At first thought, this simple hypothetical question is nothing but blasphemy.
Of course Michael Jordan, “His Airness,” in his prime could beat LeBron James in a game of one-on-one, mano e mano. It wouldn’t be a challenge, would it? Jordan would smash James. He’d chew him up and spit him out with a loud “ding!” in his rusty spittoon.
This prospect was brought up after Antawn Jamison said that Jordan can still play in the NBA and average 10 points as well, but if you really think about it, this would be an intriguing matchup. These are two of the all-time greats who would have some nice advantages over each other.
And with this being a game of one-one-one, some of James’ talents would be neutralized. By that, I mean his almost-unfair ability to always find the open shooter. His gift for passing throws opposing defenses off balance, thus ever-so softening the defense for James. Against Jordan, he wouldn’t have that advantage. Jordan would be locked on to him with no worry of him passing.
The most obvious advantage James would have is simply his size. Jordan—this goes for every single player there ever was—wouldn’t be able to completely handle that 6’8″, 250-pound frame that moves like one that is five inches shorter and 40 pounds lighter. I can see James driving from the top of the key, lowering his shoulder and rising over Jordan for the familiar cock-back one-handed dunk. He’d be able to overpower Jordan’s 6’6″, 216 pounds. but let’s not take anything away from Jordan. In his prime, he was lightning quick, had power and could do things absolutely no one could, or would ever do. So far, correct me if I’m wrong, I haven’t seen James drive through the lane, go up for a layup and then switch hands just to make it more challenging.
And there’s another reason why James would have a difficult time with Jordan. Considering his hatred of losing and his, quite honestly, arrogance, Jordan would be the most tenacious one-on-one defender you can imagine. It gives me the willies just thinking about it. Picture him constantly reaching in for the ball, refusing to back down in the post, never giving you space or those easy buckets in friendly one-on-one games that come with exhaustion or being struck with a fit of laughter. To Jordan, this would be as important as winning the NBA Finals. He’d die before he let James beat him.
And I could just picture Jordan driving along the baseline only to be denied by James, but then make a lightning-quick and totally unexpected spin move back to the basket resulting in a dunk worthy of legend. He would, of course, have to be wary of James blocking his shot from behind, a la Tayshaun Prince, as he’s known to be quite quick to recover himself.
I think this would be a painfully close match. There would be some glass-shattering dunks, a couple impossible fadeaway jumpers that defy logic and a smirk on the face of Jordan. If the rules of the game were that one of these guys had to win by two, and the target score to win would be 21, I’d say Jordan takes it, 51-49. It would be razor thin, but the greatest player the NBA has ever seen would just edge out the man with skills only possible in NBA 2K14.
You just can’t beat someone who made sticking the tongue out as recognizable as the game of basketball itself.