Charles Barkley was on Mike and Mike this morning for another installment of “Everything Was Better Before.” Greenie asked Sir Charles to comment on whether players today, because they’re such good friends off the court, can be as competitive with one another on the court as they were back in the day. The prompt was the recently circulated photo of LeBron, ‘Melo, CP3 and Dwyane Wade vacationing together. In fairness to Barkley, he didn’t go off on a full-blown rant about the differences between then and now. He did, however, rue the fact that players are such good friends because, he said, it took the edge off their competitiveness. (This is all because of AAU basketball, by the way. For the uninitiated, AAU ball is considered responsible for virtually every social ill America faces today. Indeed, one could reasonably lay the blame for ISI, Ebola and climate change at the feet of AAU ball).
Greenie noted that Barkley competed against Michael Jordan and the Bulls in the ’93 NBA finals and that the two players were good friends at the time. Barkley averred that, though, yes he and Michael did stuff together off the court, they would never hang out during a playoff series.
(This is a pic from the 93 finals. OK, so maybe they didn’t hang out *off* the court. But they sure do look like they’re hanging out *on* the court).
In any event, Barkley’s unchallenged comment was meant as definitive proof that players back then maintained proper boundaries more rigorously than players today.
But, but, but…No one has even suggested that it would have been OK, for instance, for LeBron to have hung out with CP3 while the two were playing against one another in a playoff series. If the Cavs and Clippers face off in next year’s NBS finals – certainly a possibility – I am willing to guarantee, in fact, that these two good friends will not be chilling *during* the series.
The discussion after Barkley left the set did not get better. Greenie brought up how close Isiah and Magic used to be, but then suggested that the end of their friendship was somehow related to the strain of having been good friends and competing at the same time.
The real reasons, to the extent they’re knowable, are not plausibly related to the strain, somehow, of having competed against one another when such things were allegedly frowned upon. And of course, Magic and Bird famously became good friends during their playing careers, a development which did little to dampen their on-court rivalry. Finally, the whole discussion took on a bizarre tone as Golic tried to explain that athletes can still go hard after one another when they’re friends, but maybe not with quite the same venom.
Finally, I have to ask: anyone here ever hear of sibling rivalry? What do you think Peyton Manning would say about going after little brother Eli in competition? That he couldn’t bring himself to be quite as unrelenting?
Not the most important or weighty matter. But another illustration of the self-pretzling sports commentators will subject themselves to in nostalgicizing ’bout the good ole days.