The recent release of Space Jam 2 has everyone thinking. What if aliens invaded Earth and we had to send out the greatest starting lineup in league history. We are talking about special powers that allow each player to play in their prime. There would be no rules attached with age. It would be based on pure basketball skills from when they were playing their best basketball.
This debate typically leads to the top-5 greatest players to ever play the game. With that said, that is not always the case. A starting lineup needs a point guard, shooting guard, small forward, power forward, and center. If we are going to give a starting lineup, that doesn’t always mean that the top-5 greatest players are in that lineup.
With that said, some NBA legends and current players have given their top-5 players, which they gave as their starting lineup, as well as their all-time starting five. Space Jam 2 star LeBron James has heard this debate plenty with his comparisons to Michael Jordan. When it comes to these legends and current superstars, did he make the starting lineup?
Kobe Bryant Starting Five
Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain
“I’m nowhere near that stuff. You have Jerry West, Oscar Robertson, Walt Frazier, Bob Pettit. The list goes on and on.” - Bryant
Kobe was humble when he gave out his starting lineup, even putting Walt Frazier ahead of him. However, Bryant was the one that won five championships during his time in Los Angeles. His reasoning for Magic (five championships) and Michael Jordan (six championships) are pretty simple. Larry Bird is a three-time MVP, while Bill Russell (11 championships), and Wilt Chamberlain (100-point game) are also easy picks. All in all, this was a safe all-time starting five.
Magic Johnson Starting Five
Isiah Thomas, Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Tim Duncan, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
“I like Shaq, but he was no Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. This man could dominate you with both hands. When they have to change the game because of you, that is greatness.” - Johnson
Magic is a teeny bit biased given that he played alongside Kareem during their days in the 1980s. The “Showtime Lakers” won five championships during that run. Still, putting the all-time leader in scoring is a safe pick. Johnson refused to put himself in the starting lineup. Instead, he chose Isiah Thomas, the two-time champion with the Detroit Pistons. Johnson should probably be in the lineup, but Johnson also has a soft spot for Thomas, believing he should have been a part of the “Dream Team,” when he was clearly snubbed.
Tracy McGrady Starting Five
Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Hakeem Olajuwon, Shaquille O’Neal
“My all-time power forward... There’s at least you can put in this category. It’s an argument. Tim Duncan, Charles Barkley, Karl Malone. To me, the greatest power forward I know, some people put him as a center, but that’s the dream of Hakeem Olajuwon. The footwork is impeccable. You can’t teach that stuff. I don’t know why people spend $50,000 to learn that. You can’t teach it. Give me your money.” - McGrady
Had T-Mac never battled through injuries, maybe we would have seen him on this list. Instead, he went the easy route with Magic, Jordan, and Lebron. Shaq is a solid pick at the center, given his three straight Finals MVPs from 2000-2002. The pick that stands out is his choice with Olajuwon at power forward. With that said, Olajuwon was a skilled big man that won the 1994 MVP, as well as led Houston to back-to-back titles in 1994 and 1995.
Julius Erving Starting Five
Oscar Robertson, Jerry West, Elgin Baylor, Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain
“In the last 50 years, nothing has changed. I made this decision as a teenager. I was 14-15 and that is what I saw.” - Erving
This is a perfect example of someone that refuses to evolve with the game. Erving claims he chose this starting lineup when he was a teenager. No offense to any of these players, but the game has changed over the last 50-plus years. While Jerry West was a great scorer, he owns one of the best Finals points per game mark, but he is no Michael Jordan. He didn’t even consider LeBron, Kobe, or Larry Legend? That’s just not progressive thinking.
Charles Barkley Starting Five
Oscar Robertson, Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain
“If LeBron would have a triple-double, you would all go crazy... He’s in the top-10.” - Barkley
Barkley is very honest about how he doesn't believe LeBron James is a top-5 player in this league. You can call it a vendetta if you want, but his main argument is that Robertson deserves to be on this list because he averaged a triple-double. That logic makes some sense, but wouldn’t that mean Russell Westbrook, someone who has done this four times in his career, should be on the list? The Robertson pick can be highly debated, while his other four picks have some real logic behind it.
Allen Iverson Starting Five
Steph Curry, Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Shaquille O’Neal
“The fifth one could be a lot of dudes.” - Iverson
Iverson listed Jordan, Kobe, LeBron, and Shaq fairly quickly. He had a really tough time deciding the fifth. He chose Curry, who was coming off an MVP season, a year that he led Golden State to an NBA championship. Given that he chose Curry, he could have easily chosen himself. After all, Iverson won an MVP in 2001, but maybe his deciding factor was that Iverson never won a ring.
