Which Five Would I Pick?

About a month ago Michael Jordan was interviewed. This is not surprising since he is considered the greatest basketball player of all time (Just read Bill Simmons’ The Book of Basketball). The amusing part of all the interviews with MJ over the past … ever… have been that people want to know how he thinks current players compare to him. “Is Kobe the new you?” or “Could you beat LeBron in 1 on 1?”

Personally, these questions bore me. MJ is MJ, Kobe is Kobe, and LBJ is LBJ. The greatness of athletes is not their similarity to other athletes, but their own individuality and how it contributes uniquely to each game and the meta-narrative of basketball in general. That being said, this blog is not about those questions.

His most interesting statements came when he said which four guys he would put around himself in a pickup basketball game. Here is the interview http://youtu.be/WydWRIsao6E

In case you are wondering, all of his compatriots are Hall of Famers, and here are quick links to their basketball statistics. I listed them in reverse order of prominence.

Hakeem Olajuwon: http://www.basketball-reference.com/players/o/olajuha01.html

James Worthy: http://www.basketball-reference.com/players/w/worthja01.html

Scottie Pippen: http://www.basketball-reference.com/players/p/pippesc01.html

Magic Johnson: http://www.basketball-reference.com/players/j/johnsma02.html

This is a very impressive line-up. In fact, only one person on this list is a big surprise. James Worthy has the least number of accolades to his name, but not many players can average 17.6 points a game during a season, much less over an 11 yr. career.

Here is a quick rundown of Jordan’s five according to The Book of Basketball:  MJ is #1, Magic #4, Olajuwon #10, Pippen #24, and Worthy #48. But we cannot let those numbers get too swayed either direction. Simmons made his book revolving around “the secret” to winning, so there are many factors that play into someone’s overall ranking in his book. Yet, do not be fooled, it is a comprehensive book worth buying for any basketball enthusiast.

Also, take careful note that this team is a small-ball team that would play 4 out 1 in. Olajuwon is the only post player, meaning that the four guards/ wings are all capable of handling the point. This sets up for a very good transition basketball team. Also, you have two sets of teammates who played with each other hundreds of games. On top of this, MJ, Pippen, and Magic played together on the ’92 Olympic team, and Pippen and Olajuwon played together on the ’96 Olympic team. Jordan chose a group of 5 guys that have history and chemistry. This is not just a group of five very talented basketball players.

So, who would I choose? It would be easy to just go with Larry Bird, Bill Russell, Tim Duncan, Kobe, and LeBron James, but this five is too slow for a pickup game. I am sure in a best of seven series my five could potentially win 4, but again, I do not see this five being able to endure the pace of Magic Johnson.

But, out of this five, I will keep LeBron James. Why? He presents the most defensive problems for Jordan’s five. He is massive, and I would actually put him as a power forward.

So, let’s rethink this. The biggest match up problem to guard would be Olajuwon. This guy is top five in about every statistical category out there. He is smart, his footwork is amazing, and he is quick.

This means I have to start with who I would match up against him. I’ve thought through a lot of options, and I feel as though the best potential group of players is Wilt, Russll, and Arvydas Sabonis.

Yes… that is his name. Check him out: http://www.basketball-reference.com/players/s/sabonar01.html

Simmons lists him as #86 on his all-time greatest players list. Sabonis is the essence of Portland Trailblazer Centers. It seems as though that franchise get’s players and breaks them. Sabonis was the #1 player on the ’88 Olympic Russian team that won gold, and he was also a four-time European Player of the Year. Look up youtube highlights of this guy. Also, he abused David Robinson (the very guy that Olajuwon abused for getting looked for the ’95 NBA MVP) in the ’88 Olympics, showing that he was as athletic as anyone out there. I think a young Sabonis actually matches best with the pace of game that Jordan’s team would have, and I think he matches best with the freak skill set that is known as Hakeem Olajuwon.

What are the other four I would put around him? Well, I spilled the beans on LeBron James earlier. Frankly, he would be a defensive nightmare for all of the guys on Jordan’s team. Pippen would be stuck guarding him, but LeBron would probably be put on Worthy.

Then I would go with Sir Charles Barkley, who as #19 on Simmons’ list is probably the highest of my choices (unless I pick up Kobe…). Barkley was simply a beast. His transition game was unstoppable, and he gobbled up offensive rebounds like … (well, I won’t go there..) having the record number of offensive rebounds in a half (13) and in a quarter (11). I think his defense might be a little questioned, but he would be on Pippen, making Pippen have to battle the Round Mound of Rebound for the entire game.

Yikes, now I have to figure out who is guarding Jordan, and who is guarding Magic. This is not an easy task, but let’s be real. No one ever guarded these guys well. And, since this is a pickup game, you know that there will be screen and rolls and switches all over the place. So, don’t think too hard about this.

In fact, I am going to switch one of my match-ups and change things up a little bit. I am going to bring in LeBron and have him guard Jordan. Why not? Everyone would want to watch this. And since this is all fictional, let’s have this game be held at Rucker Park. People would pay $50 to climb up the fence and watch! I would put Kobe on Magic, and them bring in Larry Bird and have him guard Worthy or Pippen. Seeing as I am not as acquainted with the players as Bird and Barkley would be, I would let the two of them figure out who wants the most work.

Final Roll Call: Guards: Kobe Bryant (#15) and Charles Barkley (#19); Forwards: Larry Bird (#5) and LeBron James(#20 at the time of the books printing, 2009). Center: Sabonis (#86).

Here, ‘cus ya wanna look at Bryant, Barkley, Bird, and ‘Bron.

Kobe: http://www.basketball-reference.com/players/b/bryanko01.html

Barkley: http://www.basketball-reference.com/players/b/barklch01.html

Bird: http://www.basketball-reference.com/players/b/birdla01.html

Bron: http://www.basketball-reference.com/players/j/jamesle01.html

I strongly considered Kevin Love (not yet drafted when book was written), Dirk Nowitzki (#37), Kevin Durant (see pg. 282), Kevin McHale (#35), Rasheed Wallace (unranked), Ray Allen (#63), and Pete Marovich (#68). In the end, this group just did not fit into the offensive scheme that would challenge Jordan’s 5, or they didn’t quite match up defensively well enough for me.

One thing to note about Jordan’s five. He has no true shooters. I love Jordan as much as anyone else, but he was a scorer, not a shoorter http://www.basketball-reference.com/players/j/jordami01.html but of his five, he is the most pure shooter out of their five.

My five offers a scorer who is also a good shooter, Kobe, and one of the best shooters of all-time with Larry Bird. Nowitzki, Allen, and Marovich are all shooters that would provide defensive match up difficulties, especially Allen off of screen and rolls to a corner 3-ball. But, I will let someone else make an argument for them. This was just my way of relaxing after a brutal semester of Hebrew.

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