Last week, I wrote a post about Michael Jordan naming four players to join him on a theoretical pickup hoops team that the Hall of Famer said would make sure he'd keep control of the basketball court for as long as he wanted. Those choices, for the record: Scottie Pippen, Magic Johnson, James Worthy and Hakeem Olajuwon.
Commenter "Amused?" responded to the post thusly:
It's a cheap hypothetical question that only begs argument.
Um ... correct! That is the whole point of questions like the one asked by the folks promoting "NBA 2K14" in their video interview with Jordan. And sharing it with you, our loving readers, did lead to quite a bit of argument — 989 comments and counting, plus more than a dozen emails — with folks presenting a variety of perspectives on the matter. (It also elicited a response from Grantland's Bill Simmons, which led to the folks at WhatIfSports putting together a simulation of M.J.'s five against Simmons' group, which you can rip through if you'd like.)
Some considered questioning Michael to be akin to blasphemy. From "Dan":
Who is anyone to doubt MJ?
From "Paul K," who is a clever curser:
Doubting Jordan? Who the phuq do you think you are? Oh, another cheap Yahoo writer.
And from "Carl":
I'd pick who he picks. You never argue with the GOAT. Period.
Others, however, argued quite vigorously. Like e-mailer Thomas Whitaker:
If Michael Jordan, or anyone else, didn't put Oscar Robertson on that pick up team, then he is only picking from players who played in the last 10 years. Go back and look at his tapes. Maybe you are too young to understand as well. Oscar was the greatest ever until Michael Jordan came along.
And commenter "Gary":
Hard to leave Wilt Chamberlain off the list. Dominant on offense, dominant on defense, dominant rebounder, outstanding passer, outstanding shot-blocker.
And "Nate M":
Put Alonzo Mourning in place of James Worthy. Imagine Hakeem the Dream and Zo down low ... nobody would ever go to the hole. Swat City.
And Bob Burchfield:
I won’t be the only one to mention the obvious — LeBron! I like M.J., but c’mon, man! Really? It makes me think M.J. is so jealous of LeBron that he made this list for the sole purpose of starting a catfight with the guy most likely to make M.J. fade into memory … like M.J. did with those before him.
I disagree with his Worthy and Pippen picks; they're good but not top 5. I would've picked Larry Bird (outside and clutch shooting, incredible smarts) and LeBron James (total versatility).
Seems like pretty fertile ground for a debate, right? So in the interest of having some fun, I opened the question to some of my Yahoo Sports Blogs colleagues:
• Frank Schwab of NFL blog Shutdown Corner said he'd keep Jordan and Magic, but would pair them with LeBron James, Larry Bird and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: "I felt the need to do it just to give some love to Kareem, the most underrated athlete in sports history." (Hmm — that sounds like another "hypothetical question that only begs argument" that might be worth exploring some day.)
• Prep Rally's Cameron Smith would take M.J., Bird and LeBron, swap in Bill Russell at the center spot, and make his fifth man "me, the scrappy SG ringer who can't shoot anymore but used to have a legitimate J in high school ball." Seems like a legit choice. (OK, if you twist Cam's arm, he'll replace himself with Allen Iverson.)
• Smith's Prep Rally teammate, Ben Rohrbach, has Magic running the point for M.J. and Bird — "although some Bostonians might take Jordan Crawford over Magic here" — but decided to go with a twin-towers frontcourt of Russell and Kareem, which would be a really interesting four-five combo.
• Shane Bacon of Devil Ball Golf and Busted Racquet felt a little uncomfortable diving in, "because it's virtually impossible to compare players of this generation to the ones of old," but he thought hard about it and offered a measured opinion:
Steve Nash. Listen, there are more talented point guards in this world, and guys with vision for days (I'm looking at you, Magic), but Nash is one of the best 3-point shooters of all time (eighth on the all-time percentage list), and isn't that what you want from a group of beasts? Plus, nobody enjoys sharing the ball more than Nash, who genuinely gets a thrill out of racking up assists [...] and playing on-ball defense isn't going to really matter with the rest of my list.
LeBron James. He's talented, he's huge, he loves to share the ball and he would be incredible paired with Nash on the fast break. I think we've seen enough of LeBron at this point to realize he's one of the most talented NBA players ever, and he seems to just be getting better (did you see what he's shooting this year from behind the arc?!).
Tim Duncan. Again, my team is about five guys, not one, and Duncan is an unselfish player that might go down as the smartest in the history of the game.
Bill Russell. Sorry, but I'm going old school with my center and going with a guy that simply knows how to win championships. Russell could rebound, could play defense and these are key components to a team with this much talent.
(Cue a gang of "More Shane Bacon on BDL" comments.)
While Jordan chose former UNC running buddy and Los Angeles Lakers legend Worthy to run the four, many readers suggested a two-center frontcourt, like "Maxim," who suggested Wilt at center, Russell at the four, Kevin Durant at small forward, M.J. at the two and LeBron at point guard. ED. NOTE: My goodness, the length of that team! Another awesome long-limbed squad came from “dreggie,” who suggested M.J., Scottie, LeBron, Hakeem and Kevin Garnett at the four.
"Eric" also went Wilt-Russell up front, but put M.J. alongside the Big O and Jerry West in the backcourt ("Great offense and better defense"). "Aaron" likes the idea of pairing M.J. with "Pistol" Pete Maravich in the backcourt, slotting in LeBron at the three, and running a massive combo of Shaquille O'Neal and young, pre-injury Arvydas Sabonis, "during his prime when he played in Europe," up front. And "Steve" actually wanted a three--center frontcourt: "The Big O, Oscar Robinson was a better player than Michael Jordan. Olajuwon, Bill Russell, Alcinder would be my starting 5."
