a player and what do you think will happen this time around?
CB: Well, the last time we had one, I was there. I personally think in football and basketball, the owners are going for it this time. I think they’re going for it. The players, we’ve been kicking their butts for a long time, to be honest with you…in the last couple of collective bargaining agreements. But, just from what I’m reading, and how much they want back, it looks like they’re gonna go for it this year. And I’m worried about football, and I’m definitely worried about basketball. But I do think the owners are going for the jugular this time.
Dime: So do you expect an NBA lockout?
CB: I do. I do think there’s gonna be a lockout and I really think that’s sad because our ratings have been the best they’ve been in probably forever. And it’s been a great year for the NBA.
Follow Aron on Twitter at @the_real_aron.
Follow Dime on Twitter at @DimeMag.
Become a fan of Dime Magazine on Facebook HERE.