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Warriors and LeBron James form unlikely alliance in hatred of Charles Barkley

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LeBron James’s retort to Barkley’s criticism of him is more than a case of he said-he said. It’s an example of someone being pushed too far and finally pushing back, which also happens to be a clear sign of the times.

Charles Barkley (right) laughs it off.
Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

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It’s a good thing an alliance could be forged somewhere, even if between two of the most unlikely foes: the Golden State Warriors and LeBron James.

Make no mistake: It would be hard to find any James/Cleveland Cavalier fans in the Bay Area. Golden State and Cleveland have settled into a good, old-fashioned rivalry, and the battle for the 2017 NBA Championship runs through Oakland and Cleveland.

But, this week, we learned that James shares a common interest with the Warriors: total disdain for Charles Barkley.

For the Warriors’ part, the hatred for Chuck is a result of his repeated use of the word “girlie” to describe the team’s style of play. In his misguided vernacular, “girlie” means play based off jumpers rather than a more physical style of scoring — e.g. by bodying guys up and driving to the basket for layups and slams.

Never mind that the Warriors, under the leadership of Coach Steve Kerr, have won a championship and broken a bazillion records.

ESPN’s Rachel Nichols took him to task over this, as did Sami Higgins and I in pieces on the use of “girlie” as an insult and the continued struggle of women for equal rights, respectively.

Not only were his statements insulting to women, they were erroneous. All women do not play jumper ball. Case in point: Brittney Griner.

At the time of the insult, Kerr — perhaps deeming Chuck’s comments too inane to warrant much of a response — said only that he did not discuss Chuck’s remarks with the team and that “it’s getting to the point that I feel like if our whole team walked in front of Charles’ house he’d yell ‘Get off my lawn!’ That’s how I feel about it.”

But James — months after the Chuck-“girlie” controversy and in a post-election, post-inauguration, New America in which many people are on edge and angry and ready to punch back — didn’t let Chuck’s rhetoric pass with a comical quip.

The retort was on the scale of JaVale McGee’s response to Shaquille O’Neal teasing him about his rattail — a drone strike, over a bit of teasing. But McGee had been “teased” relentlessly on Shaqtin’ a Fool to the point that many would call it bullying. So, as with McGee, enough was enough for James, too.

Many fans don’t like James for the same reasons Chuck doesn’t. They think “The Decision” was poorly executed and insensitive to Cleveland fans. After it aired, Chuck called him a “punk,” which is a pretty derogatory insult by anyone’s standards.

But James’ recent comments about “needing a playmaker” on his squad appear, from the outside looking in, that he is throwing his teammates under the bus. It also may appear that he has too much power and perhaps is strong-arming the organization into lining up his wish list of personnel. Case in point, the following moves were arguably all due to James’ desires: signing Kyle Korver recently; re-signing Tristan Thompson, J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert; … getting David Blatt fired. (Many reputable publications have reported that James was behind Blatt’s firing, including SI and GQ.)

But, no matter how much one may dislike James’s approach to the media or team leadership, it cannot be ignored that he has been right about all of the moves that led the Cavaliers to their first championship.

In response to LeBron James’s recent comments about needing a playmaker on the team, Barkley said this:

“Inappropriate. Whiny. All of the above. 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 of the good players? He don't want to compete? He is an amazing player. They’re the defending champs.”

In addition to having called James a “punk” previously, adding “whiny” to the mix of mud to be slung wouldn’t sit well with anyone.

And then there’s the, “He don’t want to compete?” part — a question that implies James is seeking an easier route to another championship. In other words, this challenges James’ work ethic, and any elite player who works year-round for the game would take offense.

So, once again, Barkley did his job as a TNT analyst, saying provocative things that would generate ratings, much the same way that repeatedly calling the Warriors “girlie” stirred up a lot of attention.

However, instead of taking the high road the way Kerr did when asked about Barkley’s insults against his team, James went personal by dredging up much of Barkley’s dirty laundry, telling ESPN in reply:

“I’m not going to let him disrespect my legacy like that. 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.”

James forgot to mention that Barkley also was arrested for impaired driving that turned out to be for reasons other than alcohol intoxication.

So, yes. James’ comments are in the JaVale McGee drone-strike category. But he does have cause to defend himself when his work ethic is being called into question. No matter how anti-LeBron a hoops’ fan might be, no one can deny that James is one of the hardest working athletes in the game.

Thus, the bottom line for James seems to be his basketball legacy, and it makes sense that he would especially take exception to insults coming from someone who has never won a championship.

James is undeniably one of the best players to ever play the game of basketball, and he has devoted his entire life to the sport. The Golden State is the best team ever assembled in NBA history, and just happens to have as its star the sharpest shooter to ever play the game, Stephen Curry.

Both the Warriors and James are the best of the best. Is it any coincidence that both are the repeated targets of Barkley’s vitriol?

A little needling is one thing. But comments that call into question one’s integrity, hard work and accomplishments are just plain hater-ish, as James said.

So, Barkley pushed ... James pushed back ... Barkley followed up with a statement about standing by what he said of James ...

Everyone, no matter how silly, immature, rude, mean or twisted one’s views may be, has a right to free speech. And, clearly, the speech in this narrative may carry on for some time to come.

But one thing is certain: All of this — the pushing, the pushing back, the media-blitzing of information — is a sign of our times.

Follow Tamryn Spruill on Twitter