“I’m smart enough to know as a basketball player, it would have been more difficult for me to defend threes and fours in today’s game, than just getting in the box and beating the hell out of each other,” admitted Hall of Fame NBA star Charles Barkley, who retired in 2000 having won the NBA MVP Award in 1993. (He was also the leading scorer on the Dream Team.) Barkley’s reference to “today’s game” indicates the difference not just in the skills of the players but inthe way the NBA game is refereed now.
Yes, today more big players have better ball-handling and greater shooting range. But the biggest difference between the Charles Barkley and Michael Jordan era and the LeBron James Steph Curry era is that defensive players can no longer put their hands all over their opponents. Now it’s a foul, and then it was a legal thing called a hand check. (See 1990s New York Knicks.) The difference makes all the discussions about Who Is the GOAT? meaningless, because the players from different eras are essentially playing a different sport with different rules. Barkley was quoted in USA Today as he assessed the NBA prospects of Duke superstar Zion Williamson, whom many have compared to Barkley. Barkley thinks Williamson may find similar difficulties in today’s NBA as he would face. But he sure looks ready to try, as Sir Charles agrees.