Right after the GOAT debate, the most often trope in basketball discussions is the old heads vs. the new generation clash. Charles Barkley is often a part of those clashes, but unlike most commentators, Barkley never makes it personal - yet, players today take everything personally. Sir Charles has a simple explanation why.
Everyone's gotten criticized
In his famous interview with Bill Simmons, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver confirmed he talks to a lot of elite players, and one of his major concerns is about the overall level of unhappiness in the NBA.
Players never made more money, the game has never been as popular, and they've never had so much power and influence, yet your average NBA star seems to be unhappy, frustrated, and has a conspiracy-theory-level attitude towards the media - their conduit to the fans.
With money and power comes a lot of people that just say "yes." Being criticized and called out is a very unusual occurrence for NBA stars, so when guys like Charles Barkley rip them a new one on national TV, their reaction is to lash out, regardless of facts and truth in what has been said. Barkley has a simple explanation for the disconnect between the current stars and the game's icons.
“The only disconnect is these guys are wussies. We've all gotten criticized, I've gotten criticized, Dr. J got criticized, Magic Johnson got criticized. Every great player gets criticized, we're just not sensitive as these dudes today. It always annoys me and makes me laugh, these guys act like they're the first group of players who ever got criticized.”
Charles Barkley, The Ryen Rusillo Podcast
To remind you, every time he gets acknowledged as the icon he is, Barkley never fails to point out that the crucial moment in his career was the tough love he got from Moses Malone. Barkley came in as a future star yet didn't get a lot of playing time. He asked the veteran why that was happening and got the cold, hard truth. ”You're fat, and you're lazy,” Malone responded to Barkley's question.
What happened next put Barkley on the path to greatness. He didn't get all up in his feelings and called Moses a hater. Sir Charles had the humility to ask for guidance, and Malone helped him to find his NBA weight and get in incredible shape by working out with Barkley after every practice. Hell, the greatest of all time was basically described as James Harden.
Barkley's position is clear. ”Every player has gotten criticized. The only difference is, they whine, whine more about it today.” Same as Moses didn't just call out Barkley and walk away, he shared the advice he got that helped Barkley ”change my whole perspective.”
Young fella, this goes with the territory
The problem with players today, and young people in general if you ask me (but that's for a different venue), is they don't want to accept both sides of the medal. We raise kids with so much protection and control they don't learn everything worth fighting for comes with a few bruises on the way there.
Kyrie likes the NBA and Pepsi money but doesn't want to talk to the media and fans. The man who made Uncle Drew Players want to use their platform - that they built on the shoulders of legends that came before them - for their political and social beliefs, but don't want to get criticized by those legends or explain and discuss their thoughts.
In short, they want to have their cake and eat it too. We've all been there, this isn't something new. But most of us had the character to take it on the chin. For Barkley, that "punch" was landed by Dr. J.
“When I was first becoming a star, my third year in the NBA, I pulled him to the side and I said 'This guy said this, this guy said that,' and he said, 'Young fella, this goes with the territory. Always ask yourself this one thing first - did I deserve the criticism? And it's the hard question to ask yourself - was the criticism fair?' You look at some guys now. Listen, I love Russell Westbrook but it's fair to criticize him. It's fair to criticize Anthony Davis cause he can't stay healthy. Same thing with Zion.”
Charles Barkley, The Ryen Rusillo Podcast
To be fair, there are guys who don't respond like five-year-olds. But Barkley seems to be correct when he says there's never been such a large group of NBA stars who can't take any criticism. The generation that got participation trophies has grown up and can't deal when someone calls them out.
Fortunately, there are no participation trophies in Slovenia, Greece, and Serbia.