Turner Sports broadcaster Chares Barkley -- who can be seen alongside Ernie Johnson, Shaquille O'Neal and Kenny Smith on TNT's popular Inside the NBA studio show -- never lacks for opinions, whether the subject is Michael Jordan's cursing at him, Dwight Howard's move to Los Angeles or the discrimination (his word) against ugly women in sports television. Barkley, who recently said he isn't sure how long he'll stay in broadcasting, discussed all of the above and more last week with SI.com.
SI.com: Over the past 12 months you've changed your opinion of LeBron James regarding his potential legacy, even boldly saying he could be better than Michael Jordan. What changed your thinking?
Barkley: I never thought I would compare anybody to Michael Jordan. Michael Jordan had the perfect body. He was 6-foot-6 and 225 pounds. LeBron James is 6-8, weighs 260 pounds, he's as fast as Michael Jordan and can jump like Michael Jordan. We've never had anything like him in the NBA. As great as I think Kobe Bryant is, he is a notch below Michael Jordan. But if LeBron James can win four or five championships, he will be in that conversation. We have never had a player like him. Take Shaquille O'Neal, for instance. Well, we had a Wilt Chamberlain. Kobe Bryant? Well, we had a Michael Jordan. But we ain't never had a guy like LeBron James. It's a freak of nature to be that gifted.
SI.com: You know you'll be hearing from Michael on this like you did when you criticized him as an NBA executive.
Barkley: I'm pretty sure I will. I love Michael. Michael is one of my great friends. But I also can't get on radio or television and say he does a great job as a GM. Clearly, he was upset with me, but I have to be honest at my job.
SI.com: What's it like to be cursed out by MJ?
Barkley: We are cool now, but it proved the point I was trying to make: Just because you are friends with someone, you don't tell them what they want to hear all the time. That was what I was thinking when I was getting S.O.B.'d to death. I was like, "This actually proves my point." He wants all of his friends to agree with him, and that's one of the reasons he is in the predicament he is in now.
SI.com: What are the biggest storylines in the NBA this season?
Barkley: Every year there are one or two stories, but this year there are more stories than ever. I'll go with Dwight Howard and Steve Nash on the Lakers as No. 1. The revamped Celtics roster as No. 2. The Brooklyn Nets are No. 3, and Andrew Bynum and Philly are No. 4. There are a ton of storylines this year that could have championship implications.
SI.com: Is Dwight Howard a good guy or a bad guy?
Barkley: He's a great guy. He's made a lot of bad decisions, but I am going to give him a break. People want to assume things because he has been around awhile, but he's only like, what, 26 years old? He's a great guy who has made a bunch of indecisions, but I'm gonna give him a pass because he is a good guy.
SI.com: So why does Shaq keep dogging him on television?
Barkley: I asked him about it. He says he is trying to motivate Dwight. Listen, if you just go by pure numbers, the guy [Howard] has been amazing. Defensive Player of the Year. Leading the league in blocked shots and rebounding. I tried to explain this to Shaq, but Shaq is so physically amazing that he wants Dwight to be him. I said, "Dude, nobody is you. Wilt Chamberlain was the only person comparable to you."
SI.com: Will Howard dominate in the Western Conference right away?
Barkley: I think he's going to dominate because he has been dominating. The stuff that he does, it travels. He blocks shots, he rebounds, things like that. That stuff always travels. If you need the ball to be successful, those types of guys can struggle when you go to a new team and you have to worry if you will get your shot. But Dwight is the best rebounder in the game, the best shot-blocker in the game.
SI.com: What do you make of the feud between Rajon Rondo and Ray Allen?
Barkley: If you remember, there was some stuff going on last year with that situation. Listen, man: There are guys who you play with that you don't get along with. It happens all the time. I just think [Celtics general manager] Danny Ainge did a really good job in the offseason, and I think Ray and Rashard Lewis going to Miami makes them a better team.
