One of the biggest factors held against players in the modern era is how they would survive the 90s and early 2000s NBA. Unlike today, the NBA was a lot more lenient with physicality at the time, meaning players could get away with playing a much more violent brand of basketball.
As time has gone on, the NBA has discreetly intervened, and given instructions to referees to call the game a lot stricter, not allowing for much physicality. This is because the NBA knows that their superstars are a big part of their popularity, and protecting them from injuries and pain is essential to their sustained growth.
This brand of ‘soft’ basketball has been criticized by fans and analysts who experienced the 80s and 90s. Because of this, they take the greatness of players in the modern era with a pinch of salt, thinking that they cannot perform at the same level with the kind of defense that was being played during the older era of the NBA.
On the other hand, people have argued that the NBA game today doesn’t require the kind of physical defense that it did in the 90s. During the 90s, most dominant players would try to take the ball to the hole or get close to baseline for a mid-range jumper. Whereas today’s NBA game is more focused on perimeter shooting.
But could anyone in the post 2010s NBA era survive in the 80s and 90s? Michael Jordan thought there were only 4 players that could. During an interview in 2013, MJ identified LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, and Dirk Nowitzki as the only players who could compete in his era.
“I can only come up with 4. LeBron, Kobe, Tim Duncan, Dirk Nowitzki”
With players like Stephen Curry and Damian Lillard, they have proven that playing strong defense on them and contesting their shots does little to affect their incredible shooting range. And more players are becoming like that.
Despite not playing in his era, LeBron James has shown how great he can be in the NBA. In fact, he has stolen several records away from Michael Jordan across his career. Despite MJ's comments, most Americans think that Jordan is the GOAT over LeBron, primarily because LeBron could not and did not play in MJ's era/
These 4 players showed that they weren’t afraid of being physically challenged. LeBron, Duncan, and Dirk were built for the physical style of the NBA. Whereas Kobe’s relentless attitude meant that he would overcome the physicality in any way possible.