The NBA All-Star Legends Game was something that everyone used to look forward to watching during All-Star Weekend. It was an exhibition game that ran from 1984 to 1993 and it featured retired players. It consisted of two teams, the East and the West. However, in 1994, the league canceled the NBA Legends Classic due to the players’ frequent injuries from the game in part to the large range in fitness levels among the younger and older alumni.
The series also ran from 1857 to 1964 and was called the NBA Old-Timers Games. The scores were predominantly low. The highest-scoring affair came in 1984 when the West defeated the East 64-63. You have to factor in that these players ranged from their 40s all the way to 70s potentially.
The Shooting Stars Competition and Rising Stars Challenge are considered the replacements, but what if the league brought this back? Imagine being a fan in 1994. At this time, Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, and Karl Malone were taking over the league. The most recently retired players were Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, and Larry Bird. You are trying to tell us that those fans wouldn’t have wanted to watch them play an exhibition against guys like Oscar Robertson and Isiah Thomas (freshly retired in 1994).
The last Legends game was played in 1993 and it featured guys like George Gervin, Artis Gilmore, Clifford Ray, Austin Carr, and Calvin Murphy. Before that guys like Robertson, Pete Maravich, Tom Heinsohn, Rick Barry, Bob Pettit, Jerry West, Dolph Shayes, and so many more players in this classic. This game needs to be brought back. It’s been almost 30 years and a lot of star players, even in their 50s, would still be highly entertaining. It would probably gain more views than the Slam Dunk Contest.
Bringing this game for this season is unlikely, but let’s pretend that the league was smart enough to bring it back on its 30th anniversary since its exodus. The rules are that the game features 10 minute quarters. It would be for fun, so the players would probably play with low intensity, except for Michael Jordan of course. The older players would be allowed to play seven minutes maximum. Younger players who are freshly retired or in their 40s could play most of the time because they are still fresh and able to play a lot of minutes.
For the 2023 Legends Game, fans would love to see Team Jordan and Team Magic play against each other. This is how that scenario would go down.
John Stockton (59), Michael Jordan (58), Larry Bird (65), Karl Malone (58), Hakeem Olajuwon (59)
The starters would feature five of the best players to ever play in the 1990s. That starts with Michael Jordan, who won six championships and led the Bulls to two three-peats. Right behind him would be Hakeem Olajuwon, the best player in the league when Jordan was out of the league for the main parts of 1994 and 1995. Along with Larry Bird, you are talking about three of the best scorers on the planet at the time.
Malone, the second-best scorer of all time, would have his running mate John Stockton handling the point guard duties. Even at 59 years old, Stockton could still run the floor with high efficiency. After 18 years of playing together, there’s no way that chemistry is just gone.
Magic Johnson (62), Dwyane Wade (40), Scottie Pippen (56), Charles Barkley (58), Shaquille O’Neal (49)
Team Magic would have the freshest NBA player in Dwyane Wade, who retired just about two years ago. Wade would bring that TNT chemistry to the starting lineup with Charles Barkley and Shaquille O’Neal, who are both longtime analysts of the show. Along with the TNT Big 3, you would have Magic Johnson run the floor, who could still probably find an open man with his eyes closed.
The key player would be Scottie Pippen. After the Last Dance and his recent book that came out, there is a lot of animosity between Pippen and Jordan. Both players were key to helping the Bulls win six titles. Now, it seems like the two don’t care for each other very much, which would bring one heckuva rivalry element.
John Stockton vs. Magic Johnson
This matchup would feature two of the best players to ever pass the ball. Stockton leads the NBA in career assists. Because of his relationship with Malone, the two developed the best pick-and-roll offense we have ever seen. Because Malone always racked up the points, Stockton always racked up the assists.
As for Johnson, he was forced to retire early after the 1991 NBA Finals. Had Johnson never retired from the league, he might have overtaken Stockton or at least pushed the needle. Johnson owns the best career average, which is slightly ahead of Stockton. Watching these two make plays in their 60s would be a spectacle.
Michael Jordan vs. Dwyane Wade
Even at the age of 58, is there anybody that believes Jordan couldn’t score 30 points right now. Just from a competitive standpoint alone, you have to believe that MJ could throw on a Charlotte Hornets jersey now and drop 20 points. It’s something that you hear from the current players in the franchise, that he still has it. Jordan hasn’t changed and would still launch the ball up 20 times.
The freshest player on the two squads would likely be tasked with guarding him. While Wade is no Kobe Bryant, this would be the closest thing to it in today’s world. Wade was just as strong as a shooting guard in his prime. You would have to think that Wade would want to shut Jordan down with Kobe looking down on us.
Larry Bird vs. Scottie Pippen
Larry Legend had a knack for making the impossible happen. At the age of 62, why couldn’t that trend continue? Bird may not be able to score against this lineup, but he could still pass. He would have plenty of options too. With his basketball IQ, as evidenced by his work as an executive and coach, he would be able to help facilitate this team to success.
As for Pippen, you would have to wonder how long he would wait until he would tell Wade to give him Jordan as a defensive assignment. This would be a game all for fun, but you can’t stop personal feelings. Pippen would probably go hard and try to hold Jordan to zero points.
Karl Malone vs. Charles Barkley
Malone looks fantastic for his age. He is outside all the time. He appears to still work out and stay in shape. While it may not be the production from 25 years ago, he could be a contender for MVP if this game happened. Malone would get double digits in this contest.
