As the NBA hits its midseason lull, the most exciting battles have taken place off court. While the behind-the-scenes drama in Chicago makes the Bulls’ locker room resemble the set of a soap opera, the real action is in the all-too-public feud between NBA player LeBron James and NBA Hall of Famer and current TNT analyst Charles Barkley.
James is the best basketball player alive on the planet today, as his legacy is unrivaled by any current player. But King James would be wise to abandon this trivial feud before he ends up looking like a jester. Barkley is right about James now and was right almost 25 years ago when his Nike “I am not a role model” commercial launched.
This all began after Barkley called James “whiny” on the air and insinuated he may not want to compete after James blasted the Cavs’ front office and demanded another playmaker. Barkley rightly pointed out that Cleveland has the league’s highest payroll and currently sits at $30 million above the salary cap. The Cavs retained players James favors like J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert in addition to recently trading for Kyle Korver  —  one of the league’s best three-point shooters — in a deal with the Atlanta Hawks.
Barkley’s point should be well-taken; Cleveland did not struggle in January because it lacked talent, Cleveland struggled because they were below par on offense, especially with three-point shooting. For the first time in over a decade, LeBron James had a losing record in a calendar month. However, the Cavs remain the top seed in the Eastern Conference and James’ other top playmakers, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving, are having better statistical seasons across the board compared to last year when Cleveland won the title.
Cleveland does not need more talent. Cleveland needs to make better use of what it has and to get itself out of its mediocre snag. By demanding additional talent, it is hard to say James is not whining, given the plethora of talent that surrounds him now.
Next, instead of ignoring Barkley’s comments, James decided to get personal because he took Barkley’s opinion as a personal affront to his legacy. James then brought up several unflattering instances from Barkley’s past, including spitting on someone in the front row during a game when he was with Philadelphia in 1991 and throwing a man out a window in 1997 during a bar altercation. James then alluded to Barkley’s gambling issues before finishing off with criticizing his famous Nike commercial in which he said that he was not a role model for kids.
It should be said that James never actually addresses Barkley’s criticisms. Saying “shut up” after hearing something truthful because you do not want to hear it is not an intelligent response to any argument. Given LeBron’s extreme intelligence in business, basketball and media, he should know better. However, even James’ attacks on Barkley prove Barkley’s point that James does not consider himself a role model nor should he be. Most athletes could actually be quality role models, but not for the reasons currently believed by many Americans.
For better or worse, it is inevitable that athletes are seen as role models. Athletes have money, fame and talent that few people on this earth have. In America, we idolize all three of those characteristics in and of themselves.
Unfortunately, these characteristics should not define these players. Take James himself. As otherworldly as he is at basketball, he is an equally gifted father, husband and citizen. His charity work enables thousands of first-generation students to attend and graduate college and he has lent an important voice to gun violence plaguing American society. That is why people of all ages should respect LeBron James — not simply because he can dunk a basketball.
Ultimately, the responsibility for this attitude change falls on the media and parents. The media should do more to report the positive differences athletes make in their communities to show fans, and nonfans alike, that athletes indeed use their position in society for the betterment of others.
Parents should teach children that the ingredients of success are just as, if not more important, than the final product. Letting talent or statistics be the sole criterion for whom their children admire is simply lazy parenting. Oh, and being able to process and react to reasonable and truthful criticism is a vital skill as well.
Even kings are wrong sometimes, and LeBron James is in the wrong here. Fortunately, this mistake is an opportunity that everyone, including James and his tens of millions of fans, can learn from.
MichaelIppolito_SketchMichael Ippolito is a senior in the College. The Water Cooler appears every other Friday.

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