Was LeBron James’ Attack on Charles Barkley Personal or Yet Another Calculated Move?

Brooklyn Nets v Cleveland Cavaliers
David Liam Kyle-Getty Images

If you thought a resounding win against the Oklahoma City Thunder was an indication the Cleveland Cavaliers were back on track, you were dead wrong. Nothing hammered that home quite like their getting outplayed last night by a Dallas Mavericks team made up of Dirk Nowitzki and a bunch of D-League all-stars.

Of course, keeping with the theme of January, more headlines were made by comments said after the game than the actual game itself. This time, it was LeBron James going scorched-earth on one of his biggest critics, Charles Barkley.

Whenever James unloads a bunch of juicy post-game quotes, the common thought is he’s doing so for a specific, sometimes hidden purpose. However, the venom he unleashed last night makes you wonder if the same can be said about his Barkley attack. Was his lashing out yet another veiled attempt to light a fire under his team, or is he hitting his boiling point after an incredibly frustrating month?

Barkley pulled no punches in his recent criticism of James’ complaints about Cleveland’s lack of a playmaker and perceived penny-pinching from the front office. The Hall of Famer claimed these comments were “whiny,” noting the Cavs have given him everything he’s asked for. He ended his tirade by accusing James of not wanting to compete.

After spending years taking Barkley’s criticism in stride, James decided last night enough was enough.

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

It was without a doubt the most pointed and intense attack James has ever issued. Based on his final comments on the matter, something tells me he realized this, too.

“I’m tired of biting my tongue,” James said. “There’s a new sheriff in town.”

Obviously comments such as these caught a lot of attention. Many observers were thrown back at James’ attack, with some noting he went too far and too personal.

I’ll admit to being surprised by how candid his comments were, but my immediate reaction was asking what was he really trying to do here. I ask this because, as anyone who’s followed James over the past few years knows, everything he does is calculated. This includes both on- and off-court situations.

At this point, you have to wonder how much of this new drama is real and how much is a facade, just the result of some designed pot-stirring by James, who’s openly admitted such a thing gets him through the season.

If that’s the case, fine. James has made no bones about his desire for some adversity here and there when things get monotonous. Picking a fight with a TNT analyst certainly seems to fill that quota.

That said, I’m not sure how James’ lashing out at Barkley, especially this soundly, positively affects the entire team.

Whenever he does speak out like this, the goal almost always seems to be to get everyone out of what he once termed as “chill mode.” The Cavs have been guilty of playing bored basketball in each of the past two seasons, and find themselves in the same boat now. This is especially true in the current campaign since they’re the defending champs, so motivation for a late January game against Dallas is hard to come by.

But, while I get the need for James to shake the doldrums, it’s tough to decipher how he meant to do so with this latest attack.

I get why he’s frustrated, there’s no grey area there. However, where his comments about the need for roster help could be seen as motivation to get the front office going, what does tearing into Barkley do to help the team? Does his laying into a critic send some sort of message in the locker room?

I could see how this could be viewed as some attempt to get his teammates to play angry with some white-board material. Maybe it’s just a new method he’s using to try and keep his motivational tactics fresh.

Or maybe James just decided taking the high road doesn’t interest him anymore. Oddly enough, for someone who always knows what he’s doing, who always has a plan behind every move he makes, this explanation would actually be the stranger one.

Whatever the reason is, it sure doesn’t sound like further critique will be welcomed by him. However, if this is indeed just James hitting a breaking point, firing a warning shot to all future critics, you have to wonder how the rest of this season is going to shake out.

Casey Drottar is an independent sports writer. Follow him on Twitter or Facebook


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