ESPN Magazine ran a fantastic piece on Michael Jordan turning 50. For both MJ fans and haters alike it's a must-read, so go over ther and take a look. It's great throughout but if you are a Spurs fan, you probably couldn't help but notice the following excerpt:
Jordan plays his new favorite trivia game, asking which current players could be nearly as successful in his era. "Our era," he says over and over again, calling modern players soft, coddled and ill-prepared for the highest level of the game. This is personal to him, since he'll be compared to this generation, and since he has to build a franchise with this generation's players.
"I'll give you a hint," he says. "I can only come up with four."
He lists them: LeBron, Kobe, Tim Duncan, Dirk Nowitzki.
That's always a good list to be a part of. Those are arguably the four players that defined contemporary basketball. I can also see why Jordan leaves out guys like KG, Dwight Howard, and the multitude of speedy point guards that thrive under today's favorable rules. Garnett never was the type of offensive weapon that could carry a team in a slow-it-down, grind-it-out game and his brand of defense is more valuable in an era where pick and roll coverage is more important than rim protection or post dexterity. Howard simply would have not survived playing in that cut throat environment guys like MJ thrived in. I can come up with a couple more contemporary players I think would have had great careers in any era--namely Ray Allen and Kevin Durant--but overall I can't help but to nod along with His Airness' list.
Lebron is a freak of nature. Jordan goes on to say that he would have not been as successful in his era, but I can't help but feel that such a fantastic athlete would have found some way -- maybe as a hyper athletic power forward. Nowitzki would have been an impossible cover in any era. That being said, it's super interesting to debate whether or not they would still have been the same kind of game-changing players if dropped into a different time. Would anyone have allowed a 6-9 guy built like a truck to bring the ball up and run an offense instead of punishing people in the post? How about building a franchise around a seven footer that shoots jumpers? It's not surprising to see Jordan name them but it allows for discussion.
Kobe and Duncan, however, seem like obvious answers. Bryant molded his game after Jordan but he had the physical ability and talent to thrive under any circumstances, not to mention the borderline-sociopathic tendencies some of the greats seem to have. While it would have been great to see Duncan go against in-their-prime Ewing and Hakeem, does anyone feel he would have been over matched? Duncan would have been an elite player back then just like he still is now.
Still, it's great to hear that the GOAT considers Duncan a peer. To think that even someone as competitive and stingy about doling out praise as Jordan is, couldn't help but admit that Timmeh was good enough to be about to have success regardless of the rules, or style of play. For such an unappreciated star as Duncan, that's some well-deserved recognition.
So what do you guys think? Is MJ right? Are these the only four guys that would have been as successful in the old days? How about Tim? Do you think he would have been able to dominate on an era that featured guys like Karl Malone, Charles Barkley, Hakeem Olajuwon and Patrick Ewing? Let the speculation begin!