Essentially, this debate developed into a "new school vs old school" argument, with new school taking the overwhelming share of the praise. But those on the old school side of the fence held their stance far more intensely.
Also, it must be noted that Michael Jordan was the deciding factor on many of the ballots, which shouldn’t be surprising, since he’s the greatest basketball player any of us have ever seen.
How do I see it playing out? Glad you asked…
First, let me reiterate that modern athleticism
is far beyond that from the game’s early days. When judging players
across eras, you can only judge them with regards to dominance over
their time period. Baseball has this stat called VORP (value over
replacement player), and that’s the idea we must utilize here.
Obviously, I didn’t crunch all the numbers with
regards to how John Havlicek performed in comparison to the average
shooting guard of the 1970s, but it is necessary to hypothetically
assume his level of dominance and compare that against his counterpart.
Therefore, while it would be completely reasonable
and probably likely that Shaquille O’Neal at his peak would overpower
Wilt Chamberlain at his (due to O’Neal’s superhuman size and strength),
it must be noted that Chamberlain dominated his era unlike any player
in history. That helps the Stilt’s cause in this particular conversation.
With that said, I can’t see any way Team Red could
stick with Bob Cousy for more than 20 minutes a game in this series.
While the Cooz was named to 10 All-NBA teams and essentially provided
the blueprint for the point guard position, he played in an era
prior to the invention of the shot clock and (in the ESPN Classic
footage I’ve seen) consistently looked at the ball while he dribbled.
Plus, how could he guard Magic Johnson?
Essentially, Auerbach would be forced to have the
Big O bring the ball up the floor and use a combination of Kobe
Bryant (a fantastic man-to-man defender when he sets his mind to
it) and LeBron James (still raw, but has the athletic tools to defend
well) to slow down Magic.
Robertson, meanwhile, would have the unenviable
task of defending Michael Jordan for most of the game. Bryant/James
would move on to MJ if/when Jackson went small and brought in Allen
Iverson. Here, Auerbach could counter with a quicker combination
of West/Cousy to slow down the Answer.
If Jackson is dictating the backcourt matchups,
Auerbach would hold many of the frontcourt trump cards. O’Neal would
be a force to deal with through the first three quarters, but since
Chamberlain would (almost certainly) draw the matchup, Russell (the
league’s best-ever weakside defender) would collect a plethora of
blocked shots when the Diesel went to his drop-step. Hakeem Olajuwon
would likely play the same role for Phil’s team.
Since O’Neal would have to exert a great deal of
energy dealing with Red’s frontcourt players, he might get into
foul trouble early in the second half of many of these games. Also,
his abhorrent free throw shooting would make him a non-factor at
crunch time (same for Chamberlain). While Phil would immediately
insert Duncan and/or Kareem into the lineup if/when Shaq starts
to tire, Team Red can counter with anyone from Moses Malone to Sir
Charles to Kevin McHale or Bill Walton on the front line.
What surprised me most in many of the emails was
how a significant number of readers felt Scottie Pippen would shut
down Larry Bird. We all know Pippen is a fantastic defender and
a valuable teammate, but this is Larry (expletive deleted) Bird
we’re talking about. One of the five greatest players ever, and
the only man to win three straight MVP awards. He gives Team Red
not only outstanding vision and playmaking ability; he adds the
three-point dimension to the attack. Bird and West can help spread
the floor when Team Phil tries to collapse on their post scorers.
This series will basically boil down to tempo. If
the scores are constantly in the triple digits, Team Phil will win
in a rout. If the scores are low and the tempo is slow, Team Red
has the upper hand. Between Russell, Robertson, Chamberlain, Malone,
Barkley, Walton and McHale, they have the STRONG edge in the rebounding
With all that said, Team Phil wins in seven games.
MJ and company run-and-gun Team Red off the floor in a 121-104 rout
in Game One.
Game Two is all Team Red, as they hold Team Phil
to 37% shooting from the floor and pull down a ridiculous 87 rebounds.
Led by co-triple-doubles from Robertson (24-14-10) and Bird (19-12-13),
Team Red wins 98-86.
Game Three is marred by horrible officiating, putting
nearly every front-court player into foul trouble by the third quarter.
