The comments captured Charles Barkley’s inevitable feeling the “Dream Team” would dominate any team it faced.
Hence, Barkley’s scouting report on Team USA’s first opponent leading into the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.
“I don’t know anything about Angola,” Barkley said, “but Angola’s in trouble.”
Nearly 29 years later, it is Team USA that Barkley considers in trouble. Team USA already has lost its first game in group play (France) at the Tokyo Games after two exhibitions (Nigeria, Australia) losses.
“I’m concerned. They’ve lost their invincibility,” Barkley told USA TODAY Sports. “[In 1992], we told ourselves, ‘Let’s just thump their ass so they don’t think they have a chance. You could see fear in their eyes.’ This team already lost that. There’s nobody afraid of them.”
With ABC broadcasting the NBA Finals, TNT’s outspoken studio analyst has mostly spent his time recently enjoying a brief vacation from the busy NBA season. Barkley filmed an “AleveX” commercial with two-time PGA tour winner Max Homas, a spot that pokes fun at Barkley’s golfing while promoting the pain relief product. But Barkley has still paid close attention to basketball that prompted him to offer many the opinions during an interview with USA TODAY Sports. The interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Q: Where does Team USA go from here?
Barkley: “They might win the gold medal. But it’s going to be a dog fight. Once you lose that invincibility, the other teams have good players, too. So I am definitely concerned. They’ve lost three times in the last three weeks. So now every team thinks they can beat them.”
Q: What’s it going to take to fix these issues?
Barkley: “They just have to play well. They got the best players. I don’t want you guys in the media making BS excuses for them that they haven’t been together that long and blah, blah, blah. Every Olympic team I’ve been on, they threw us together and said, ‘Go get it.’ Somebody has to step up and a be a leader. They just have to play great, bottom line.”
Q: The result wasn’t what you wanted. But what do you take away from the Phoenix Suns’ run to the Finals before losing to the Milwaukee Bucks?
Barkley: “It was amazing. I was really happy for Chris Paul and happy for my city. Living in Arizona, those people were awesome. But Milwaukee was the better team. When I picked Milwaukee to win the series, it was painful for me. I wanted to pick the Suns. But I just didn’t see how the Suns can beat those guys. If you’re not happy for Giannis Antetokounmpo, there’s something wrong with you. He represents everything that is great about basketball.”
Q: Giannis has already been a two-time MVP. But how did you see Giannis take his game even to another level more during the Bucks’ championship run?
Barkley: “I don’t think he took his game to another level. I think the other guys stepped up. I thought the addition of Jrue Holiday, PJ Tucker and Bobby Portis were huge. Those guys are mentally tough. Giannis did Giannis things, and he obviously was special in that close-out game. But the guy won back-to-back MVP’s for a reason. He’s great.
“I thought the Bucks’ front office did a fabulous job with building the roster. Jrue Holiday, when he started playing great, they were unbeatable. I thought he wore down Chris Paul, and it showed. Chris is 36 and had never been that deep in the playoffs. The further they played the game, he was less effective because Jrue Holiday was too big and too strong for him.”
Where do you think the Suns go from here after getting to the Finals?
Barkley: “The elephant in the room is the Chris Paul situation. He has a ($44 million) option. I’m not sure I’ve ever been drunk enough to turn down $45 million. Until we answer that question, we have to wait and see where the Suns go. If he doesn’t take that money, he can go to the Lakers, Clippers or people are talking about the Knicks. But I think you got to wait and see on what he decides before I can give you an honest answer.”
Q: Do you think there’s enough appreciation for Paul’s career, even without winning a title?
Barkley: “They made fun of me on the show when I said that Chris Paul has been the best leader in our sport for 10 years. Everywhere he goes, he wins. He never complains. He just works his ass off. To take a team that didn’t even make the playoffs to have the second-best record in the West and get them to the Finals, if you can’t appreciate that, you’re missing the big picture. I was really happy for Chris. I hope people give him his love and his respect. He basically took a last-place team and got him all the way to the Finals at 36 years of age.”
Q: What do you think when Shaq teases you about your zero NBA titles whenever you guys have an argument?
Barkley: “When you don’t know anything about basketball, and that’s your only ace in the hole that you won a championship? If that’s your ace of spades, you have to throw it out there. But I’ll take my chances of basketball knowledge with anybody. I don’t know how it got to the point when basketball became an individual sport. It’s like we’re playing tennis or golf. Why do I get the blame? I know I’m a great player. I just haven’t been on a team that’s been good enough.
