Almost two weeks later, it still defies explanation.
James Harden averaged 29.1 points, 11.2 assists, and 8.1 rebounds per game this season, but he was a no-show in Houston’s season-ending loss to San Antonio. He had 10 points on 2-of-11 shooting, and the Rockets lost at home by 39.
“I think James has like a mental block because this is like the third or fourth time, if you go back and look, where he’s had an awful last game,” Charles Barkley said on CBS Sports Radio’s Gio and Jones. “It wasn’t the first time. I think it’s four times in a row that he’s really struggled when there was a lot on the line. That’s just my opinion. I think he has this thing going on psychologically where the moment has gotten too big for him. That’s just my personal opinion. When you’re on radio or TV, you’re like an amateur psychologist. But that’s just my personal opinion.”
Barkley also weighed in on the current playoff picture.
There’s a growing sentiment that LeBron James is already one of the two greatest basketball players of all time and if he beats Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, and the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals, then he’ll have supplanted Michael Jordan as the GOAT – or, at the very least, be on par with him.
Barkley disagrees for one simple reason: Another championship would give LeBron four rings. Well, Michael has six.
“That’s what they tell me,” Barkley said, referring to the importance of championships. “They talk about me and Karl Malone and Patrick Ewing – guys who didn’t win a championship. They hold it against us, which is unfortunate. It is what it is. When they’re trying to talk about who’s the greatest, I says, ‘Listen, LeBron is one of the 10 greatest players I’ve ever seen in my life.’ And people are like, ‘Well, they keep comparing him to Michael.’ I says, ‘Well, what about Kobe? Because you guys keep telling me that championships matter.’ LeBron is amazing. Kobe has five championships, and LeBron has three.”
Thus, for Barkley, James isn’t chasing Jordan – at least not yet. He’s actually chasing Kobe.
“I will say this – and I’ve said it before: If LeBron is able to beat the Golden State Warriors, I would probably put him on a plateau with Kobe Bryant, and if he could win a couple more, then move him up to Michael Jordan’s place,” Barkley said. “But these guys always talk to me about how many championships a guy wins. So as great as I think LeBron is, I’m not just going to move him up on MJ status. I’m not going to just move him past Kobe Bryant. I’m playing by their rules. They keep saying, ‘Well, Charles didn’t win a championship.’ Okay, y’all hold that against me. Well, Kobe has five, LeBron has three, Michael has six. So which rules y’all want to play by? You can’t hold it against me and guys saying ‘Well, we didn’t win a championship’ but just move LeBron past Kobe because Kobe has two more championships. I’m playing by their rules now. I think their rules are full of it, just for the record, because I think my life and career is pretty damn good. I really would have loved to win a championship, but it is a team thing. But they hold it against an individual who didn’t win a championship even though it is a team game.”
Barkley is an 11-time All-Star, a two-time Olympic gold medalist, a Hall of Famer, and former NBA MVP. But he never won a championship. He led the Phoenix Suns to the Finals in 1993, but they lost in six games to you-know-who. Michael.
Barkley could have won plenty of rings had he teamed up with Michael, but he didn’t. That’s just not how things were done back in the day.
“We didn’t get together and collude and try to get all the stars together,” Barkley said. “Listen, LeBron is amazing, and all these guys are great. But when you get all the great players on your own team, you should win. You should dominate. That’s my problem with this era. Think about it. If Magic and Larry Bird ever called each other or Michael and the Pistons called each other and said, ‘Hey, I’m a free agent. I’m going to pay with you guys,’ he’d just dominate the league. That wouldn’t be fair. That’s my problem with today. I have no problem with today’s era. They got terrific players. I have a problem with all the good players trying to get together. That’s not competitive. It’s not competitive.”