Six hundred and something words will never do justice to the most verbose man in NBA history. This past week I had the great honour of speaking with Charles Oakley, the former All-Star who played for five different teams over three decades (from 1986-2003), including the New York Knicks and Chicago Bulls. And while he was known for his defensive prowess as a player, Oakley is anything but when giving his opinions on today's NBA.
"Basketball has turned into a little cute game," he said. "I don't have time for it right now. I don't know what the NBA is doing. Too many European players. They fold up. "The league is not tough at all, but [NBA commissioner] David Stern runs it his way and it's his way or the highway." Oakley, 46, grew up in Cleveland, a Midwest upbringing that he associated with his tough style of play. "My grandfather never had excuses in life. That is how I lived. You never complained. You never showed weakness," he said.
"I made the players and the fans respect me by playing hard. I didn't try to do nothing special. I was in the band, played my instrument and made sure the music sounded right." Oakley, however, had high praise for LeBron James, the Cleveland Cavaliers forward and reigning MVP. "LeBron is definitely a leader. You can see in the way he plays. Other than his [on court] dancing, I take my hat off to the man," he said.
"He could probably win games with WNBA players." On Wednesday, the Cavaliers traded for the Washington Wizards scorer Antawn Jamison and the Los Angeles Clippers guard Sebastian Telfair in their bid to win their first NBA title. "Right now, Cleveland are the team to beat. They are gelling," said Oakley. "They are more athletic than the Los Angeles Lakers. "If Shaquille O'Neal averages a double-double [at least 10 points and 10 rebounds a game], in June Cleveland will beat LA in six games in the final.
"Nobody on LA can check LeBron. He's the Joe Montana or Peyton Manning of basketball." While LeBron may be on the verge of becoming the most dominant player in the league, Oakley once played with the man who held that tag in the 90s - Michael Jordan "We are still the best of friends. We were all about work ethic," he said of his former Chicago teammate. "He practised the way he played. He played harder in practice than in games.
"He left everything on the court. He was like a bounty hunter." Last September, Jordan entered the Basketball Hall of Fame with a speech that was criticised by some of the media for being used as a vehicle to get back at former colleagues. "The media try to stir him because he is not out there talking other than those comments," said Oakley. "He didn't bite. It wasn't fishing season. The media didn't win that battle.
"Everything he said was true. What is the big deal? "Everything he said about the coaches, the players, was true." While Jordan's speech was seen by some as an aberration, Oakley was known for his brash opinions throughout this career. "I tried to be right with everyone," he said. "I played for my fans and team management. I wanted my fans to understand what was going on at all times. I wasn't about selling papers.
"I wasn't about being bold. I had too much respect. "But when you are right, you have the right to say it." @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org