Looking back at some NBA history, would Michael Jordan be able to take down LeBron James with All-Star teams?
1946: It’s a Wonderful Life was still being filmed, Nat King Cole was dominating the music charts, and one-year tuition at Harvard University was $420. It was also the year the NBA was founded.
Fast forward 50 years, and the league released its commemorative NBA 50th Anniversary Team, forever commemorating the greatest players the sport had even seen. Shaquille O’Neal was a surprise inclusion despite being in only his fourth professional season, but the top dog on the list was one Michael Jordan of the Chicago Bulls, who was coincidentally heading for the first championship in his second three-peat.
The NBA also unveiled its 75th Anniversary Team in 2022, adding 25 new names to the list of all-time greats; LeBron James headlined the new additions, while he was joined by the likes of Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Carmelo Anthony, and other legends of the game.
Aside from the high-flying excitement jaw-dropping, sports remain relevant largely because of barbershop talk and story-telling from generation to generation, and one of the great debates recently, following in the footsteps of the dream team-redeem team debate, is a conversation on how the new era stacks up against the old.
NBA 50th Anniversary Team
Coach: Phil Jackson
Point Guard: Earvin “Magic” Johnson
Shooting Guard: Michael Jordan
Small Forward: Larry Bird
Power Forward: Charles Barkley
Center: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
NBA 75th Anniversary Team
Coach: Gregg Popovich
Point Guard: Stephen Curry
Shooting Guard: Kobe Bryant
Small Forward: LeBron James
Power Forward: Tim Duncan
Center: Shaquille O’Neal
First things first, nobody calls him Earvin. He’s Magic.
Okay, maybe that wasn’t where the conversation should start— the 75th team was able to field an almost-entirely new-gen roster aside from one recycled player, the “Big Diesel” himself, Shaq, and even he spent a majority of his career playing after the 50th Anniversary list was unveiled.
The 50th Anniversary team obviously has more depth than a list purely of new inclusions, and a team comparing full rotations, again, giving precedent to the 50th team, would be unfair.
The hardest position to fill was the 50th Anniversary power forward slot, one that was also contested by Karl Malone. However, Chuck gets the nod because he was more dominant at his peak, and was also the Dream Team’s leading scorer, most efficient shooter, and top offensive rebounder. Many recognized him as the second-best player on that team, with some brave purists suggesting that he even was the best in that Olympics.
The hardest players to leave out of the game were Bill Russel, Wilt Chamberlain, Hakeem Olajuwon, Kevin Durant, and Julius Erving, all of whom have legitimate cases for being involved in the contest. However, this is a list of the greatest players to ever play the game, and whether by way of the competition at their position or their overall status, they had to take a back seat.
As far as the on-court action goes, each of these teams would play different styles. Magic would have his way running the offense against a weak defender in Curry, but the Chef’s long-range prowess would force the Laker great to defend well out of his comfort zone. Three points are also worth more than two, in case anyone didn’t learn that in kindergarten.
And old-timers, do not say that Curry could not handle the physical defense from back in the day, because he would be too busy torturing the perimeter defenders to dare venture inside. The 2022 NBA Finals also showed that he could handle extremely physical defense, as he won Final MVP against the league’s top defense with the Defensive Player of the Year being his primary defender, one that made Kevin Durant, dare it to be said, average.
At the two guard, we have the man versus the mirror: Michael Jordan versus Kobe Bryant. These two would demand the ball more than anyone else and would practically be guaranteed to have the ball in their hands in the dying moments— Kobe was a tick better from beyond the arc, but Michael was also a slightly better defender and shot just over 5% better from the field for his career. The GOAT would be at a slight advantage here, but it would be hard— check that, impossible— to find a better matchup.
LeBron James and Larry Bird on the wing would be a fantastic watch. Bird is the purer shooter and both possess other-worldly passing vision, but the King, at his peak, was an unbelievable defender. Then again, the Celtic great was as clutch as they come and could lock down the glass, which would force LeBron to spend less time on the perimeter and more time on the block, where he does not always want to be. This particular matchup would depend largely on how their coaches used them, as each player, despite being facsimiles of one another in many ways, are quite different.
Charles Barkley and Tim Duncan would be another incredible matchup, but unfortunately for the 50th Anniversary Team, this is the most lopsided matchup. Duncan is one of the five best defenders in league history and as consistent as they come, so Sir Charles would have to bring his absolute best stuff to even keep pace with the Big Fundamental.
Kareem squaring off with Shaq is a matchup that basketball historians have played out in their minds hundreds of times. Kareem, arguably the most decorated player ever, had the unstoppable skyhook in his repertoire, while Shaq had the brute force of a freight train and the feet of a ballerina. The former would get his own, while the latter could go for 40 and 20 on anyone if he had his day.
The NBA 50th Anniversary Team has an advantage in toughness and chemistry since we have seen a majority of them play together. They are also more efficient and take fewer chances than the 75th Anniversary Team, which is mostly positive.
On the other hand, the NBA 75th Anniversary Team is more athletic in key spots and had players more dominating at their peak, even if they were not quite as steady as their predecessors. Obviously, the matchup would be headlined by Michael Jordan and LeBron James, which most of the basketball world has decided favors MJ— but beyond that, there is shooting against passing, athleticism against elegance, and power against intelligence.
Oh, and one final note: the referees are from 2004.
Which team gets your pick as the winner?
For More Great Chicago Sports Content
Follow us on Twitter at @chicitysports23 for more great content. We appreciate you taking time to read our articles. To interact more with our community and keep up to date on the latest in Chicago sports news, JOIN OUR FREE FACEBOOK GROUP by CLICKING HERE