In 1993, Charles Barkley’s job was to try to beat Michael Jordan on the court. That season Barkley was the NBA MVP and led the Suns to the NBA Finals, but admitted in The Last Dance he couldn’t lift his team to the level Jordan could lift his. Still, Barkley and Jordan remained close friends.
Charles Barkley’s current job is to talk about, critique, and analyze the NBA on TNT, and what he said in that job — criticizing Michael Jordan and how he ran the Charlotte Hornets — cost him his friendship with Jordan.
Barkley has said before he misses his friendship with Jordan but doesn’t expect that relationship to be repaired. Barkley reiterated that Tuesday on the Waddle and Silvy Show on ESPN 1000 in Chicago (hat tip Nick Friedell at ESPN).
“The guy was like a brother to me for, shoot, 20-something years,” Barkley said… “At least 20-something years. And I do, I feel sadness. But to me he’s still the greatest basketball player ever. I wish him nothing but the best. But, there’s nothing I can do about it, brother.”
What cost the friendship is that Barkley criticized Jordan’s ownership style in Charlotte — saying on air what the buzz around the league was at the time (frankly, Barkley was a toned-down, sanitized-for-television version of what the NBA’s chattering classes were saying).
“The thing that bothered me the most about that whole thing, I don’t think that I said anything that bad,” Barkley said. “I’m pretty sure I said, ‘As much as I love Michael, until he stops hiring them kiss-asses, and his best friends, he’s never going to be successful as a general manager.’ And I remember pretty much verbatim I said that. And the thing that really pissed me off about it later is Phil Jackson said the exact same thing.”
Part of what makes Charles Barkley and Inside the NBA must watch is nobody holds back, it’s a barbershop talk come to television. Barkley was honest, but it was something Jordan didn’t want to hear.
And one of the takeaways from The Last Dance should be “Michael Jordan hangs on to his grudges for a long, long time.” The ball is in Jordan’s court.
Hopefully, they can eventually move past this, hang out, and get back on the golf course together. Where Jordan will beat Barkley again.