LeBron at the point came up more than once, too, including in a five-man unit suggested by e-mailer Jon Nave that teamed Jordan, James, Pippen and Olajuwon with an unconventional power forward:
PF: Kobe Bryant. Now wait!!!!!! Before you start criticizing and getting all “KOBE CANT PLAY THE 4" on me, let’s think about this lineup and what Kobe undoubtedly brings to the table. We are for the sake of argument taking each of these players in their PRIME, where they were at the top of their respective games. Kobe in his prime was an elite defender who wreaked havoc on any coach's defensive scheme and could guard anyone from 1-3 with consistency. Not to mention his ability to drop “81” any given moment. [...] With Michael beside him, you would have two of the most dominant players to ever step on the floor and two of the most competitive. The ball will be moved around and only due to their love of winning and respect for each other’s talent.
There were plenty of fun nontraditional lineup suggestions like that. E-mailer John Dorman wanted to see Russell in the middle, Julius Erving and Jordan on the wings, and Magic and Nate "Tiny" Archibald in the backcourt. The importance of long-range shooting led readers to suggest names like Reggie Miller, Steve Kerr and Mark Price, who today's fans don't always remember was awesome.
"Roy" wanted to build the best passing team possible, leading to surrounding Jordan with Magic, LeBron, Bird and Bill Walton. "I wish I was a little bit taller" piqued my interest with a Skee-Lo-referencing handle, but kept it with an offense-heavy intergenerational squad: "Jordan, Duncan, Dirk, Oscar, Nash. You don't need defense to keep the court all day. Just buckets." I can think of one old soda salesman who'd surely agree.
As much fun as many readers had trying to come up with the best and most interesting four-man groups to put alongside Jordan, by far the most common choice was to go against the grain and identify a pickup squad that would put M.J.'s to shame.
That's where YSB colleague Nick Bromberg of From the Marbles started: "OK, I'm gonna be contrarian then. I'm going to take a team to beat Jordan. Isiah Thomas, LeBron James, Larry Bird, Tim Duncan, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Jordan goes down in flames." And plenty of you joined Nick in his tear-down thinking.
"cdawg622" went semi-old-school, pairing Pistol Pete and Walt "Clyde" Frazier with Bernard King, Dennis Rodman and David Robinson to do battle with M.J.'s side. Larry Moore went green and gold with Bob Cousy, Jerry West, Magic, Bird and Shaq. Terry Reece broke down his attempts to break down Mike's roster:
Michael's pick-up team has no outside "sharpshooters" except himself. But I consider him and Scottie as "slashers/drivers." Hakeem is great, but Bill Russell will neutralize him. BIG BILL will control that middle [...] LeBron will hold his own with Magic ([he's] basically a bigger, stronger, faster combination of Magic and Michael). Worthy will have "ZERO" (0) chance against Dr. J. And although Scottie is bigger than Stephen [Curry], there is no way he could run around those picks and screens to stay with such a sharpshooter" as Stephen. Larry certainly could not defense Michael, but we would switch that match-up on defense and utilize a lot of "help" defense, and as I said, Michael better NOT invade the paint, with Big Bill controlling that area. Bill could start more fast breaks with his blocked shots than anyone ever, and I mean EVER!
"DanP" upbraided His Airness ("Typical M.J., completely trapped in his own era") before tapping Shaq, Russell, LeBron and a super-fun-but-you-might-not-have-thought-about-them-right-away backcourt of John Stockton and Sidney Moncrief. Bruce Allan wants long-range bombing (Maravich, West and Bird) and glass-eaters (Barkley and Kareem). "Brad" aims to lock M.J. and company up with a five-man clampdown of Russell, Clyde, Rodman, Michael Cooper and (surprise!) Don Cheney.
"PabloInLA" called on Wilt, the oft-overlooked Elvin Hayes, Rick Barry, the Pistol and Andrew Toney, the famed "Boston Strangler" ... provided he gets to pick them all at age 27. Of course you can, Pablo. The world's your oyster here.
"marvelouslew" took it all the way back to the blacktop — "How could the names of Connie Hawkins, Julius Erving, Earl Monroe, Oscar Robertson, and Jerry West be left off of anybody's 'playground' team?" — while "sam spade" went Akron-heavy: "LeBron James, Gus Johnson, Nate Thurmond, Jerry Lucas and Oscar Robertson." An interesting squad built around two all-time duos comes to us from "Sacramento Redbirds Fan": "Earl the Pearl, Walt Frazier, John Stockton, Karl Malone, Rick Barry. Just a little something different."
And what if you just wanted to try to rough up M.J.'s crew? "Stephen Z" has an idea:
PG: Charles Oakley
SG: Ron Artest
SF: Ben Wallace
PF: Dennis Rodman
C: Bill Laimbeer
Who's showing up to play this team?
I don't know who's showing up to play them, but if Oak's running point, I'm definitely showing up to watch.
As #zing-based units go, commenter "PKM" took top honors:
M.J., Kwame Brown, Adam Morrison, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Bismack Biyombo.
Nothing hits closer to home than Bobcats burns.
Now, several days and a thousand or so responses later, I don't know if I'm any closer to figuring out which five guys would make for the perfect pickup team. But I do know this: The next time someone tells me that nobody cares about A) Michael Jordan or B) "cheap hypotheticals," I'll be able to send them a link to this post and respectfully disagree.
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