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10 Greatest 1-On-1 Matchups We'd Love To See: Michael Jordan vs. LeBron James, Michael Jordan vs. Kobe Bryant

10 Greatest 1-On-1 Matchups We'd Love To See: Michael Jordan vs. LeBron James, Michael Jordan vs. Kobe Bryant

One-on-one matchups are an aspect of basketball that we hardly, if ever, get to see between superstars. If there are one-on-one matchups, it is only for a few possessions and it almost always creates memorable moments. After all, basketball is a team sport where 5 guys play across another 5 guys at a time. If only we could create a tournament where all the best players compete in one-on-one battles, would that not be incredible to see?

With so much emphasis on team play and every player sharing the ball nowadays, one-on-one matchups are becoming rarer to see. Luckily, we have our imaginations. What if we were to place some of the greatest all-time players in one-on-one matchups and see the outcome? Could we predict the winner in a particular matchup? Of course, a lot of the players we are dying to see play one-on-one matchups are retired and no longer playing professional basketball.

Here are the 10 greatest one-on-one matchups we would love to see, combining a pair of opponents that bring elite skill level and competitiveness. It is obvious that most o these players are retired, but imagining them in their primes against each other would have been the best show in sports history. Without further ado, here are the 10 greatest matchups we would like to see but will never get a chance to actually witness them.

10. Allen Iverson vs. Kyrie Irving

Allen Iverson vs. Kyrie Irving

This pair of opponents should come together and play one-on-one because they are arguably the greatest ball-handlers in NBA history. Allen Iverson is a first-ballot Hall of Famer who captured everything on an individual level from an MVP, 4 scoring titles and made 11 All-Star Teams. As a scorer, Iverson is widely regarded as one of the top-five talents to have ever lived because he had everything that a scorer needed from skills to determination. The guard was only 6’0”, but still managed to destroy opponents with his handles and shooting ability.

Meanwhile, Kyrie Irving is regarded as quite possibly the best ball-handler to have ever played the game. He has the ball on a swivel when he dribbles and is explosive enough to get to his spots to pull up for his patented jumper. Kyrie never won a scoring title but is a better shooter than Iverson (39.1% vs. 31.3% from three) and is slightly bigger at 6’2”. Kyrie has the edge in size and shooting, but can he defeat The Answer in a one-on-one matchup? The answer is no. Iverson is a better defender and is more determined to score better than anyone at his position ever (considering he is a point guard). As a result, Irving will not be able to compete with a 4-time scoring champion.

How match would go? Iverson would use his quickness against Kyrie and he is a better mid-range shooter, meaning he can pretty much get a good shot anytime he wants. On the other side, Kyrie would have no issue completing a few incredible acrobatic layups and probably a couple of three-pointers when Iverson relaxes just a little bit. The game will start off relatively even before Iverson finds his rhythm from mid-range and earns a 5-point lead.

A three-pointer and a contested fadeaway put Kyrie within striking distance of Iverson, but he is not able to stop The Answer from killing the game with his patented crossover which leads to a swish. At the end, even though we talking about exhibition and not about practice, Iverson would beat Kyrie 21-19.

Result: Allen Iverson vs. Kyrie Irving 21-19

9. Kevin Durant vs. Larry Bird

Kevin Durant vs. Larry Bird

Next up, two of the three greatest small forwards ever will go to battle. Kevin Durant is a 4-time scoring champion, former MVP, and 2-time NBA champion in what will end up as a Hall of Fame career. There is nothing that Durant cannot do, from pulling up for jumpers to attacking the basket without hesitation. Quite frankly, if Durant had the desire to score like Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant, he could have been the greatest all-around scorer ever. But he is an unselfish player who prefers team basketball.

Meanwhile, Larry Bird is the ultra competitor. He never backs down from any opponent and is widely considered a top-10 player of all time because of that. Bird was a tremendous marksman (37.6% from three, 88.6% from the free-throw line) and also had an unstoppable fadeaway move he could pull at any moment. In terms of all-around game, Bird was also a better rebounder and passer than Durant and has more accolades. But this is a competition in one-on-one skills, and perhaps only a handful of players in NBA history actually have a chance at defeating Kevin Durant.

Bird starts the game hot, nailing 2 straight three-pointers and making it clear that he will be confident from the get-go. Durant struggles to find his rhythm, and Bird has a 6-0 start to the matchup. With some trash-talking along the way, this matchup will start to get very interesting once KD hears the sound of the net ripping. Durant heats up, nailing his next 5 shots including a three-pointer and a spin-move leading to a dunk.