With each bench coming into play, Auerbach’s masterful substitution
patters allowed him to out-maneuver Jackson in a 94-89 win.
Game Four featured an angry Jordan, which is always
a recipe for disaster for any opponent. After back-to-back rough
shooting nights (a combined 18-58 in games two and three), Jordan
exploded for 55 in a 109-100 victory that evened the series at two.
Game Five went back and fourth until the last 90
seconds, when both teams were deadlocked at 99. After a Jordan fallaway,
Walton found a back-cutting Bird on the other end to tie the game
at 101. Iverson brought the ball up the floor and blew past Team
Red’s defense, only for Russell to collect his 12th blocked shot
of the contest. With 20 seconds left, West swung the ball to Bryant,
who dribbled for 12 seconds trying to get his shot off against Pippen.
Eventually, Bryant kicked the ball back to West, who drained a 25-footer
at the top of the key to put Team Red up three. With seven seconds
remaining, Magic inbounded the ball to MJ, who’s three from the
wing rattled out as the buzzer sounded, giving Team Red a 104-101
win. Jackson could be heard after the game muttering, "I wish
I would’ve drafted Reggie Miller." Jordan never heard the comment.
With Team Red leading three games to two, Jackson
reiterated the importance of the fast break. Led by Magic’s "Showtime"
attack, Team Phil scored a ridiculous 67 points in the first half,
shooting 68% from the floor against Red’s formidable defenders.
Nine Team Phil players scored in double digits in the 128-118 victory.
The stage was set for a Game Seven for the ages.
Like Ali and Frazier, these two heavyweights pushed each other to
previously untested limits. Deadlocked at 108 at the end of regulation,
the teams entered the overtime period with weary legs. Jackson went
with Magic, MJ, Hakeem, Pippen and Duncan while Auerbach countered
with Bird, Russell, Oscar, Kobe and Walton. Both teams played to
a standstill at 120 with one minute remaining. Jordan had tallied
43, while Bird led a balanced attack for Team Red with 29.
On their first possession, Magic dumped it down
to Olajuwon, who drop-stepped Russell for two. On the next trip
down, Kobe (who behaved remarkably well during this series) threw
down a monstrous dunk in Duncan’s mug and glared at Jackson the
entire way back down the floor. Tie game. As Magic brought the ball
over the mid-court line, Duncan (with Walton defending him) called
for the ball on the left elbow. Duncan faked right, dribbled left,
and dropped a sweet bank shot. With 15 seconds remaining, Kobe barreled
into the lane, drawing a foul on Olajuwon - his sixth of the game.
Dr. J entered the game and began talking smack with Kobe before
he stepped to the line. Bryant coldly nailed the first free throw
- shutting The Doctor up. Just before the referee tosses Kobe the
ball for the second foul shot, Jordan whispers, "You’re not
me, and you never will be," in his ear and walked toward the
half-court circle. A clearly rattled Kobe tried to regain his composure,
but left the free throw short. Duncan snagged the board and fired
the outlet pass to MJ. Robertson picked up Jordan, but Kobe sprinted
back and demanded to cover MJ for the possession that will determine
the outcome of the series. With six seconds remaining, Jordan crossed
him left, gave Kobe the Byron Russell push-off, and drained the
game winner as the buzzer sounded.
Team Phil wins, four games to three.
Jackson smirked as Kobe screamed at the officials
about the push-off.
"My boy had a point, Phil," Red said as
they met to shake hands after the game. "Jordan pushed off.
You know that."
"Well, what can you do? He’s the best for a
reason. Spike Lee once said that five Michael Jordans would beat
five of anybody else, and he’s right."
Auerbach had a victory cigar in his hip pocket that
he was saving for the end of this series, but he will have to save
it for later.
As the players head toward the locker room, Red
and Phil continue to discuss the outcome of the series.
"It was a great series, wasn’t it, Red?"
"Great, my ass. We should’ve won. The refs
screwed us in Game Three and Game Seven. I’ll tell you, back in
my day, Russell never would’ve gotten called for that cheap crap.
Why, I can’t even begin to tell you…"
And both men
keep arguing. And arguing.