Fire up the ESPN ticker. Michael Jordan is throwing shade at LeBron James.
OK, fine. No, he’s not. But he is showing immense confidence in his previous abilities, even though the peak of his NBA career is roughly 20 years in the past.
Jordan answered a bunch of questions in 2015 at his Michael Jordan Flight School camp in Santa Barbara, California, per ESPN.com’s Patrick Dorsey. And during that little session, he discussed, among other things, the prospect of playing LeBron one-on-one:
This is the ESPN question. I know it’s going to be all over ESPN. [Note: He was right.] If I was in my prime, could I beat LeBron in a one-on-one game?
[Long pause in which the campers mutter/shout their opinions.]
Personally, I’m always hesitant to seriously comment on these things. They drive traffic and are certainly worth relaying, but we’ll never know the actual answer, so it’s almost pointless to argue about. Both LeBron and MJ, in their primes, are two of the greatest, if not the absolute greatest, players ever. End of story.
Delving deeper, though, it’s easy to understand Jordan’s point of view. For one, professional athletes, even after retiring, are super confident. So of course he’s going to pick himself. Rare is the star player who would not.
More importantly, LeBron isn’t known for his one-on-one chops. He’s essentially an oversized, pass-first point guard, whereas Jordan, a good playmaker himself, is more schooled in isolation-heavy, one-on-one-style basketball. This hypothetical game, then, would take LeBron out of his element.
But it’s not like LeBron can’t play 1-on-1. He takes over games at will, and he’s showed the ability to drastically improve his jumper from year to year, specifically during his time with the Miami Heat. Much like Jordan years ago, LeBron is a player we’ve never seen before—and that includes pitting him against Jordan himself.
Below is a screenshot of a stat I’ve always found fascinating. It shows the number of players who have averaged at least 26.5 points, seven rebounds, 6.5 assists and 1.5 steals per game in a single season, along with how many times they’ve reached those simultaneous benchmarks:
This has little bearing over LeBron’s one-on-one ceiling, and per-game numbers aren’t as telling or, by extension, valuable as they were once considered, but it’s something to keep in mind nonetheless. LeBron has not only reached those statistical touchstones more than anyone else in NBA history; he’s eclipsed them more than anyone else in NBA history combined. That’s absurd.
And, at the very least, it’s enough to give him a chance at unseating an in-his-prime Jordan in a game of one-on-one should time travel ever prove possible.