Bird does not back down, using his patented fadeaway jumper to get his high-arcing shot off over the nearly 7-foot tall Durant. Larry is inches away from winning the game, holding a 20-18 lead before Durant nails a contested three-pointer and mid-range shot to surprise everyone with a comeback victory. The game ends 22-20 as Bird smirks while realizing he was inches away from defeating arguably the most unstoppable scoring forward the game has ever seen.

Result: Kevin Durant vs. Larry Bird 22-20

8. Kobe Bryant vs. Tracy McGrady

Kobe Bryant vs. Tracy McGrady

We are all aware of the greatness of Kobe Bryant, as he is easily a top-two shooting guard ever and a top-10 player of all time. What Bryant brought to the game was unrivaled competitiveness, desire to be the best, and countless clutch moments. That is why Kobe retired a 5-time champion, 2-time scoring champion, and 18-time All-Star. Scoring-wise, he is clearly among the greatest to ever do it and many claim him to be the king of one-on-one situations in his era.

Tracy McGrady came awfully close to Kobe Bryant when he was in his prime, as a 6’8” shooter with unlimited range and moves. T-Mac was scary to play against because he could turn it on against anybody and could literally elevate to shoot over any defender. If not for Kobe’s presence and unfortunate injuries, T-Mac would have been the greatest shooting guard since Michael Jordan. But in terms of one-on-one, it is impossibly to bet against a man who dropped 81 points in a single game.

Kobe and T-Mac are close in offensive skill-set, but Bryant has a killer instinct that cannot be ignored. As great as McGrady is as an offensive player, he never had that mentality to destroy opponents as Bryant had and that will showcase in this legendary matchup. McGrady and Bryant trade buckets to start, as the game is tied 8-8. But Kobe feels he has had enough, locking up T-Mac for multiple possessions before scoring 7 straight points to hold a 15-8 lead.

As expected, McGrady fires back but is unable to stop Kobe from winning the match. Kobe needs a few tries to get over the hump because a 20-12 lead ends up becoming 20-18 before Bryant finally gets McGrady with a pump fake and score around the basket.

Result: Kobe Bryant vs. Tracy McGrady 21-18

7. Hakeem Olajuwon vs. Tim Duncan

Hakeem Olajuwon vs. Tim Duncan

When we think of one-on-one matchups, we often directly think of scoring guards and forwards with flashy handles and shooting ability. But real hardcore NBA fans want to see big men handle their business down low, similar to what Hakeem Olajuwon and Tim Duncan did throughout their careers. Hakeem was a 2-time NBA champion, 2-time Finals MVP, and 2-time Defensive Player of the Year who is one of the 5 greatest centers ever. His “Dream Shake” move destroyed opponents because his footwork and IQ were impeccable beyond belief.

Meanwhile, Duncan was the king of the backboard shot and also had solid post moves to go to. Mainly regarded as a team player and defensive stalwart, Duncan could score with ease which is why he averaged over 20 PPG 9 times in his career. But there is no way he could score better than Hakeem, who averaged 20 PPG 13 times in his career. Olajuwon was a better scorer and also a 2-time Defensive Player of the Year, so Duncan will barely lose this matchup in an all-time classic.

But how does this fairytale matchup go? Hakeem starts off hot and finds his range by nailing 3 straight shots from 16 feet. Duncan answers with a backboard jumper, post hook, and pump fake that leads to an easy layup. Fast-forwarding to an 18-18 game, Hakeem falls for a Duncan fake but recovers enough to swat away a wide-open layup.

That changes momentum as “The Dream” nails his Dream Shake for multiple possessions to stop the greatest power forward alive. Olajuwon is nearly unstoppable against any opponent, and Duncan will not be able to stop the legend’s footwork on the block. Duncan proves his worth, but he does not have the offensive moves that Hakeem could pull off.

Result: Hakeem Olajuwon vs. Tim Duncan 21-18

6. Allen Iverson vs. Stephen Curry

Allen Iverson vs. Stephen Curry

There is no doubt that Stephen Curry has had the better career as a point guard, winning 3 NBA titles and 2 MVP Awards to go along with being recognized as the greatest shooter ever. Curry has changed the NBA game for good because his ability to get good quality three-point shots and drain them with ease is simply amazing to witness. Curry is also a 2-time scoring champion who is no slouch at attacking the basket either.

