Charles Barkley had no vested interest in where LeBron James ended up.
A former Philadelphia 76er, Phoenix Sun and Houston Rocket, the NBA Hall of Famer is now an analyst for TNT who is never afraid to speak his mind.
Not long ago, he said James really had just two options: Miami and Cleveland.
Friday, the NBA’s best player announced he was rejoining the Cavaliers.
“This is a great day. I’ve one of the few people who has been saying for the last year I hope he goes back to Cleveland,” Barkley told Bickley and Marotta on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM Friday.
Barkley was impressed with the way James made the decision, via an essay on SI.com, that explained how he wanted to return home and bring a championship to the city of Cleveland. A native of Akron, Ohio, James spent the first seven years of his NBA career with the Cavs, taking them to the NBA Finals in 2007.
But his ties to the team, and the state, did not dissuade him from leaving four years ago to team up with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh as part of a “super team” in Miami, which rubbed Barkley — and many others — the wrong way.
“We said you can’t manipulate the system and try to win a championship,” Barkley said. “It’s an honor and a privilege to win a championship, so you can’t try to get all the best players together.”
James ended up reaching the NBA Finals in each of his four seasons with the Heat, winning the championship twice. His run in South Beach was hardly a failure, as the former No. 1 overall pick in 2003 further cemented his place as the best player in the game by averaging 26.9 points, 7.6 rebounds and 6.7 assists per game for Miami.
But while earning a pair of titles with the Heat meant a lot to James, the player himself essentially said in the essay that bringing a title to Cleveland would mean even more.
When I left Cleveland, I was on a mission. I was seeking championships, and we won two. But Miami already knew that feeling. Our city hasn’t had that feeling in a long, long, long time. My goal is still to win as many titles as possible, no question. But what’s most important for me is bringing one trophy back to Northeast Ohio.
The Cavaliers, unlike the Heat, have never won a title, and that is part of the reason why Barkley is glad to see James return to his first NBA team with that goal in mind.
“Winning a championship in Cleveland — if he won one in Cleveland or five in Miami, it still would have the same impact,” Barkley said. “And I think he understands that now.
“His essay was amazing. I’ve been telling people for the last year, and everybody said he’s never going back to Cleveland, but I said it would be the right thing to do to go back to Cleveland.”
James apparently agreed.
By adding James, the Cavs instantly became one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference. James will team up with Kyrie Irving, Tristan Thompson and maybe Andrew Wiggins, among others, looking to do something he was unable to accomplish in his first go-round with the franchise.
James said in the essay the team is not yet ready to win a title, perhaps lowering expectations that are already out of control, but regardless of whether he wins another ring or not, his decision Friday certainly has a feel-good aspect to it.
“If and when he’s able to win a championship in Cleveland, it’s going to be worth it, it’s definitely going to be worth it,” Barkley said. “And I’m a LeBron James fan for life now. What he did today…he’s obviously one of the 10 greatest players ever, he’s an amazingly nice guy.
“But what he did today, it represents everything that’s great in sports. It’s bigger than basketball. Him leaving Cleveland, I don’t think that’s why we got mad — well we did get mad at him for leaving Cleveland and trying to manipulate the system. But we knew to win a championship in Cleveland, it means a lot more in Cleveland than it did in Miami.”