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With LeBron James putting up historic numbers and passing the eye test along with it, with Kobe Bryant entering the twilight of his career as arguably the second-greatest shooting guard of all time, and with Kevin Durant emerging as a force in his own right, all-time comparisons are even more common than normal.
And with Michael Jordan turning 50, there's a surge of media around him. After saying in an interview that he'd take Kobe over LeBron (Note: the excerpt excluded the fact that Jordan said "in terms of championships" but whatever), Jordan said in an interview with ESPN the Magazine that he takes umbrage with the idea that modern players could play in the '90s.
Citing tougher competition and different rules, Jordan lists four players who could play in his era and questions even the mighty LeBron.
JORDAN PLAYS his new favorite trivia game, asking which current players could be nearly as successful in his era. "Our era," he says over and over again, calling modern players soft, coddled and ill-prepared for the highest level of the game. This is personal to him, since he'll be compared to this generation, and since he has to build a franchise with this generation's players.
"I'll give you a hint," he says. "I can only come up with four."
When someone on TV compares LeBron to Oscar Robertson, Jordan fumes. He rolls his eyes, stretches his neck, frustrated. "It's absolutely … " he says, catching himself. "The point is, no one is critiquing the personnel that he's playing against. Their knowledge of how to play the game … that's not a fair comparison. That's not right … Could LeBron be successful in our era? Yes. Would he be as successful? No."
It's nice that he includes Duncan and Nowitzki. It's slightly surprising, considering Nowitzki's challenge of overcoming incorrect "soft" labels. And with the challenge of Duncan to Karl Malone, you wonder whom MJ thinks was better.
The LeBron comment, ... yes, you can argue the basketball IQ of today's players, as well as their work ethic. You can cite the hand check rules and the physicality. But LeBron is an athletic freak the likes of which we've never seen. And with the adjustments and improvements that he has made to the game, would he really not have adjusted? I think that's a difficult claim.
But then, you'd have to argue with the GOAT, and that's not somewhere you want to go.
Would Kobe have faced more issues with the hand-check rules? Would LeBron have been a more traditional power forward? Would Duncan have handled the better defensive centers in Jordan's era?
It's an interesting set of questions, but it's clear Jordan has some pretty strong opinions on this.