Barkley said that James "was the best player for the last 10 years or more." Barkley opted to take San Antonio Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard of the likes of James and Golden State Warriors sharpshooter Stephen Curry.
"Kawhi Leonard is the best basketball player in the world in my opinion," Barkley said Thursday on NBA on TNT. "Steph is the best offensive player in the NBA. LeBron was the best player for the last 10 years or more. But at his age, I'd take Kawhi Leonard over any basketball player in the world right now."
After input from fellow NBA on TNT host Shaquille O'Neal, Barkley somewhat hedged his argument.
"If you're looking at both ends of the floor, LeBron is older," Barkley said. "If I needed one player today to start my franchise, I'm taking Kawhi Leonard."
Leonard, 24, was the No. 15 selection, drafted out of San Diego State in the 2011 NBA Draft.
This season he has averaged 20.2 points, 7.1 rebounds and 2.6 assists, while shooting 48 percent from 3-point range.
Leonard has averaged 13.4 points, 6.3 rebounds and 1.9 assists in 291 career games for the San Antonio Spurs. Leonard was the 2014 NBA Finals MVP and 2015 defensive player of the year.
James, 31, is a four-time MVP and two-time NBA Finals MVP. This season, James is averaging 25.7 points, 7.4 rebounds and 6 assists for the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Curry, 27, is averaging 29.7 points, 6.4 assists and 5.2 rebounds this season for the Warriors. Curry was last season's NBA MVP and a finals champion.
James was tight-lipped when asked about Leonard Friday.
"Is that like a trick question," James told the Cleveland Plain Dealer. "I think, if you look at anyone in our league that gets more and more of an opportunity, their game gets better. That's no different from Kawhi, no different from myself, no different from Steph, no different from Kyrie, it's no different from Kevin Love and Tim Duncan and Tony. If I asked you if do you see a difference in Tony from his first year to now, it's the same answer. Guys get an opportunity and guys put in the work and that's the result of it."