Whenever the name Michael Jordan is mentioned in any debate, the general rule of thumb is that he wins. But what if another variable was thrown into the equation? What if the debate not only included Michael Jordan, but Scottie Pippen?
Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen go hand-in-hand like Batman and Robin and white on rice. With the exception of their days in Washington and Portland, Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen played the majority of their careers together much like Karl Malone and John Stockton. To this day, Jordan and Pippen still have the most wins in a single season – seventy-two – and have won six NBA Finals together. If Jordan never left the NBA to play baseball for two years, they quite possibly would have won eight consecutive championships in a row. Not even the Celtics under Bill Russell or the Lakers under Magic Johnson could have done something like that, even though Russell did get close.
But MJ and Scottie are a thing of the past now. The players today are faster, stronger, and bigger. Additionally, modern players have the advantage of building upon the corporate knowledge of the past. For example, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James can pattern his game after Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen, but Jordan and Pippen never had the luxury of patterning their games after Kobe and LeBron.
Michael and Scottie helped pave the way for Kobe Bryant and LeBron James, but Kobe and LeBron – to a certain degree – have carried that torch even further.
So, in a fantasy world, who wins a game of 2-on-2? Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen in their primes or Kobe Bryant and LeBron James in their primes?
1. Michael Jordan was on the All-NBA First Team ten times and was the NBA’s leading scorer ten different times. In the ’86-’87 season, Jordan averaged a whopping 37.1ppg when the league was far more physical than today and the rules favored the defense more than the offense. Additionally, Jordan wasn’t just a scorer. In the ’88-’89 season, Jordan averaged 8 assists per game.
2. Scottie Pippen was on the All-NBA First Team three times. His career high was 22 ppg. Pippen, however, was an all around player. In the ’91-’92 season, Pippen averaged 7 assists per game.
3. Kobe Bryant has been on the All-NBA First Team eleven times, the most out of the four players. In ’05-’06, Kobe averaged 35.4 ppg and he even scored 81 points in a single game, the second most behind Wilt Chamberlain’s 100 point game. Kobe has repeatedly said that he is the best one-on-one player today. Kobe’s footwork is unparalleled. So, it is no coincidence that Kobe added Dirk Nowitzki’s shot off of one leg into his arsenal.
4. LeBron James has been on the All-NBA First Team seven times and he will probably get that number up to 12 or 13 when all is said and done. If Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson had a child, it would look like LeBron James. In the ’05-’06 season, James averaged 31.4 points per game, but what makes him so special is his ability to pass the ball. In the ’09-’10 season, James averaged an incredible 8.6 assists per game. James has helped redefine the position of point forward and is the closest thing to Magic Johnson that we have ever seen.
Advantage: Kobe and LeBron
Kobe and LeBron have both averaged over 30 points per game in a single season. Jordan may be the best scorer out of the four, but Pippen has never averaged more than 22 points per game and that was the season that Jordan was not on the team.
1. Michael Jordan was on the All-Defensive First Team nine times and even won defensive player of the year in 1988. During that season, Jordan averaged 8 rebounds per game. He is the only one out of the four players that has won this prestigious award. Jordan also led the league in steals three different times in ’88, ’90, and ’93.
2. Scottie Pippen was on the All-Defensive First Team eight times and led the league in steals in 1995. Jordan may have been a better defender than Pippen, but Pippen always had the length to guard bigger players. He is also the best rebounder out of the four players. In the ’93-’95 seasons, Pippen cleaned up the glass by averaging 8.7 and 8.1 rebounds per game. The only reason why he didn’t continue on this pace is because Dennis Rodman joined the team the following year.
3. Kobe Bryant has been on the All-Defensive First Team nine times. In the modern NBA, the best players do not guard the other team’s best players, but Kobe, is the exception. Kobe does not mind spending as much energy on defense as he does on offense. He is a bulldog when it comes to perimeter defense, which is why he always guarded the best players from other countries, even when he was on the highly talented Men’s Olympic Team.
4. LeBron has been on the All-Defensive First Team for the past five consecutive years and all signs point to him joining Jordan, Pippen, and Kobe for a total of eight or nine. LeBron has only averaged 8 rebounds per game once in his career, but he has averaged over 7 rebounds per game the past 7 seasons. Of the four players, James has proven to be the best rebounder throughout the duration of their careers.
Advantage: Jordan and Pippen
Defense is fifty percent of the game. Kobe and LeBron may be better scorers than Jordan and Pippen, but Kobe and LeBron do not put the same amount of energy into defense as they do into offense. There is a reason why Shane Battier ends up guarding Kevin Durant and not LeBron James when the Heat and Thunder play against each other. It is because they want to save LeBron James for offense and let him rest a bit more on defense; something Michael or Scottie would never let happen.
1. Michael Jordan is the greatest player of all-time because he was the fiercest competitor of all-time. Jordan treated each practice like it was a NBA championship. Steve Kerr said that Jordan punched him in the face once during practice because it was so intense. Practice? Yes, practice – Allen Iverson. Jordan didn’t like to lose at anything, whether it was golf, cards, or darts. Jordan hated losing, more than he loved winning.
2. Scottie Pippen led the Bulls into the playoffs the two years that Jordan was gone for baseball. He almost led them to the Finals one year as well. However, Pippen could never emerge out of his Robin role when Jordan was gone from his 2-year hiatus. Even after Pippen left for the Portland Trailblazers, he could not lead them to the NBA Finals.
3. Kobe Bryant was always accused of being the #2 player on the team, much like Pippen. For the bulk of his career, Kobe was accused of being a Robin, while Shaq was Batman or should I say Superman. But Kobe, unlike Pippen, was able to flip the script by winning two NBA championships where he was the man in charge.
4. LeBron James had to join Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to finally win his first two NBA championships, but make no mistake, LeBron was the MVP of the Finals for a reason. LeBron was not an aging veteran searching for a ring off a bandwagon team. No, LeBron was the cornerstone of the team and the reason why the Heat have won back-to-back championships.
Advantage and Ultimate Winner: Kobe and LeBron
Michael Jordan was the best player in the ‘90s, but Kobe Bryant and LeBron James represent the best players in the 2000’s. The only tandem that could beat Kobe Bryant and LeBron James in a game of 2-on-2 are Michael Jordan and another Michael Jordan.
Kobe Bryant is the closest thing to Michael Jordan that we have ever seen. And although Jordan is better than Kobe on offense and defense, the difference is marginal. However, the gap between LeBron and Pippen is far greater. Pippen is a great perimeter defender, but he was not as good at defending the post.
With the evolution of LeBron’s post game, Pippen would struggle guarding LeBron in the post. LeBron is basically the size of Karl Malone outweighing Pippen by nearly 40 pounds. LeBron can basically play every position in the league, something Pippen could not do. And it is that versatility and size that give Lebron and Kobe the slight edge over MJ and Scottie in a game of 2-on-2.
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