Hong Kong (AFP) - ShaquMlle O'Neal weighed into basketball's great debate on Tuesday when he backed a young Michael Jordan to beat LeBron James one-on-one -- but added that both were outshone by the legendary Dr. J.
O'Neal, visiting Hong Kong to promote an energy drink, faced both Jordan and James in their prime and when asked who would win a hypothetical match-up, he didn't hesitate.
"Mike," said O'Neal, winner of four NBA titles with the Los Angeles Lakers (2000-2002) and the Miami Heat (2006). "I think you have to go with a young Jordan every time."
O'Neal was addressing an issue which has captured the imagination during the NBA off-season after both James and Jordan insisted they would win if they clashed at the height of their powers.
In comments splashed by media, Jordan said he would come out on top "No question", while James retorted to the NBC's Today show: "I'm gonna take myself versus anybody".
But Shaq, 43, said he'd side with Chicago Bulls star Jordan over Cleveland's James.
"It would be an interesting game," said O'Neal. "Young LeBron was more like (Lakers Hall of Famer) Magic Johnson. He was sort of like Magic with Jordan's abilities. He liked to pass, and he liked to get it up.
"But Mike was Mike. He was just special, like no one else. He always did things no one else could do, and things you couldn't compare to anyone else. So he was special, and he'd win."
The 30-year-old James' star continues to rise through two NBA titles with the Miami Heat (2011-12, 2012-13), four NBA MVPs, and a return to his hometown of Cleveland on a mission to lead the Cavaliers to their first title.
There has also been much debate over whether he, or the now-retired Jordan -– with six NBA titles and five NBA MVPs to his name –- could be labelled the greatest of all time.
But O'Neal threw another player into the mix when he said 1970s and 1980s superstar Julius Erving AKA Dr. J was the best he had ever seen.
"I've seen young Mike and young LeBron and I must say Dr. J is still my favourite player," said O'Neal. "A lot of people today don't even mention his name but to me I still think he was the best. But these are questions that we'll never know the answer to.
"It's a bit like if I met Bruce Lee in an alleyway. Who would win? You'll never know. Some people say well Bruce would kick Shaq's ass. Some people say well Shaq is two times bigger than Bruce Lee. It's a good question, a good conversation. But we'll never know."