Charles Barkley is famously outspoken, so when we got the chance to hear his thoughts on the current state of basketball, we had to take it. One of the hosts of the Emmy Award-winning “NBA on TNT,” Barkley ― who captured league MVP honors in 1993, earned 11 All-Star appearances and is a two-time Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame inductee ― spoke with The Huffington Post recently to discuss Cleveland’s struggles, why the race for the championship is only between three teams and what is wrong with today’s NBA.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
You teamed up with Autotrader and Second Harvest Food Bank of Greater New Orleans. Why have you made it a priority to help those in need?
It’s interesting ― the greatest country in the world, we shouldn’t have people starving. We shouldn’t have young people not getting something to eat.
You seem to have very much targeted kids in dire need.
Kids are born into the situation they’re born into, and obviously they have no control over that. And we, as adults, it’s up to us to take care of kids ― that’s part of your moral responsibility. I always tell people, “There’s two groups we should take care of ― old people and young people.” And this is just my small little way of helping.
You recently attended All-Star Weekend in New Orleans. You’re 54 now. Does it maintain the same appeal, the same mystique for you it once did?
It’s not the same for me now, because, I mean, we work so much. We’re on every day for hours and hours. The All-Star Game was fun when I played in it because it was an amazing weekend, but it’s a little bit different now that I’m doing television, because man, it’s hectic.
What is the bigger first-half NBA surprise to you: the Spurs’ success or the Cavs’ struggles?
What [the Spurs have] done the last 20 years has just been amazing. Obviously they’ve won five championships, but to be competitive every year, it says a lot. Listen, I don’t think the Cavaliers have struggled as much as people think ― I think the Cavaliers have been bored, because they realized they’re going to win the Eastern Conference unless somebody [made] a trade. So I think they’ve just been bored more than anything.
Are we merely staring down at a three-horse race for the title, between Golden State, San Antonio and Cleveland?
Yeah, I think that’s very safe to say, and that’s one thing that bothers me about the NBA today. We shouldn’t have just three good teams ― that drives me nuts. And then people tell me [that when I played], “the same team always won the championship.” Well I say, first of all, that’s not true. The Bulls won, the Spurs won, the Pistons won, the Lakers won. But they were all pushed.
Like, we know the Cavaliers are going to be in the finals ― I mean, they don’t even get pushed. Even Michael [Jordan’s] Bulls, remember ― people forget they had some great seven-game series with the Knicks, they had some great seven-game series with the Pacers. They were always pushed. It wasn’t like, “Well, they’re gonna get to the finals.” There were a couple times even when the Bulls won the championship, they had some knock-down, drag-out games with the Knicks and the Pacers. It wasn’t just like a cakewalk like it is now.
Just how impressive is Houston with James Harden and Mike D’Antoni?
Yes, I think everybody is [surprised], but it goes to the genius of Mike D’Antoni and the great work that James Harden has done. I don’t think anybody thought that the Rockets would be playing this well, but Mike D’Antoni is doing the same thing he did in Phoenix ― he’s just an offensive genius, plain and simple.
Should D’Antoni then be Coach of the Year and Harden the league MVP?
Well, I think simply Harden and [Russell] Westbrook are the two front-runners for MVP. I think you have to pick your poison on that one. They both look great. And D’Antoni is clearly the front-runner, and now who’s probably gaining on Mike D’Antoni is Scott Brooks ― he’s doing a fantastic job in Washington.
Speaking of the Wizards, what changed for that team? They were a lifeless 2-8 ― dead in the water ― at the beginning of the season.
Well, [John] Wall said he got in shape. People forget he had knee surgery on both knees and it took him a while to get into shape. But if you actually looked at it on paper, I think the Wizards probably have the most talent that can compete with the Cavaliers. They played probably the best NBA game I’ve seen in years. But if you look at it, they’re probably the second best guard combination in the NBA.
Listen, Otto Porter is playing out of his mind, [Markieff] Morris is playing out of his mind. I worry about their depth, but if you look at it from just a talent standpoint, the Wizards probably have the second best team in the Eastern Conference.