As for Barkley, he wouldn’t have to worry about playing in the small era because nothing about this team is small. With Barkley and Shaquille O’Neal, the team would feature their version of the Twin Towers. Barkley would have a tough time on defense having to guard Malone, who appears to be in much better shape.
Hakeem Olajuwon vs. Shaquille O’Neal
Speaking of great shape, both centers look like they are staying physically active. Olajuwon helps the Houston Rockets to train players. You would have to think that he is getting some training time with the players on his own. Just by doing that, that will keep you young and in the right mindset. As if Olajuwon needed help with anything basketball-related.
O’Neal had to take on a healthier lifestyle. When the pandemic hit its peak, his weight grew to 415 pounds. Since then, he has shed over 50 pounds and is much healthier. When all the players like Joe Johnson were coming out of retirement, there was some joking around about him coming out too at 49 years old. This would be a true test to see if he could have.
Gary Payton (53), Reggie Miller (56), Vince Carter (45), Dennis Rodman (60), Kevin Garnett (45), Julius Erving (71), Patrick Ewing (59)
The bench would feature some special names. For starters, Garnett could probably play the game right now if he wanted. He remains just an all-around athlete. If anything, you would want him on the floor for the trash talk. Throw Rodman on the floor with him and Team Magic wouldn’t have any ability to respond to any type of chirping. The toughness would be off the chart.
As for Carter, it would help to have Wade have a fairly fresh NBA player help him out. In regards to basketball IQ, you would have longtime TNT analyst Miller, as well as two college basketball coaches in Payton and Ewing. There could be times that Ewing could match with Shaq or Barkley, while Miller probably could still hit a three. Rounding out the roster is Erving, who would be regarded as the wisest player on the roster.
Ray Allen (46), Dominique Wilkins (62), James Worthy (60), Dirk Nowitzki (43), Tim Duncan (45), Clyde Drexler (59), David Robinson (56)
As for Team Magic, the team would be younger and more athletic. Based on your interpretation of that, the team would have three 40-year olds at least. Having Nowitzki, Duncan, and Allen with Wade on the floor would give the team potentially the most athletic team on the floor at times. If the team needed size, they would have Shaq, but also Robinson and Wilkens to sub as needed.
The two question marks would be Worthy and Drexler. Could Worthy give the team an outside shot or two? Could Drexler be a prime backup guard for Johnson and keep running the offense? These would be some serious questions but could come with a high ceiling.
Team Jordan Advantages
The star power is advantageous. For starters, you have Jordan, potentially the best scorer in the league’s history paired with the actual second-best scorer in league history. The combination of Jordan and Malone would be hard to stop even with both players in their late 50s. Stockton is already leveled up as the better guard with both of them by his side.
Having Olajuwon would be a great help too. He seems to be in a place where he can still move at a decent pace. Subbing Garnett or Rodman would be light and day. Olajuwon would let his play do the talking, while Garnett and Rodman would be experts at trying to get into their opponent’s heads.
Team Magic Advantages
The biggest advantage would be that the team could play four of their starting five with players in their 40s. Given that most of Team Jordan is in the upper tier of their 50s or their 60s, that would make a huge difference. Wade could still probably contribute in a low role in the league now. Carter was contributing in the NBA as late as two years ago. Duncan might be 45 years old, but he also looks like he could hit the gym for two weeks and be back in shape.
The size advantage will certainly help. Shaq remains the biggest and strongest player on the floor. Playing with Barkley would force Team Jordan to shoot and we just don’t know if these guys’ knees can hang onto that for an entire 40-minute game.
Who Would Win This Game?
The atmosphere of the crowd would make this feel like a game from 30 years ago when everyone was in their primes or late careers. These were players that everyone idolized back then. Some of them are players that current players idolize today. It would get the adrenaline going for a lot of people, so the tip-off would be a loud, raucous crowd.
Team Jordan would start hot by going back to the basics. The pick and roll offense from Stockton and Malone back in the day would set up their first basket. Team Jordan would run their starters for five minutes before subbing everyone but Jordan because he wouldn’t want to come out. The team would take advantage of a few early shots to take an early lead.
Team Magic would storm back by winning the first quarter by leading 9-6. Shaq and Barkley would score seven of the team’s nine points, while Jordan would make four of theirs. In the second quarter, the first three-pointer falls from Miller and the crowd goes wild from the vintage shot. Both teams would go back and forth and it would be a close 28-28 game at halftime.
In the third quarter, Team Magic tries to implement a lineup with Wade, Carter, Nowitzki, and Duncan. The team would not be able to take advantage as Team Jordan would bear down and show them that the older players could still teach the younger generation a thing or two. The two teams would be deadlocked again after the third quarter with a score of 38-38.
In the end, the defense would prevail. Payton would look to his team and give them three solid minutes of hustling defense before needing a break. Rodman would block out Shaq once and get an over the back call, talk a little bit of trash, and then need to be separated. Even in the fun, Rodman would not back down from a challenge. Team Jordan would take advantage and Jordan would lead his scoring run.
A 6-0 run from Jordan gives the team a 48-40 lead in the final minutes. Team Magic would be able to muster just one more field goal, while free throws from Jordan and Stockton would ice the game. In the end, it would be a legendary game with a legendary player receiving the first-ever Legends Classic Finals MVP.
Final Result: Team Jordan vs. Team Magic 48-42
Finals MVP: Michael Jordan