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Charles Barkley has never been shy about sharing his opinions. Whether we’re talking about his playing career, during which he famously insisted that he wasn’t a role model, or his more recent media work, Chuck is always going to speak his mind. And while that can lead to some relentless criticism — hello, Kevin Durant — it can also lead to consistent praise. Just ask Larry Bird and Magic Johnson about that.

Over the years, Sir Charles has consistently explained that, in his mind, Bird and Magic are the two most important men in NBA history. During an appearance on First Take, however, Stephen A. Smith asked why Michael Jordan wasn’t in the mix.

Barkley came prepared and had a response ready to go. Whether you accept his answer or not, though, is up to you.

Let’s break it down.

Charles Barkley believes Magic Johnson and Larry Bird changed the game, then Michael Jordan took it to another level

Asking for a definitive ranking in any category is always a recipe for debate. Charles Barkley, however, isn’t going to shy away from speaking his mind, even when staring down Stephen A. Smith.

On First Take, the ESPN talking head asked Chuck about his comments that Larry Bird and Magic Johnson were the two most important men in NBA history. “How come you didn’t mention Michael Jordan,” Smith asked.

Sir Charles knew exactly how to respond.

“Michael comes later and took it to a whole nother level,” he explained. “But, you gotta remember something, Stephen A. When I got to the NBA, you talk about the average salary now, is $10 million. When I came to the NBA, the average salary was $200,000. Magic Johnson and Larry Bird are the two most important people in NBA history. Those guys, every time I see those guys, I tell them, ‘Thank you.'”

While most of that quote was based on praising the two more senior men, Barkley did get to Jordan. As you might expect, Sir Charles still had plenty of flowers for his former friend.

“Michael is like the Tiger Woods effect to Jack [Nicklaus], Arnold [Palmer], and Gary Player,” Sir Charles continued, drawing on his love of golf. “Because you remember something. [The NBA] was too Black, too thuggish, bunch of druggies. Nobody, it was tape-delayed. There was only one game a week on Sunday afternoon.

“That would all change with Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. Every NBA player, you see Magic and Bird, you say, ‘Thank you.’ They made it a mainstream sport, and if it wasn’t for those two guys. Then, obviously, Michael is the third component. He made it a worldwide thing because of his talent and charisma. But we have to give Magic and Larry credit because, number one, they were both great players, but what they did for the game, making it mainstream, can never be underestimated.”

Sir Charles can uncork a hot take from time to time, but, in this case, his logic seems fairly sound. Michael Jordan was undeniably great and brought the NBA to an entirely new level, but he was standing on the shoulders of giants. It’s hard to become a global superstar, after all, if your games aren’t even being shown live in the United States.

Do you agree with Chuck and believe that Larry Bird and Magic Johnson deserve the biggest thanks? Or should someone else — whether it’s MJ or another star — get the most credit? Let us know in the comments below.

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