But in one-on-one situations without team play, Allen Iverson is simply one-of-a-kind. The Answer received a ton of criticism for being a “selfish” player and trying to win games on his own, which does not help team success but certainly helps in one-on-one matchups. Iverson is quicker than Steph, more determined to score at the rim, and is dominant even if his outside shot isn’t falling. Once again, this is close, but Iverson will be able to take advantage whenever Curry misses an outside shot.

Curry has the edge in outside shooting, and that will be his key in gaining an early advantage. Steph gets out to a surprising 7-2 lead thanks to outside shooting, but Iverson understands that he must turn on his offense to keep getting the ball back. The Answer responds with a three of his own, before blitzing past Curry for multiple buckets to tie the game at 8. With Curry’s colder streak going, Iverson starts gaining momentum.

Iverson starts finding his rhythm with dribbling, breaking Curry’s ankles on some occasions, and losing him with quickness. Iverson gets close to a victory with a 19-14 lead, but Curry nails multiple threes in a row to gain a 20-19 lead. Off a Curry missed layup, Iverson realizes that he must put this game to bed before his opponent gets a chance to shoot. The Answer does not give the ball back, finishing the game 22-20 with contested jump shots.

Result: Allen Iverson vs. Stephen Curry 22-20

5. Larry Bird vs. Magic Johnson

Larry Bird vs. Magic Johnson

This is a matchup between two of the 80s legends: Larry Bird and Magic Johnson. Bird averaged 24.3 PPG for his career, nailing 37.6% of his threes and 88.6% of his free throws. Meanwhile, Magic averaged 19.5 PPG while shooting 30.3% from three and 84.8% from the free-throw line. Of course, both players played in an era where outside shots were not encouraged and never made that the priority.

Magic was underrated in one-on-one situations because he was so spectacular with his passing, and is certainly the greatest team player ever. But he had the size to post up, defend, and also use his hook shot around the rim. But there is no way he could defeat Bird one-on-one because the Celtics legend was a better shooter who could trash talk his way to victory.

The game goes in Bird’s favor and also ends in his favor as well. Larry finds a rhythm from the beginning, nailing 5 straight buckets and trash-talking the life out of Magic. But knowing Johnson, he will use that as fuel. Magic uses his powerful frame to nail a hook-shot, and also a three-pointer while trash-talking back to Bird.

The game heats up, but Larry is incredibly gifted offensively and puts Magic away with an assortment of jumpers, step-back shots, and a three-pointer to end the game with a 3-point victory. Bird and Magic are the two greatest players in NBA history, but their different style of plays makes this an interesting matchup although Bird gets the edge.

Result: Larry Bird vs. Magic Jonson 21-18

4. Shaquille O’Neal vs. Wilt Chamberlain

Shaquille O’Neal vs. Wilt Chamberlain

A true battle of the giants, Shaq and Wilt would break all headlines if they were to compete in one-on-one situations. O’Neal was a talented center because he could actually handle the ball, pass, and also explode when at the rim. Shaq never showed his entire arsenal of talents, because he was so proficient at using his tremendous size to punish defenses.

Similarly, Wilt Chamberlain was the most physically dominant player of his time and used that to his advantage. Scoring 100 points in a single game is no easy feat, even if Wilt made it look normal. With a soft touch around the rim and unrivaled athleticism, Chamberlain is easily a top-10 player ever. Seeing the two most physically dominant centers ever go to battle would be unbelievable to watch, but there could only be one winner.

This battle of giants will be incredibly hard-fought and will last beyond the Game of 21. Shaq and Wilt love to bang down low, although the former loves the physical part of basketball much more. O’Neal struggles with his first few possessions, failing to get past Wilt’s incredible length and athleticism. Chamberlain gets his dribbling and hook shots on point, taking a 10-2 lead. But O’Neal slows it down, using his force to tie the game. The big men go back and forth in a long game that lasts over an hour, but O’Neal takes advantage with a lack of focus by Wilt to power through a few more shots in the end.

Wilt and Shaq were the same height, although the latter was heavier by nearly 50 lbs. This one would go to the wire, but Shaq would slip out with a victory because he had an entire skillset of offensive moves that he could pull out to edge the 7-time scoring champion although it will be the closest matchup so far.

Result: Shaquille O’Neal vs. Wilt Chamberlain 24-22

3. LeBron James vs. Kevin Durant

LeBron James vs. Kevin Durant

Matchups between LeBron James and Kevin Durant are always exciting to watch because they are the two greatest small forwards since Larry Bird was the face of the league. LeBron James is a better all-around player and team player, using his playmaking skills to dictate the outcome of games. James is also a better rebounder and is the most athletic wing player to have ever played. But can he compete with Durant one-on-one?

