One of the hottest debates has been about the comparison between old-school legends and modern-day legends. Guys like Magic Johnson and Larry Bird broke new grounds in the NBA, spreading the popularity and making professional basketball a major talking point in North America and worldwide. Of course, Michael Jordan took that to a whole other level.
But what about the more recent legends? How do guys like Kobe Bryant and LeBron James, who have been the best players in the league for over a decade, compare to greats such as Jordan and Bird? In order to compare the greats, it is time to play a 5-on-5 game with old-school legends against modern legends.
Point Guard: Magic Johnson vs. Stephen Curry
This will be one of the most interesting matchups. Magic is a pure playmaker, who will control the pace of the game and get the right players going at the right time. On the break, Magic will shine. He will use his wide shoulders to hold off Curry most of the time and find guys for shots. Curry will have a big problem slowing down Magic on the boards and on the break.
For Team New School, Curry’s shooting will be key. Kobe, Durant, James, and Shaq garner a ton of attention. Curry will find himself open quite a few times in this one. Curry won’t be as lethal as he usually is in this game since he will struggle down the stretch, but he will be a factor in the first half with 15 points.
Shooting Guard: Michael Jordan vs. Kobe Bryant
The marquee matchup. The most competitive battle will be between Kobe and Jordan because the former fought tooth and nail to equal Jordan’s impact on the court. Jordan and Kobe have similar styles, although Jordan is more efficient while Kobe can pull off more difficult shots.
Jordan will be the key in this game because he will decide the game at the end. He will also be the leader for Team Old School’s fourth-quarter comeback against the New School. Both players drop 30+, become the leading scorers in both teams, and provide the most memorable battles down the stretch.
Small Forward: Larry Bird vs. LeBron James
LeBron and Bird are the two best small forwards ever, and it’s by quite a margin. LeBron is one of the best playmakers in NBA history and has the ability to control the pace and tempo of the game because he does everything well. Bird is more of a sharpshooter and rebounder, who can pass the ball almost as good as LeBron. This matchup will come down to LeBron’s physical aggressiveness and Bird’s competitiveness.
LeBron will get his numbers and run the show most of the time, but Bird will relish this matchup more. LeBron is used to being the main attention on the court, but sharing the court with a ton of Hall of Famers will slightly deter his aggression. Bird will look more at ease in this game, although LeBron will be perfect at controlling the pace.
Power Forward: Karl Malone vs. Kevin Durant
Karl Malone will use his physical strength and sharpshooting from the mid-range to lead Team Old in the first quarter. Magic and Malone will be a very prominent duo early on, and Team New School will have to alter the defensive game plan early.
KD will be playing the four in this one since he can stretch the floor on offense and create space for LeBron and Kobe’s drives. KD will also shift positions through the game, playing small forward and also acting as a point-forward at times. Curry likes to run off screens while Kobe likes to receive the ball in his favorite spots. Durant’s overall game will come into play in this one, and he will form a great duo with LeBron in this one.
Center: Hakeem Olajuwon vs. Shaquille O’Neal
This is a great matchup between two Hall of Fame centers. Hakeem Olajuwon beat Shaquille O’Neal in the 1995 NBA finals to win an NBA title, So Hakeem clearly has a bunch of tricks in his bag to score the ball against bigger and stronger players. Hakeem will be a major force for team old school and his passing in the post will be pivotal for them.
On the flip side, Shaquille O’Neal will be a physical force of nature and will require a double team early on. Team Old School will eventually adapt and start denying Shaq early on in the shot clock. As soon as Shaq receives the ball late, he will be forced to pass up a shot or take a contested hook shot. While Shaq will get his numbers, of course, Hakeem will once again win this battle because of his defensive awareness and offensive capabilities.
The first quarter will be pure insanity. Shots will be falling on both ends, although Team New School will hold the lead after the First; 35-27. Curry and Shaq will be the main scorers in the First, as Team Old School will have to game plan against Shaq better. LeBron will do an excellent job at finding the big man early, who later finds Curry for good looks. Malone will lead Team New School with 10 points, while MJ gets 8.
The second quarter is more of the New School, although Kobe and KD get going. LeBron is once again the primary ballhandler, getting Kobe the ball in his spots and clearing out for Kobe-MJ show. Kobe finishes the first half with 20 points after scoring only 4 in the first quarter. MJ matches Kobe with 18 points, cleverly drawing fouls and getting easy layups. But Kevin Durant provided the extra spark for Team New School, dropping a big 10 straight points to put Team New School up 62-50 entering the third.
With Team New School leading big, the legends stop messing about. Bird finds his rhythm, making two straight threes to cut the lead to 6 immediately. Curry starts playing off Magic to try to trap MJ, which works to an extent, but Hakeem’s offense keeps Team Old School within range. He starts getting going, faking out Shaq a few times for easy buckets. Still, Team New School leads 88-78.
The fourth quarter will be all Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan. Unsurprisingly, Jordan decides to take matters into his own hands. He drops a big 12 points, while Kobe gets 8. Jordan also notches 4 assists in the quarter, putting on a masterclass. Team Old School comes backs to take the lead, 115-113. With 5 seconds left, Kobe gets the ball in the corner and nails a deep two to send it to overtime over his idol MJ. Bird tries to hit the winner, but it rims out.
The first overtime period is much of the same, with both teams keeping the score close. Both defenses are solid, as KD scores 6 points while Hakeem gets 6 including the final bucket of the period. Kobe tries to get the ball and hit the winner, but MJ denies a good shot resulting in an airball. Second overtime, here we go.
The second overtime is kept close once again, but MJ steals the show. Jordan was quiet in the first overtime, but he has the ball and switches off Kobe onto Curry. A jab and pull up jumper puts Team Old School up by 2. KD misses his shot on the other end thanks to an excellent contest by Jordan, then MJ puts the nail in the coffin by slamming the ball on the break off a Magic pass. The game ends with a deep three by Kobe but time expires and the game finishes 134-133.