LeBron James has always been the center of the biggest debate in modern basketball. Yet, the topic has always circled Michael Jordan. What about the other great players that played in the league? For example, could a team led by LeBron take down a team led by Shaquille O’Neal?
We never got to witness an attempt from LeBron against “The Big Diesel.” The two played in two different eras as Shaq’s tail end of his prime years were concluded by the time LeBron was shaping up as the face of the league. While LeBron and Kobe Bryant got to suit up against one another, we never got to know who would win this battle.
It would certainly be a tough matchup between the two sides. While LeBron has played with a plethora of superstars in his own right, Shaq has played with prime-time Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade, and spent just enough time with the Boston Celtics and their core pieces. It’s tough to pick a definitive starting crew for either side, but that’s exactly what we’re here to do, comparing numbers, matchups, and playstyles to imagine how this dream game would actually go down.
Team LeBron: Kyrie Irving, Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, Chris Bosh, Anthony Davis
Point Guard: Dwyane Wade vs. Kyrie Irving
To make room for one of the great shooting guards of all time, the 2006 NBA Finals MVP would need to slide over to the point guard. Before LeBron showed up in Miami, Wade was a premier passer for the team. From 2004 to 2010, Wade averaged over six assists in six straight seasons. He was an incredible ball handler that made the right decision with the ball, which is why he is the all-time leader in assists for the franchise by nearly 2,500 over Tim Hardaway.
As for Irving, he is a top-3 point guard in the league that might have the better shooting touch. Since moving to shoot guard this season, Irving has displayed his ability to score close to 25 to 30 points a night. He is the best dribbler in the league. His ability to find the open man, his patented baseline dribble turned reverse layup, and transition game is one of a kind. While Wade is the overall better player, Irving’s shooting will make up for his lack of rebounding and defense.
Shooting Guard: Kobe Bryant vs. Dwyane Wade
It’s really no contest when it comes to comparing these two players. Kobe Bryant is the far superior player when comparing the two all-time greats, especially at this position. What makes this an easy comparison is that both players spent the majority of their careers in one place. Bryant is the all-time leader in points for the Lakers with 33,643 career points, while Wade leads the Heat with 21,556. That’s a difference of over 12,000 career points.
Both players are their respective franchise leaders in steals too. Kobe leads the Lakers with 1,944, while Wade has 1,492. While Wade is the all-time leader in assist for the Heat (5,310), Kobe is only second to Magic Johnson with 6,306. The stats don’t like that Kobe is the far superior shooting guard and that’s no knock on Wade. That’s just how good Kobe was.
Small Forward: Paul Pierce vs. LeBron James
Paul Pierce will forever go down as one of the best Boston Celtics to ever play the game. He was the heart and soul of the team during their 2008 title run, in which he won the NBA Finals MVP. Pierce ranks among the top in nearly every major statistical category for the Celtics; he is no match for LeBron at this position though.
LeBron is a four-time NBA Finals MVP and has led three different franchises to an NBA championship. He is on his way to potentially winning the MVP at the age of 36 years old. Pierce didn’t qualify for an All-Star Game after his age 34 season and was regulated to bench roles once his time with the Brooklyn Nets was up. Again, Pierce is going to be a Hall of Famer one day, but LeBron is the second-best player to ever play the game of basketball.
Power Forward: Kevin Garnett vs. Chris Bosh
This is a real toss-up between two fantastic players. Let’s start with Garnett, the all-time leader in points, rebounds, assists, steals, and blocks in Minnesota. It was his time in Boston that stood out as he helped the Celtics win a championship alongside Pierce in 2008. The team nearly did it again during LeBron’s time with Miami but came up short when Ray Allen left for the Heat. Everyone knows that if Garnett had another chance to take down LeBron, he would jump at the opportunity. Not only was Garnett a physically gifted athlete, but he was the toughest player on the court mentally and always tried to get in your head with some good trash talk.
Bosh likely wouldn’t let any of the talks get into his head. He was known for being a calm, collected, “business as usual” player. Bosh had to retire at the age of 32 because of blood clots but owns a Hall of Fame-worthy resume. He is an 11-time All-Star, two-time NBA champion, the former all-time points leader in Toronto, and has his number retired by the Heat. The left-hander would go toe-to-toe with Garnett, which makes this an easy split when it comes to who has the upper hand.
Center: Shaq O’Neal vs. Anthony Davis
Shaq is known for criticizing the new school players, so this would be the ultimate battle between old and new school. Who would come out on top? When it comes to size, Shaq would have Anthony Davis in that category. The former 7-foot-1, 325-pounder would dominate the paint over Davis, who is 6-foot-10 and 254 pounds. If we are talking pure centers, then Shaq would win this matchup because his size and strength would out muscle Davis for rebounds.
Davis has a much better outside shot than Shaq. If the team had to play everyone straight up, Davis’s ability to shoot would pull Shaq out from the paint and force the defense to help, likely leaving one of the team’s shooters open. Davis owns a 33% shooting clip from outside range compared to Shaq, who owns a career average of 4.5%. Davis is also a better passer, averaging 3.0 assists compared to Shaq’s 2.5. It would be wonderful to see these two different styles go at one another.
Let’s skip the pregame pleasantries and get right into the game. Davis would win the tip because he can get up quickly and his length is longer. LeBron would start as the team’s point guard, taking on Wade as the defender. LeBron and Davis would play pick and roll to set up the game’s first points. On the other side, Team Shaq utilizes the half-court and continuously pounds the ball inside with Garnett and Shaq getting easy buckets in the paint. By the end of the first quarter, Team Shaq leads 30-24 with both Shaq and Garnett teaming up for 15 points.
The second quarter features adaptations that allow Team LeBron to get going. The team’s defense loads up in the paint and double teams each time either Garnett or Shaq touch the ball. This leads to turnovers that allow Irving, Wade, LeBron, and Davis to flourish in transition. Bosh has the best defensive quarter of his career and helps force five turnovers alone. Thanks to some quick transition baskets, as well as a few deep threes from Irving, Team LeBron heads into halftime with new life and a 60-55 lead.
Coming out to start the second half, the Black Mamba is ready to take over. He has seen enough of Shaq getting beat up, so he wants to change the narrative of this game. Kobe scores the first eight points of the second half and forces Team LeBron to call a timeout to regroup. After LeBron and Wade team up for a highlight-reel alley-oop, Bryant quiets the fans with a three-point shot. Shaq holds Davis to just two points in the paint and plays relatively decent wing defense, while Garnett switches to guard LeBron. Team Shaq heads into the final frame with an 82-76 lead.
With just 12 minutes left and everyone gased, it comes down to the better defense. Team Shaq makes a flurry of adjustments. Wade guards Wade, Pierce switches to LeBron, Garnett guards Davis, Shaq patrols the middle, and Kobe guards Irving. Team Shaq is not worried about Chris Bosh and his career 33.5% three-point shooting percentage, so they are okay with giving up the open three if it means neutralizing the other areas of the floor.
LeBron does his best to bring the team back, pulling the team within 99-97, but Bryant is just too much. Bryant scored 12 fourth-quarter points to add to his 28 second-half points. Wade’s 10th assists of the game are a jam to Bryant that gives the team a 10-point lead late in the fourth. The defensive makeshift Team Shaq is just too physically for Team LeBron as the defense wins this championship in the end.
Team Shaq vs. Team LeBron 110-100
MVP: Kobe Bryant (38 points, 7 rebounds, 6 assists)