Durant is a 4-time scoring champion with great shooting ability (38.4% from three, 88.2% from free-throw line) and a nicer stroke than The King. While Durant is a better shooter and is slightly taller, he lacks in physical girth and he will have trouble stopping James’ drives to the rim. Defensively, they will both be proficient although The King’s raw size would give Durant a ton of problems.

Durant and James go head-to-head until the score is evened at 15 before the former starts finding his rhythm. Kevin gets a quick 18-15 lead and has a seemingly clear lane to the rim. James completes an unbelievable chasedown block, smacking the miss off the backboard before nailing a deep three-pointer. This play gives The King unbelievable confidence and grabs a lead that stays.

James scores a layup and jumper to have a 20-18 lead, but cannot put Durant away with a contested layup. Durant’s quick jumper bounces around the rim before going through off a couple of bounces, clearly a shooter’s touch. Kevin then takes the lead with a three-pointer but misses a chance to put The King away with a miss. LeBron does not give the ball back, attacking the rim and finishing on a weaker Durant to win a competitive game.

Result: LeBron James vs. Kevin Durant 23-21

2. Michael Jordan vs. Kobe Bryant

Michael Jordan vs. Kobe Bryant

At the shooting guard position, Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant going head-to-head would be unbelievable to watch. Clearly, they are the two greatest scoring guards to have ever played the game and have a combined 12 scoring titles (Jordan with 10). This showdown will be the most competitive one on this list, and also the one that most fans will want to see most. Michael was the original dominant shooting guard, destroying defenses with his scoring and also winning Defensive Player of the Year.

Kobe once scored 81 points in a single game and outscored an NBA team singlehandedly through 3 quarters, feats that will likely never be done again. Bryant was slightly smaller than Jordan in terms of muscle mass and had smaller hands, which will give MJ the edge in one-on-one. Bryant was the protege of Jordan and was almost the exact same player. But Jordan is the most gifted player to have ever played and the best player ever, so he will edge Bryant in an incredible game.

Possibly the most competitive matchup, Jordan and Bryant are nearly identical in how they approach the game. Whenever MJ makes a jumper, Kobe answers when he collects a miss. Similarly, Jordan always responds when Bryant starts heating up. The difference here is the type of shots that both players take because Bryant cannot capitalize on a 21-20 lead because Jordan tips a very tough layup by The Black Mamba.

After blocking Kobe’s shot, Jordan scores the next 2 shots but Bryant answers with 2 more. Kobe pump fakes, but Jordan does not fall for it. With a chance to defeat his idol and prove to be a better offensive player, Kobe takes a contested jumper with Jordan all over him. The ball just rims out, giving Michael the chance to pick Kobe apart with 2 straight jumpers and a contested layup to prove he is the greatest one-on-one player who has ever lived.

Result: Michael Jordan vs. Kobe Bryant 25-23

1. Michael Jordan vs. LeBron James

Michael Jordan vs. LeBron James

Who is the GOAT? Michael Jordan has the edge in most debates, but the onslaught of the younger generation of fans is witnessing LeBron James’ greatness until this day. This matchup tops the list because it is extremely relevant to the never-ending GOAT debate. Michael is clearly the better scorer with 10 scoring titles and a higher career PPG average (30.1 PPG) compared to LeBron James (27.0 PPG with 1 scoring title).

James is arguably a better team player than Michael and makes everyone around him better, both on and off the court. The King is the most complete player of all time, but can he best Michael Jordan one-on-one? The answer has to be no. Jordan is simply the greatest one-on-one player ever, and if he can defeat Kobe Bryant in that regard, he can also take LeBron James. Jordan is the single greatest individual talent ever, and his dominance at both ends of the floor will likely never be surpassed.

Anytime Michael has something to prove or someone to silence, he performs at an elite level. Michael and LeBron trade jumpers to start the game, but James starts attacking the rim which causes some problems for the Chicago Bulls superstar. Unbelievably, James holds a 15-13 lead. But LeBron makes a grave mistake: falling in love with his jumper.

Michael sees that and takes advantage whenever The King starts missing shots. Jordan goes on a hot streak, nailing jumpers and finishing around the rim with athleticism and vertical. Michael will not allow a bigger player to get to the rim with ease and finds the spots to grab rebounds from misses and nail his efficient shots. Michael is on the edge with a bucket, but LeBron misses a contested layup which Jordan eats up before nailing a step-back jumper to finish off his rival.

Result: Michael Jordan vs. LeBron James 21-19


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