'Like a brother to me': NBA great's 'painful' Michael Jordan split

Charles Barkley and Michael Jordan were once fierce rivals and good friends. Pic: Getty

NBA Hall of Famers Charles Barkley and Michael Jordan were once close, despite being fierce rivals on the basketball court.

The rivalry between the pair was explored on the third night of ESPN's 'The Last Dance' documentary series on Jordan and the Chicago Bulls.

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Barkley's Suns came up against Jordan's Bulls in the 1993 NBA Finals - the same year in which the Phoenix legend was named NBA MVP.

The Suns were eventually toppled by the Bulls in game six, with Barkley lavishing praise on Jordan while recalling the encounter for the documentary series.

The pair were also teammates for the legendary USA Dream Team that won gold at the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona - another famous chapter revisited in 'The Last Dance'.

Barkley’s inclusion in the documentary was a given, but not because of his friendship with Jordan. That ship sailed years ago and he’s still sad about it.

During a radio appearance on Tuesday, Barkley discussed his relationship with Jordan, or lack thereof, while praising Jordan as the best basketball player ever.

"The guy was like a brother to me for, shoot, 20-something years," Barkley said on Tuesday's Waddle and Silvy Show on ESPN 1000 in Chicago.

"At least 20-something years. And I do, I feel sadness. But to me he's still the greatest basketball player ever. I wish him nothing but the best. But, there's nothing I can do about it, brother."

As Barkley tells it, the relationship dissolved when Barkley criticised Jordan's management of what was then known as the Charlotte Bobcats (now the Hornets).

In 2012, and on the same radio show as the one he appeared on this week, Barkley said Jordan's biggest problem was that he hadn't "hired enough people around him who will disagree."

The insinuation that Jordan had surrounded himself with 'yes' men was apparently enough to cut Barkley off.

"The thing that bothered me the most about that whole thing, I don't think that I said anything that bad," Barkley said.

"I'm pretty sure I said, 'As much as I love Michael, until he stops hiring them kiss-asses, and his best friends, he's never going to be successful as a general manager.'

"And I remember pretty much verbatim I said that. And the thing that really pissed me off about it later is Phil Jackson said the exact same thing."

Barkley paid the price for being honest with Jordan

Barkley contended that it was his job to be critical when the situation warrants, and Jordan’s management of the Charlotte Hornets/Bobcats has definitely warranted it.

In the decade and a half since Jordan became head of basketball operations in Charlotte (and later majority owner), the Hornets have not won a single playoff series.

Kemba Walker, the best homegrown player of the team’s existence, left last offseason for the Boston Celtics after the Hornets lowballed him.

Barkley maintains Jordan’s problem is that he doesn’t have enough people to be honest with his management of the team, and saying otherwise would be hurt his integrity as an analyst.

"Listen, if you're famous, and Michael at one point was the most famous person in the world, everybody around you is either on the payroll or letting you buy drinks and dinner and flying around on your private jet.

"Very few of your friends are going to be honest with you. And that's very hard for any celebrity, but especially somebody of his stature.

"But I thought that was one of the reasons we were great friends. Like, 'I can ask Charles anything and I know he's going to give me a straight answer.'

"But part of my job [as an analyst] is, because I can't go on TV and say 'Another general manager sucks' and then just because Michael's like a brother to me say 'He's doing a fantastic job.' That would be disingenuous."

Barkley said it's "painful" to think about the relationship breakdown and lamented that his job as an analyst has caused the friction.

"People ask me about it all the time and I said this is what happened. I'm not going to say anything bad about this dude. He's been great to me. He's given me great business advice. That's the one thing that sucks about our job."

with Yahoo Sports US