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Charles Barkley says ‘poor babies’ comment was about more than the league catering to players

‘It’s about the perception being created and how fans see it’

Charles Barkley is on the other end of the line. He knows what this sounds like, that if you wanted to read a crawl line across your television screen or a mobile news update to summarize what Charles has popped off about now, it’d probably sound like this:

Chucky’s back.

Charles Barkley, speaking at Southern Methodist University on Wednesday, once again showed he has no interest in running for president of the National Basketball Players Association. He called LeBron James, Stephen Curry and their new-millennium peers “poor babies” for not wanting to play basketball two nights in a row. Saying the NBA caved to its players by eliminating back-to-back games with a longer, drawn-out 82-game regular-season schedule, the TNT studio analyst and the league’s most consistent in-my-day, get-off-my-lawn coot is downright angry that already-pampered multimillionaires need to further rest their precious joints and limbs.

And if that’s all you took from “poor babies,” as usual, you’d be missing Charles’ larger point.

“This isn’t just about today’s players being unnecessarily catered to by the league; it’s about the perception being created and how fans see it,” Barkley said when he spoke to The Undefeated by telephone Thursday morning.

It isn’t about Barkley’s jealously or anger that his generation had it much tougher and was compensated far less for paving the road for this generation; it’s about running the risk of alienating a generation of fans who have come to love and buy into the NBA again post-Michael Jordan. It’s another step in a ladder spiraling downward, Barkley believes, in the relationship between players and how the people who ultimately pay their salaries view them.

From All-Stars secretly colluding in the summer to leave their current teams and join forces to create their uber teams, to teams ponying up hundreds of thousands in fines for resting their tired but otherwise healthy stars — sometimes in markets that may have only one opportunity a year to see LeBron James, Kevin Durant or Kawhi Leonard play — Barkley fears for the immediate future.

“I just feel bad,” Barkley added. “At some point, you know, when you got players resting and taking games off, you got all these great players that only want to play together, it’s just a matter of time before the fans say, ‘F— off.’

“If all these guys want to play together and there is going to be no competitive balance, I wonder, as a fan, why am I going to buy season tickets if it’s going to be the same two or three teams every year?

“People want to say, ‘Well, what about the Celtics and the Lakers in the 1980s?’ And I tell them, ‘Go back and look. The Celtics and the Lakers drafted all their players or made trades. Guys didn’t get together during the summer and decide to play together. That’s the difference.’ ”

The Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers also surmounted genuine contenders to get there every year — be it the Detroit Pistons, Philadelphia 76ers and soon a young Jordan’s Bulls in the East, or the Houston Rockets, Portland Trail Blazers and Dallas Mavericks in the West. Except for Oklahoma City with Durant, the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers have marched almost unscathed to three straight NBA Finals.

Soon, Barkley agreed, every city whose star has left to play with another star will begin marketing the dates of their supernova-led opponents before their own rosters.

“That’s exactly right. They’d basically be saying, ‘You know we’re not going to be competitive, so come watch these guys.’ ”

Barkley went on, providing a far more dismal backdrop to this season than the adrenaline jolt of a furiously active offseason because, well, it’s Chuck.

“The whole season is going to be about is LeBron leaving Cleveland?” he said. “And that always brings negativity to the league. Cleveland is going to be like, ‘Oh, no. LeBron is leaving at the end of the season.’

“Even the whole Kyrie thing. What the hell was that? I wish he’d just come out and say, ‘I don’t like LeBron.’ I watched him on First Take [this] week. That was one of the worst interviews I’ve ever seen. It’s unbelievable. What, he can’t say, ‘I don’t like him?’ ”

Finally, addressing his comments Wednesday, Barkley said he believes NBA commissioner Adam Silver made a major mistake in caving to the concerns of players who say they need more rest and a longer season to accommodate that rest. He said it’s actually about the NBA being bullied by coaches and players under the guise of protecting their investments, the bodies and long-term health of their players, while forgetting their most important one: fans who don’t need to hear how grueling their favorite players’ job is.

“We played two games in two days and flew commercial,” Barkley said. “And Dr. J and Moses [Malone] told me they played three games in three days and flew commercial, took planes and trains. And now these guys are making $30 million-$40 million dollars a year, flyin’ on a private jet and they can’t play back-to-back? That’s ridiculous.

“First of all, I don’t care how much money these guys make. God bless ’em. But guys making that kind of money can’t find a way to play two basketball games in two days? Anybody that doesn’t think that’s ridiculous is crazy. When I saw they moved the season up to take a couple of back-to-backs away, I thought, you gotta be kidding me. You gotta be damn well kidding me.”

As electrifying and compelling as all these Kyrie-LeBron and Durant vs. all of Oklahoma City Thunder post-Twitter fuselage matchups appear, we are hung up amid a sobering reality that at some point the Warriors and wherever James ends up cannot sell the league alone, that the worst thing you can do in a competitive, multiple-option sports marketplace right now is do what the NFL is currently adept at: ticking off their customers.

Mike Wise is a former senior writer and columnist at The Undefeated. Barack Obama once got to meet him.