LeBron James on Charles Barkley: ‘He’s a hater’

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After losing to the Dallas Mavericks Monday night, LeBron James decided he’s had enough of criticisms from Hall of Famer Charles Barkley. (AP/Tony Dejak)

Charles Barkley has a response to LeBron James: Let’s have a duel!

In a radio interview with “Waddle and Silvy” on ESPN 1000 in Chicago Tuesday afternoon, Barkley said he and James should engage in a paintball battle during All-Star Weekend in New Orleans next month in the wake of James’s takedown of the Hall of Famer and longtime TNT commentator in an interview with ESPN following his Cleveland Cavaliers losing in Dallas Monday night.

“That’s what we should do,” Barkley said. “Let’s see … instead of the Slam Dunk and Three-Point [Contests]. No, those are pretty good actually. Instead of that Skills Competition, we should do a paint gun — because I don’t want him to get hurt, and I don’t want to get hurt — we should do a paint gun sheriff shootout at the All-Star Game instead of a Skills Competition.

“Some people like what I said, some people didn’t like what I said. But we should do a paintball, Wild Wild West shootout right at center court.”

While it seems unlikely such a battle could happen, there is some precedent for it. At the All-Star Game 10 years ago in Las Vegas, Barkley raced longtime NBA referee Dick Bavetta during All-Star Saturday Night. A potential paintball battle with James, however, would garner slightly more attention.

Barkley’s comments came after James gave the entire sports media machine a day’s worth of content and entertainment in an interview with ESPN’s Dave McMenamin, taking Barkley to task for prior comments he’d made about James and his teammates.

“He’s a hater,” James said. “What makes what he says credible? Because he’s on TV?”

James was just getting started.

“I’m not going to let him disrespect my legacy like that,” James said. “I’m not the one who threw somebody through a window. I never spit on a kid. I never had 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.”

Later, he summed up his feelings even more bluntly: “Screw Charles Barkley.”

For his part, Barkley said he was fine with the way James came back at him, though he did point out several times that young players these days, in his opinion, can’t take criticism.

“I have no problem with what LeBron said,” Barkley said. “I don’t overreact. I’m not going to say anything bad about him, or personal. I stick by what I said. He was all whiny and everything last week, so I’m good. If I’m going to be straightforward, like I always try to be, I know guys are going to come back at me sometimes.

“So I’m good. He got personal, but I’m never going to get personal on an NBA player. All of my criticisms and critiques are about basketball, and I’m going to keep doing what I do.”

While James decided this was the time to speak out, Barkley has needled him for years, with the latest example coming on “Inside The NBA” last week after James had called for the Cavaliers to make improvements to the roster surrounding him.

“Inappropriate. Whiny. All of the above,” Barkley said. “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 [Iman] Shumpert last summer. They brought in Kyle Korver. He’s the best player in the world. Does he want all the good players? He don’t want to compete? He is an amazing player. They are the defending champs.”

Barkley also said on Bill Simmons’ short-lived HBO show that James could “never” break into the top five players of all-time, despite the fact he’s on pace to be among the all-time leaders in just about every statistical category, and now has three championships to go along with them.

It’s easy to see why James would be frustrated, for reasons that go far beyond the recent losing streak the Cavaliers — still clearly the best team in the Eastern Conference, and the obvious favorites to meet Golden State in the Finals for a third straight season — find themselves in. For years, he’s been the target of scrutiny from players from past generations like Barkley, going back to “The Decision” and teaming up with Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade with the Miami Heat. The fact he’s close friends with Wade, Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony has been derided as not being serious enough about the game, and that players from prior generations felt differently.

As James pointed out to ESPN, the idea that players like Barkley and Michael Jordan weren’t friendly with other players during games — or with each other — doesn’t hold water.

“Go watch the [1993 NBA Finals], when John Paxson hit the shot,” James said. “Barkley and Jordan were laughing and joking with each other during one of the game’s while somebody’s shooting a free throw. In the Finals. But, oh, nobody were friends back then.”

James also was forced to deal earlier this season with Phil Jackson’s absurd comments about James’ posse — which was how Jackson described James’ circle of business associates, including agent Rich Paul, Maverick Carter and Randy Mims. Monday night, James took a break from Barkley to discuss Jackson again, too.

“I went to see [Anthony] at [Madison Square Garden] two years ago when we were in New York,” James said. “They played Portland. I went up to a suite at halftime and Phil Jackson didn’t say one word to me.

“I’m here to win ballgames and take care of my teammates and take care of my, what’s that word, oh, my ‘posse.’”

The truth, of course, is that James is 100 percent right. Throughout his 14-year career, he’s never had any off-court issues. He’s been a leading light in the sports world, recently speaking out on issues like gun violence. He’s kept up a sustained level of performance that, it can be easily argued, is unsurpassed in the sport’s history. And despite being in the glare of the spotlight ever since he was in high school, when he was ticketed for superstardom, he’s somehow lived up to — or exceeded — every ounce of the hype that preceded him.

But that doesn’t mean he is able to block out all of the noise that surrounds him, and Monday night he clearly decided he’d had enough.

He went after Barkley further, deriding him for not being able to follow through on a desire to retire, and challenged him to come find James at a game this season.

“Don’t just come up to me at All-Star and shake my hand and smile,” James said.

It was a complete and utter takedown — using words and facts — that will ring through the media for days to come. Barkley will be back on the air Thursday night — by the time the story was published early Tuesday morning, the TNT crew was already done for the night — and there’s little doubt he’ll have plenty to say.

As James showed Monday night, however, he’s more than ready to respond.

When he finished his comments, he told ESPN, “I’m tired of biting my tongue. There’s a new sheriff in town.”

If this is just the beginning, who knows what’s coming next. But LeBron James knows how loud his voice can resonate, and how every word he says resonates.

His night ended with a tweet, one that came about 20 minutes after ESPN’s story set fire to the Basketball Internet:

No, LeBron, you haven’t lost anyone. To the contrary: we’re hanging on your every word — just as you intended. Now we’re all waiting to see what comes next.

And, if Monday night is any indication, it won’t be boring.

LeBron James on Charles Barkley: ‘He’s a hater’

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