Kevin Durant Starting Five
Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Magic Johnson, Tim Duncan, Shaquille O’Neal
“I don’t like to include guys who are still playing because they have a lot more to prove. Mr. LeBron James will be a top-5 player when he’s done.” - Durant
For now, this list does not include LeBron because he is still playing. If Lebron stepped away, we would likely see him in Durant’s all-time list. Jordan, Kobe, and Magic would find a way to run a three-guard system, so the fact there is no small forward in this shouldn’t worry anyone. Intriguingly, multiple players find Tim Duncan a power forward despite him playing at center. However, “Mr. Fundamental '' probably would have found a way to make it work. After all, he found a way to win five championships.
Metta Sandiford-Artest Starting Five
Kyrie Irving, Oscar Robertson, Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan, LeBron James
is“I’m going to make a future prediction and say that Kyrie Irving is going to be pretty good.” - Artest
This feels like it was a premature vote. Kyrie Irving has won just one championship in three triples to the NBA Finals. He has never made the Finals without LeBron James by his side. Irving does have a solid career, but nothing that says he is a top-10 player. Artist also has LeBron playing as the team’s center. While that is possible given his athleticism and versatility, it makes this starting five almost laughable.
Reggie Miller Starting Five
Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Hakeem Olajuwon
“I would put Kobe over LeBron in my top 10. LeBron can’t leapfrog Kobe.”
When Miller was asked by Dan Patrick about why LeBron wasn’t in the starting lineup, he paused. It almost sounded like he doesn’t want to include LeBron in this list. He even at one point said he might not be in his top-10, but his top-15. With that said, Miller does boast a strong starting lineup with 11 combined championships in the backcourt, the league’s only three-peat MVP in Bird, and a formidable offensive and defensive punch in Kareem and Olajuwon.
Steph Curry Starting Five
Steph Curry, Magic Johnson, Kevin Durant, Tim Duncan, Shaquille O’Neal
“I have a dominant center and a forward who can go inside and out and hit that 18-footer.” - Curry
When Curry was in this lineup, he was in a car with 76ers star Joel Embiid and was playing with Kevin Durant. Did he include Durant, as suspected by Embiid, because he was his teammate? That’s debatable but likely. Durant is a top-15 player, but he is not the best small forward, nor power forward. He owns two championships with a superteam-laden Warriors team. All the other four players won a championship with a team built around them. Durant joined a team that won without him.
Michael Jordan Starting Five
Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, James Worthy, Hakeem Olajuwon
“You’re not substituting anybody for Magic, and he won six titles with Scottie... You could have thought Michael Might have said Larry (Bird).” - Michael Wilbon
Clearly, Jordan doesn’t believe any players from the modern era are on the same level from his peers during his playing days. Magic and Jordan might have been the two best players to play the game during the 80s and 90s. When Jordan stepped away for a full season in 1994, Olajuwon won the MVP. Pippen won six titles with Jordan on the Bulls. Worthy is an interesting pick, but he was what Scottie Pippen did for Michael Jordan, but for Magic. Worthy even won a Finals MVP in 1988 and was known as “Big Game James.”
Karl Malone Starting Five
John Stockton, Oscar Roberton, Scottie Pippen, LeBron James, Wilt Chamberlain
“I’m going Scottie Pippen because he led the team in every category when Michael Jordan left the team.” - Malone
There has to be some belief that Malone didn’t include Michael Jordan on this list because he is bitter about getting beat by the Bulls in the NBA Finals in 1997 and 1998. Not to mention, there was some beef between Malone and Jordan when Malone won the MVP in 1997, and not Jordan. We could probably verify that with his selection of Scottie Pippen on the team. Still, it’s surprising that Malone, the No. 2 all-time scorers, didn’t include himself, but included LeBron.
Jason Kidd Starting Five
John Stockton, Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Tim Duncan, Shaquille O’Neal
“I could put LeBron at the five.” - Kidd
Kidd appeared on the Dan Patrick Show and selected Pippen, not LeBron, which surprised Patrick. When asked about it, Kidd gave the quote above. LeBron would have made the list, but Patrick made Kidd pick a center, which was used on Shaq. The selection of John Stockton was the same reason Malone picked him. He is the all-time leader in assists. To Kidd, Stockton doesn’t get the credit he deserves because he didn’t win a championship, but his stats speak for itself.
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