SI.com: What team came out on top in the James Harden trade?
Barkley: I thought it was great trade for Oklahoma City. The trade made them better. James Harden's flaws showed in the playoffs because he was one-dimensional. Those two kids [guards Kevin Martin and Jeremy Lamb] the Thunder got are really going to help.
SI.com: Which players need to have good years to change their reputation?
Barkley: First, I'd say the Knicks as a team. [The Knicks have won their first three games.] And also there is a lot of pressure on Andrew Bynum in Philadelphia [once he returns from a knee injury]. It will be really good or really bad. I think the one thing people do not understand is when you go from being a player to being The Man. That's not easy. I look at Joe Johnson, who is a good player. He got traded to Atlanta and they wanted him to be The Man. Well, he can't be The Man. He's just a good player. What Andrew is going to learn is when you are the best player, you are The Man. They have special defenses for you. The other team's objective is to stop you every night. I told him and I told the Sixers: Just because you are a good player -- and I think Andrew is a very good player -- it is not the same as being The Man every night.
SI.com: You joked recently that you'd pick the Knicks if the year were 2000. What's your take on New York?
Barkley: They are not constructed well and they got older. I want you to compare them to what the Celtics did. The Celtics have older guys, but they went out and got a bunch of younger guys. The Knicks are not constructed well and they went out and got a bunch of old guys. If you are going to go out and get a bunch of guys, I want guys who will play hard, even if they are wild and crazy, and young and dumb. At least they'll play with great energy. I think that's better than bringing in a bunch of old guys.
SI.com: Do you have a pick for the Finals?
Barkley: I could throw some things out there, but I need to see these teams play. The Lakers are a big if. If Steve Nash, Dwight Howard and Kobe Bryant can stay healthy. And Kobe Bryant is old, too. If I had to pick a team right now, I'd probably go with Oklahoma City. In the East, I'd go with the Celtics and Heat, and I give the Heat a slight advantage because of LeBron. Those are the four favorites. But I love guys who say, This team is going to be good. We haven't even seen these teams play. The Celtics got a lot better on paper, but games are not played on paper. Everybody is worried about Steve Nash and Dwight Howard, but I worry about Kobe Bryant. He's hurt already. [Bryant was battling a foot injury in the preseason.] It's a long season. And I worry about LeBron, too. He said he only had nine days between the end of the championship and the Olympics. You got to worry about that.
SI.com: Which are the best cities to travel to as a broadcaster?
Barkley: Anytime you go New York, L.A., Miami, Chicago, the energy in those cities is amazing. I love the restaurants. The only thing that sucks is fans want you to pick their team. They want you to say everything positive about their favorite players. When we travel, one city loves me and one city hates me. When I picked the Mavs to win the championship [two seasons ago], they loved me in Dallas. But when I went to Miami, they were throwing things at me. I never care who will win these games, but Ernie is going to ask me to pick a team.
SI.com: How do you view sideline reporters on a broadcast?
Barkley: I don't like sideline reporters at halftime because you're asking coaches questions, and they are pissed off most of the time. Anything can happen when you are mad like that, especially if your team is getting its butt kicked. It's always easy to interview the guy who is winning, but if you are getting your butt kicked, it's a very awkward situation. You haven't even had a chance to digest what you've been bad at, and they are asking what you have been bad at!
SI.com: That's why I love interviews with Gregg Popovich. He's great television when he makes reporters uncomfortable.
Barkley: Oh, he's great. But I will tell you one form of discrimination no one ever talks about regarding sideline reporters.
SI.com: What's that?
Barkley: If you are an ugly woman, you have no chance of getting a TV job.
SI.com: But if you dress like Craig Sager, you can still get hired, right?
Barkley: Hey, I think you have to dress like Sager to get a job now. I will say this: They have hot, great-looking women on TV now. But if you are an ugly woman, you ain't got no chance of getting a TV job.