May

22

 During a recent discussion with a friend we competed to pick an all-time basketball team.

I went first, which you would think would give me an advantage, but I soon found out that this was not the case, as he picked a team that would match up quite nicely against mine and exploit their weaknesses.

Here is my team (the number coincides with the position they play).

1. Magic Johnson
2. Michael Jordan
3. Larry Bird
4. Karl Malone
5. Shaquille O'Neal

After much deliberation, here is how my friend decided to line up against me.

1. John Stockton
2. Pete Maravich
3. Hakeem Olajuwon
4. Tim Duncan
5. Wilt Chamberlain

My friend was quite confident that his big men would more than handle what is really a small line up. He was quite confident that Wilt would have no trouble handling Shaq. Although we both felt Shaq had the "mass" to have a slight physical edge on Wilt, we also both agreed that Wilt was a much better athlete than Shaq. Edge to Wilt.

Although you'd rarely see these two team up against each other in real life, since Duncan is more a center than 4 forward and Malone is more of a 3 forward than a 4 forward, my friend grudgingly gave me the edge with the Mail Man (Malone) since he had what may have been one of the best fade-away jumpers in history and was known for tenacious defense. Duncan has a decided height advantage and is no stranger to trading elbows, but still the slight edge had to go to Malone

Bird vs. Hakeem. Both players were known for their tenacious defense and neither player shied away from banging under the boards. But again, we had an odd match up. Hakeem was definitely more of a 4 forward and Bird was more of a 'tweener, in between a 2 guard and 3 forward. We gave Hakeem a slight advantage on the inside (only slight, mind you), but because Bird had such a demonstrable difference in his outside shooting and overall passing ability we had to give the advantage to Bird.

My friend felt that I had such a huge advantage in my guards that he had to get creative with his choices. His goal was to exploit the size and physicality advantage his team possessed by bringing a great shooter to spread the floor. But at the same time he wanted a guy who could drive the lane and pass with the best of them, while also playing tenacious defense, thus his choice of Pistol Pete.

Now, neither of us was under illusions that Jordan wasn't the better player. He was the entire package, the kind of guy you build a franchise around. But Pistol Pete would have kept Jordan honest. Maravich was one of the smartest and most intuitive players on the floor. Jordan would have had to move out of his role as key scorer into one concentrating on assists and opening up the floor for his shots. Edge to Jordan.

The 1 guard was the position that caused my friend the most trouble in matching up against my team. Magic Johnson was the consummate player, capable of playing and dominating any position. So Steve decided that he would simply slow Magic down with one of the greatest defensive floor generals in the game, John Stockton. And since he had such a powerfully dominant big man, he didn't need a scorer. He needed a passer.

Stockton was the best floor general ever to play the game (in my humble opinion). That is what he would exploit in Johnson. His tenacious defense would slow Magic down and his passing ability would keep Magic honest. And on top of that, Stockton just so happened to be a very good shot. Still, we both agreed that Johnson would have a slight edge.

There were a myriad of other players that we talked about including in our line-ups. Oscar Robertson, Jerry West, Kareem, George Gervin, just to name a few.

Interestingly, even though my team had a slight advantage in the individual match ups, neither of us could decide which team would win more games.


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