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My take on Jordan versus Kobe & LeBron
by rick olivares
The news about Michael Jordan saying that he could have beaten LeBron James and Kobe Bryant in his prime has made the news wires and has sparked debate.
My first reaction was, sure he could. But he could also lose. Bryant and James are all-world just as he is and the two will go down as some of the tops in basketball history.
Were (the Fantastic Four’s) Dr. Doom lend his Time Machine, then we can see these studs go at each other that would be eerily reminiscent of that fabled Dream Team intra-squad scrimmage at Monte Carlo. Unfortunately, this is something that can only be played in video games and debated by analysts and geeks ad infinitum.
Nevertheless, let me take a stab at this.
Twenty-one years ago, there was these series of one-on-one games billed as “Clash of the Legends” where retired NBA players went at each other at the Trump Taj Mahal in Atlantic City. Rick Barry outshot Connie Hawkins 29-17 while George Gervin defeated Nate Archibald 35-14. Gervin went on to squeak past Barry in that series 29-26.
The main match of that “Clash of the Legends” saw the 7’2” Kareem Abdul Jabbar take on the 6’7” Julius Erving. Like the Barry-Hawkins or even Gervin Archibald, it was a colossal mismatch. The former Milwaukee Buck and Los Angeles Laker handily defeated the former Philadelphia 76er, 41-23 (they played four five-minute periods).
Abdul Jabbar made good use of his height to constantly back Erving in the lane where he hit his patented skyhook. While Erving took the loss, he had the highlight of the game where he picked up a loose ball and swopped in for that trademark sweeping dunk of his on Jabbar. In the very next play, Kareem sought to repay the favor but Erving blocked him. But that was it. Jabbar simply backed him up and put more points on the board.
So how about Jordan?
Before I dissect the Bryant and James matchups, I looked back at some of his great matchups during his career to players he personally guarded.
Vs. John Starks (New York Knicks) 18-6
Jordan 31.8 ppg 5.8 rpg 4.6 apg 2.0 spg 0.5bpg 2.2 TOV 2.0 PF
Starks 12.8 ppg 2.7 rpg 3.7apg 0.8 spg 0.0 bpg 1.9 TOV 3.1 PF
Vs. Joe Dumars (Detroit Pistons) 27-21
Jordan 31.1 ppg 6.5 rpg 5.6 apg 2.2 spg 2.7TOV 2.9 PF
Dumars 15.4 ppg 1.9 rpg 3.9 apg 0.7 spg 0.0 bpg 2.0 TOV 2.5 PF
Dumars’ Pistons got a lot of early wins against Jordan’s Bulls pre-1988. After that, Detroit went from being even to getting their asses kicked with startling regularity.
Vs. Reggie Miller (Indiana Pacers) 32-17
Jordan 29.5 ppg 6.1 rpg 5.4 apg 2.6 spg 0.9 bpg 2.6 TOV 2.8 PF
Miller 19.1 ppg 3.2 rpg 2.8apg 0.9 spg 0.3 bpg 1.7 TOV 2.4PF
Vs. Steve Smith (Miami Heat and Atlanta Hawks) 13-5
Jordan 28.1 ppg 5.2 rpg 4.2 apg 1.1 spg 0.6 bpg 2.2 TOV 1.7 PF
Smith 16.6 ppg 4.6 rpg 2.2 apg 0.9 spg 0.3 bpg 1.9 TOV 2.4 PF
Vs. Clyde Drexler (Portland Trailblazers and Houston Rockets) 10-7
Jordan 34.5 ppg
Drexler 23.5 ppg
Vs. Kobe Bryant (Los Angeles Lakers) 3-5
Jordan 24.5 ppg 4.3 rpg 3.6 apg 1.1 spg 0.5 bpg 2.0 TOV 1.8 PF
Bryant 22.8 ppg 4.4 rpg 3.9 apg 0.9 spg 0.6 bpg 1.5 TOV 3.1 PF
It should be noted that when Jordan was with the Chicago Bulls, he went 3-1 against Bryant. Black Mamba took the lead when Jordan moved to the Washington Wizards. By that time, Jordan was playing on bad knees and clearly not in his prime anymore.
For the sake of argument, let’s leave Kobe out for the meantime as Black Mamba played an in his prime Jordan while he was a youngster in the NBA. Of the aforementioned players, it is only Starks and Dumars who are known defenders. But those two, as good as they were, ARE NOT ALL-WORLD.
Kobe Bryant and LeBron James are and will be for all time.
Bryant stands 6’6” just like Jordan. Both are shooting guards. LeBron James on the other hand, stands 6’8” and is powerfully built and is blessed with terrific speed. James plays the three-spot.
How does Michael Jordan play someone who is a mirror image in Bryant? I’m going to throw out all the stats here.
They both shoot well and are great defenders. It would be fun to see how they each defend those post-ups, turn-around jumpers or pull-ups. In fact, it would be a furious battle. It will be as MJ said, he’ll win some and lose some for this match up. However, I’d give Jordan the edge on two things: one, he’s a more physical player; and two, he’ll play a lot of mind games (read: trash talk) on Bryant.
When Jordan came back a second time (with the Wizards), Paul Pierce double-timed on his training and building his body because he knew that it was going to be a war.
As for talking smack, Jordan isn’t probably a motormouth in the vein of Gary Payton, Reggie Miller, or Larry Bird, but he can talk.
And this is why I’d give MJ a slight edge.
Against LeBron James. Two inches taller isn’t much when Jordan has hops. I love LBJ and think that we are going to see him continue that assault on the history books. I think though that MJ would have a bigger edge over him because His Airness is a better post-player and jump shooter. And I believe that MJ would play those mind games on James to really unsettle him.
If these two played a best-of series, MJ would win much more. But there's still a caveat here -- I think James is nowhere near done. And I say that's a frightening thought.
Here are other NBA players who went up against Jordan during his mid-90s heyday.
Nick Anderson (Orlando)
John Starks (New York)
Voshon Lenard (Miami)
Bobby Phils (Cleveland)
Steve Smith (Atlanta)
Allan Houston (New York)
Tim Legler (Washington)
Vinny Del Negro (San Antonio)
Jeff Hornacek (Utah)
Clyde Drexler (Houston)
Eddie Jones (Los Angeles)
Hersey Hawkins (Philadelphia)
Aaron McKie (Portland)
Wesley Person (Phoenix)
Reggie Miller (Indiana)
Mitch Richmond (Sacramento)
Additional reading: McHale Standard Time
Additional reading: McHale Standard Time