“As you saw with Chris Paul, he didn’t win a championship. But he took a last place team to the Finals. That says something about his greatness. But you got these guys on television saying, ‘He didn’t win a ring.’ Some guys are making a great living saying that on television. It’s really unfortunate and sad. I always say, ‘How many rings have you got?’ But they’re making a good business right now.”
Q: Looking back at the Suns’ 93 Finals team, you had a good career before arriving in Phoenix. But with you winning MVP that season where do you think you elevated your game?
Barkley: “I didn’t elevate anything. I was a much better player in Philly. What elevated me was Dan Majerle and Kevin Johnson. My numbers were not nearly as good as they were before. I had five or six better years in Philly, but we didn’t have great teams. But when they gave me Dan Majerle and Kevin Johnson, I was like, ‘I can take on anybody now.’”
Q: How did it land with you that Michael Jordan didn’t take it kindly that you won the MVP that season?
Barkley: “No. 1, he didn’t deserve it. We had the best record in the NBA. Michael should know better. There were years he was the best player in the NBA probably three years before he won MVP, but the Bulls team was no good. The MVP has always gone to the best player on the team with the best record. It has nothing to do with best player.
“Steve Nash had a better record than Shaq, and Shaq is still mad about it. Maybe if he didn’t coast during the regular season, he would’ve won more MVP’s. But the year Steve Nash had won it, the Suns had the best record in the NBA. That’s always been done like that.”
Q: I talked to Dan Majerle, and he said he still thinks about the John Paxson 3 at least once a week. How much do you think back on that series and have the what-if- scenarios play in your head?
Barkley: “The only time I had a what-if is we had a lead in a game, but the Bulls then scored seven straight points to beat us. We called two timeouts to run a play for me. I remember Michael saying, ‘You’re not going to get the shot.’ I said, ‘You’re right.’ They doubled me both times and I had to pass it twice. It was the smart basketball play not to try to score on two guys. But I wondered, ‘What if I tried to score on those two guys?’ I probably would’ve turned the ball over. I always tried to play the game right way. But that’s the only time. Paxson made a hell of a shot. But the only time I go back on that game is thinking, ‘Man I had two plays called for me, and I didn’t even get a shot.’
“The only other regret I have? I remember watching ‘The Last Dance’ and Michael said something very interesting. He said, ‘I wasn’t ready to play in Game 1’ when the Bulls played the Lakers for his first championship [in 1991]. He said, ‘we were hyper; we were nervous and I was not ready.’ Then they won the next four games. I did not have us ready to play in Game 1 [vs the Bulls]. We came out nervous. That’s the only bad game we played. I didn’t have us ready to play. The lights were too big for them. That was my fault. I should’ve been more aggressive.
“I had been in big situations before. None of the other guys had been in big situations before. So I should’ve been really more aggressive in Game 1. But I had already developed a pattern in the playoffs. I wasn’t passive. But I tried to let the other guys get going when we played at home. It always worked, but it didn’t work in Game 1. So that was my fault.”
Q: Majerle credited you a lot, though, for helping the team through adversity both during the Finals and during the season. What do you remember about those moments?
Barkley: “I got everybody together at the beginning of the season. I said, ‘Guys, we’re going to play the Bulls for the championship. We’re going to win the West because I’m the best player in the world. Michael Jordan is great, but he has more help than me. But I’m the best player in the world and I got you guys. We’re going to go to the Finals and we’ll see what happens.’
“Then we got off to a slow start. I remember the Bulls came to Phoenix and they smoked us. I remember going crazy after the game and saying, ‘Guys, that’s the team we’re going to play in the [expletive] Finals. I know that [expletive] Michael Jordan. He sent me a message, ‘You better bring more next time.’ I remember that night in the locker room. I was throwing stuff. I said guys, ‘I told ya’ll we were going to play that team in the Finals and ya’ll are out here messing around. We’re not even on their level yet.’ Then we went on a 12-game winning streak after that. Then we became the great team that we were.”
Q: What was it like filming the AleveX commercial?
Barkley: “I had a really good time shooting the spot. I think the best thing about it is I can go up in a category against Shaq with Icy Hot. What can be more fun than that?”
Q: Has the pain relief helped your golfing?
Barkley: “I’m playing really good golf right now. I’m not going to lie. I don’t know if it’s helping, but there might be a correlation.”
Q: What are your scores?
Barkley: “I’m shooting in the mid 80’s. My coach has got me playing really, really good right now. I’m pumped and excited.”
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Charles Barkley talks Team USA, winning 1993 MVP over Michael Jordan