TSL’s 5-on-5 And’1: Could LeBron Guard MJ? Could MJ Guard LeBron?

LeBron James is on a historical run. You know record-setting stat, by now — six straight games of 30 or more points on better than 60 percent shooting. But then came the hackneyed “Is LeBron better than Jordan” discussion, which is a customer-convo, given that we’re talking about six games before the All Star break. Still, though, it’s hard not to watch LeBron play basketball these days and ask yourself if anyone has ever played the game better.

Let’s flip it, though. LeBron might be the single greatest physical/athletic specimen we’ve ever witnessed play a sport and he’s also magnificently skilled. Jordan, on the other hand was maniacally competitive, insanely skilled and one of the most gifted athletes we’ve watched, in his own right. But, geez, LeBron is so big and strong and possibly just as fast and quick. So, we ask…

Could MJ guard LeBron? Could LeBron guard MJ?

TSL hoop heads, have at it…

VINNIE GOODWILL: Since we’re breaking this down to the utmost degree, neither would have a true, distinct advantage against the other defensively. MJ, as a one-on-one player, had no flaws. His game on the box was beyond fundamentally sound, even when his athleticism started to slip, ever so slightly. LeBron, at this stage, is as athletic as he’ll be (10 years in), but not as developed as he WILL be on the block, perhaps two or three years from now. Would you back off LeBron and hope his jumper wasn’t falling? If we’re talking MJ in say, 1991-92, when he shot 54 and 52 from the field, I might take him by a hair. They’d literally have to go all night (pause); and let’s be honest, H-O-R-S-E would determine this matchup.

SANDY DOVER: With all due respect, I disagree with Brother Vinnie – Jordan was a supreme defender against just about any wing and even relative bigs, both of which LBJ qualifies as. Jordan wasn’t called “The Black Cat” for nothin’; dude consistently was a league leader in steals – on the ball and between passing lines – and he had strength comparable to a small-power forward in the later years. So yes, Jordan could check The King. On the contrary, though, LeBron could guard Jordan, but not without taking his lumps in a to-the-death defeat. The famed unwritten annals of Pat Riley famously tell of a shot chart that detailed that Jordan shot the same percentage from the field, guarded or unguarded, and he often did that with triple-teams coming at him. LeBron would certainly make MJ feel his weight near the basket and give MJ the business on drives, but Jordan’s unstoppable fadeaway and gift for grabbing his man’s pumpkin would put Prime Jordan ahead of Prime James in a best-of series…ever so slightly.

MICHAEL TILLERY: Sandy and Vinnie both make great points. Suns coach Lindsey Hunter once told me that Mike would average 50 with the current less-than-physical rules. Derrick Rose told me he learned the game just watching Bulls games. That’s it. Nothing but Mike and Scottie. Goes to say that Mike’s competitiveness might be the determining factor. LeBron’s size would have everything to say if he got a full head of steam. Mike would reach in here and there and stab the rock from LeBron and would get LBJ in the air ala Dream on the box. Gotta go with Mike’s jumper over LeBron. If LeBron was able to back Mike down, he would score easily. LeBron would be too big for Mike and the fact that he is skilled with either hand makes this interesting. Now, when it comes to heart, I gotta go with Mike. This is almost like the Randy Moss/Jerry Rice discussion. Physically I would go with Randy but mentally Jerry is that dude. The same goes for Mike and LeBron. LeBron is the behemoth, but Mike’s will is Ali’s butterfly that stung with bass consistently. Mike would talk all kinds of trash the entire time. If LeBron could handle such a verbal chin check by keeping his wits, he might actually win one out of five games. Don’t think LBJ wouldn’t put Mike’s shot off the glass a few times, but I gotta go with Mike. At least for right now.

MAURICE BOBB: Jordan was the consummate iso player. He went one-on-one, one-on-two and one-on-three almost every night and no one could stop him. He was just “locomotive train” unstoppable in his prime. We give ‘Bron props for his strength and size and it’s warranted, but his mental toughness and competitive fire doesn’t come close to comparing with MJ’s. You put His Airness and the Chosen One on the court to go mano y mano, both in their prime, and I got money on it that Jordan is coming out the victor every day of the week and twice on Sunday. People forget, Mike would tear cats down mentally like Cassius Clay. He would kill ‘em with his J and his mouth. Dude had it all. LeBron would get served like hors d'œuvres messin’ with Mike.

Richard Boadu: Fighters have weight classes for a reason and MJ isn’t even close to being in Bron’s weight class. Let’s break this question down: can a 6’6” 210-lb Michael Jordan guard a 6’8” 250 LeBron James? Hell no. Bron is just as quick, definitely faster and far bigger. LeBron is going to get a shot off whenever he damn well pleases. For all you Jordan stans, LeBron would expose your boy like leaked internet nudes of your sister. Can LeBron guard MJ? If you just go by the eyeball test, yes. Of course, he’s faster, bigger and just as quick. I mean, we saw LeBron make Derrick Rose look like a junior varsity player in the playoffs two years ago. We’ve also seen Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony make LeBron look like he needed a GPS in his own arena. If KD and Melo can get buckets on the King, MJ would definitely go par for the course — as in 30 points. Basically, neither player can stop one another which in today’s NBA isn’t that special.

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