Charles Barkley has been one of the NBA’s most dominant and outspoken personalities since he entered the league in the 80’s as a player and now as an analyst for TNT.
Barkley has been very critical of the brand of basketball that the NBA has been putting out on the floor in recent years, calling the game and its players “soft” for the lack of physical play being allowed and the friendly relationships that players have formed on and off the court. This criticism has sparked a lot of talk around the league, and it’s a common precedent shared by a lot of the league’s retired players from the 80’s and 90’s era, where the play was more physical, there were fewer relationships off the court, and true rivalries existed where teams hated each other.
Recently, Barkley, once again, echoed the same sentiments on his TNT’s “Inside the NBA” last week where he harped on the new age changes that he feels have hurt the league in major ways.
“If you look at the NBA now, it’s the worst it’s ever been, in my opinion. Everybody want to use analytics, everybody want to shoot threes… If you look at the big picture — and this ain’t no ‘old guy hating on the young guys’ — the NBA is the worst it’s ever been, top to bottom. We got one or two, three or four good teams, and the rest of the teams stink.”
Now, I have to totally disagree with Barkley here.
For the first part, basketball like many sports, is forever adapting as the years go by. Much like how the NFL has turned into a predominantly passing league, the NBA has become more of a deep shooting league where the three pointer has become a priority for many teams around the league in order to keep up with teams like the Warriors and Cavaliers. The NFL used to be strictly ground and point through the 80’s and parts of the 90’s, give or take a few teams, like Dan Marino’s Dolphins squads and the 49ers with Joe Montana and Steve Young under center. For the most part, team’s offensive game plans were predicated on the running game setting up the deep ball or the quick pass as opposing defense would pack the box. Through evolution, because it’s ultimately an entertainment business in the big picture, the league became more passing-oriented, where Quarterbacks are consistently throwing for 4,000 yards and 40-50 touchdowns and receivers are posting some of the best numbers this turn of the century than ever before.
The NBA has gone through the same kind of evolution. When it first started, there was no three point line, so the game was played mid-range and in. When the league introduced the three pointer in the 70’s and early 80’s, the game was still played mostly inside-out where big men flourished and guards would just feed them. Until players like Michael Jordan and Doctor J who took the game above the rim and shooters like Reggie Miller and Ray Allen who made the three pointer a commodity in the 90’s and 2000’s, the league was big man dominated through the 80’s.
Naturally, when the 90’s, 2000’s, and now this decade hit, the league has expanded its horizons and just the like the entertainment business of the NFL, the NBA follows the same model to most attract the fans. Therefore, the league has now become more guard-oriented based off of quickness and shooting ability, which creates more opportunities to score points thus pleasing and creating the best product for the fans.
With Barkley coming from and older era where the big man was more emphasized and where he was able to flourish being a big, you can understand his natural distaste for what the league has recently become. However, although the amount of threes has dramatically increased and the league has gotten smaller, the talent is still as rich as ever.
We have players like LeBron who are 6’8, 240 pounds and who are able to do everything on the floor and dominated the game from every angle. We have big guards like Russell Westbrook who will likely continue to flirt with the prospects of averaging a triple double this season, who attack the rim with a vengeance and are able to take control of a game just off sheer will and fight.
Then you also have players like Steph Curry and Klay Thompson who are two of the best shooters we have ever seen and rely on the three pointer in order to impact the game. So the balance is actaully there in the NBA right now where we have stars who can shoot, dunk, pass and play defense that allows the game to be expanded in a way we haven’t seen before.
This well-roundedness of talent brings me to another point that Barkley made where he feels there are only a select number of good teams while the rest of the league stinks.
To that point, there have always been tiers in the NBA where you have your elite teams and the bottom of the barrel teams who were looked at as guaranteed wins. This has been the case throughout history. But to say that the league is the worst it has ever been in part because of this is wrong. Since Jordan retired from Bulls in 1998, eight different teams have won a championship in the 18-19 seasons since. This is more than the four teams that won in the 90’s and the three teams that won in the 80’s. So, in Barkley’s era of playing, seven total teams won an NBA title in 20 years while this era already has eight. There’s no way he could say that the league is imbalanced when we have seen so many teams have success at various points in recent years.
Barkley’s opinions are what have made him famous post- NBA and even when he was playing, so it’s no surprise that he shared his thoughts with us again last week. Again, he is from an older generation of basketball and how it was played, so his stance is understandable from that point. However, as a current analyst, on the NBA’s premier show, he needs to adapt to the current space the league is in and understand that it is ever changing, and there will be a time where the game is played inside-out again — now is just not it.
Do you agree with Barkley that the NBA is in its worst state ever? Let’s talk about it here or find me on Twitter @Phenombc3.