What Broke Up the Friendship Between Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley?

Charles Barkley and Michael Jordan faced off against one another for most of their respective careers. The duo, which was drafted in the same year just two picks apart, were rivals on the court but friends off of it. For several years after their careers, the pair were seen in public speaking glowingly about their long friendship. All of that changed, however, when Barkley criticized Jordan’s decisions as an NBA owner. 

Life on the court

Michael Jordan smiling
Michael Jordan | DANIEL LIPPITT/AFP via Getty Images

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Barkley and Jordan were part of a loaded 1984 Draft class that also introduced the NBA to legends such as Hakeem Olajuwon and John Stockton. From their days in college to the night of the draft, Jordan and Barkley would have crossed each other’s paths before the NBA. Once in the NBA, however, they each forged a new path. 

Jordan was on a team that was largely known for their less-than-stellar rosters. There were some veteran presences, such as Moses Malone in the earlier years, but the Bulls were very much Jordan’s team. Barkley, on the other hand, was going to a team that had won a ring in the not-so-distant past and included Julius Erving, Jordan’s future teammate Malone, Maurice Cheeks, and several other notable players. 

Jordan was the face of the Bulls while Barkley was part of the changing of an old guard. Jordan was a superstar immediately, while Barkley took a few years to enter that realm. The two were on a path to being the faces of the NBA. While a Sixers and Bulls rivalry never became a major player in the NBA, Jordan and Barkley grew close. 

How Michael Jordan became friends with Charles Barkley

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Perhaps, the biggest catalyst for the friendship between the two was the 1992 Olympics. This was the year that the NBA decided to send NBA players instead of amateurs to compete overseas. Not only did this mean that other countries were largely overmatched, it meant that Jordan and Barkley got to spend a lot of time with each other and grow fond of one another’s presence. 

Their friendship always made sense. Jordan and Barkley were both known for being overwhelming presences, albeit in different forms. They both had a love for gambling and golf, both of which could be combined. On top of that, they were two of the most popular players in the NBA, and they faced each other multiple times. 

It was a friendship grown off of mutual respect, and through the rest of their years in the NBA, they grew closer. Sure, they faced off in the 1993 Finals and talked a lot of trash, but they were still going to hang out and shoot the breeze off the court. This carried over into life after basketball. 

Why Michael Jordan is no longer friends with Charles Barkley

Jordan and Barkley often appeared together on Barkley’s television work, interviews, and charity golf events. The two were inseparable after their basketball shoes were already hung up. They even appeared on Oprah Winfrey’s talk show to cover their friendship. Unfortunately, this didn’t last. 

Barkley has always been known as a player who shot from the hip. Whether he was talking about himself or others, he was never going to mince words. As Jordan took over the Charlotte Bobcats basketball team, Barkley criticized him as an owner by claiming that he tended to surround himself with ‘Yes Men’ to feel better. 

This put a strain on the friendship that never recovered. Barkley still talks fondly about Jordan, but Jordan remains silent. In a 2016 interview, Barkley told ESPN’s Dan Le Batard that he doesn’t see the friendship rekindling anytime soon. The pair crossed paths, took photos together, and stayed cordial, but they were no longer friends.

Speaking to Le Batard, Barkley stated that a photo op was not a cause for celebration. 

“I would love to mend that relationship, but we just happened to be at the same place, and we took a picture together,” Barkley said (per CBS Sports). “It was a public forum. I wish Michael nothing but the best. I love him like a brother, but we are not back to where we used to be.”

He recently echoed similar thoughts in recent days while promoting his experience on the Jordan-centric documentary, The Last Dance. Jordan and Barkley once had an unbreakable bond that now appears to be shattered. Whether or not this friendship is rekindled, hopefully, the pair can look back and appreciate the bond they once shared