Some of you ESPN addicted, 24/7 twitter addicts like myself probably heard that Michael Jordan, when hyping the new NBA 2k14 game, announced who his Top 5 Pickup Squad would be. Without really much hesitation at all Jordan selected: Magic, Worthy, Pippen, and the Dream (Hakeem Olajuwon). Jordan, who’s the most competitive and spiteful competitor this planet has probably ever known, is notoriously biased against all players from today’s era and against many of the players from his own era. There are even stories (many of which are verified) about how he hated Isaiah Thomas so much that he froze him out of the 1992 original NBA Olympic Dream Team. With that being said, his bias and competitiveness seems to have gotten the best of him again. Fact of the matter he got 3 of the 5 right, but the other two are HIGHLY questionable picks. Here is what should have been the greatest pickup 5 ever assembled:
PG: Magic Johnson 6’9″ 235lbs
Magic, who for the record did make Jordan’s list, is one of the most versatile gaurds we’ve ever seen hit the floor. We all know how Magic led the showtime Lakers with his ridiculous dimes on the fast break, but for our younger fans, at 6’9″, he could also play all 5 positions. In Game 6 of the 1980 NBA Finals, he played center and dropped 42 pts 15 reb and 7 ast. While Magic wasn’t a 3pt threat (a career 30% 3 pt shooter), his ability to create for others and score when necessary (career averages of 20 pts and 11 ast) were unparalleled. His one weakness, Magic was not a great defender, is still better than the majority of other potential players at this position. Plus his size meant on D, he could easily switch on the pick and roll, and handle a big man down in the post if he got caught on a pin down.
Other choices: Chris Paul, Oscar Robertson, John Stockton, Isaiah Thomas
SG: Michael Jordan 6’6″ 225 lbs
The G.O.A.T., listen there really is no other choice for this spot. Jordan’s ’88-’89 season (32.5 pts, 8 ast, 8 reb) is the pinnacle of performance for all SG’s in the modern era. Jordan was ahead of his time with his athleticism, he could get to the basket and finish against anyone. Not only that, but he was one of the most tenacious end-to-end defenders we’ve ever seen. Jordan simply did not want to lose or get beat at anything, anytime, anywhere. This is a man who bribed luggage carriers at the airport to make sure his bags came out first, so he could win a bet with teammates?! He’s psycho, you add the to his natural gifts and there is just no one better to start your team with. Additionally, by the time Jordan was 28-29, he had developed one of the most deadly post games, with a host of up-and-unders, fade-aways, and spin moves you’d have thought he went to the Kevin McHale skills academy. His one weakness, 3 pt shooting (unless the game was on the line), is something of a theme I’m starting to highlight.
Other choices: Kobe Bryant,
SF: Larry Bird 6’8″ 220lbs
If Michael Jordan was the most competitive players ever, then Larry Bird was number 2. This guy was out for blood when he was on the court, and he had the skills to kill cats at every facet. His career stats of 25 pts, 10 rebs, and 6 asts, don’t accurately tell the whole story because he spent the last 5 years of his career battling a horrendous back problem. However the basketball Jesus could do it all, he could shoot inside and out, he was able to run the break better than people remember, and his court vision was rivaled only by his number 1 rival our PG Magic Johnson. During his peak, Larry shot better than 42% from 3pt which is something this team really needs to help spread the floor. And with the game on the line, you can say you want Jordan, but Larry was no slouch either as is made clear in this ESPN Classic story time with Xavier McDaniel.
Other Choices: Charles Barkley, Kevin Durant
PF: Lebron James 6’9 265lbs
We may have Lebron playing a little bit out of position, but in pick up basketball it’s all about versatility and what can you do out in transition. Lebron, ever since the playoffs in 2012, has developed the type of low post game that means he can bang down on the block with the big boys, but he still has the athleticism and face-up game to rotate up to the top of the key or break ankles and go baseline. His unselfishness and natural playmaking ability will blend so well with a shooter like Bird or a slasher/ball handler like Jordan. Not only that, but in transition they would be absolutely unstoppable. Jordan and ‘Bron on the wings with Magic running the break…. UNSTOPPABLE. Some people may prefer a Tim Duncan call at this position, and while no one can argue his resume, I’d prefer a bit more athleticism on this particular squad.
Other Choices: Tim Duncan, Kevin McHale, Bill Walton
C: Hakeem Olajuwon 7′ 275lbs
Most of us are too young to really understand how dominant Hakeem was, and unfortunately the C position is not one that gets major love on youtube. The post game, while not as high-flying and dynamic as the wing game, is one of precision and footwork, and ambidexterity. There is a reason that EVERY player who wants to work on his post game, from Duncan to Shaq to Kobe to Lebron, go spend a summer with The Dream to learn how to operate on the block. Hakeem was so smooth, he could drop step, hook the elbow and spin, and play high over both shoulders. Hakeem had real size, and even though his weight (around 275 lbs) is rather lean when compared to a monster like Shaq, Hakeem’s footwork and use of both hands would absolutely drive a bigger guy insane (as evident by the way The Dream absolutely destroyed Ewing head-to-head throughout their careers).
Other Choices: Shaq, Kareem,
The reason this IS the team, is because of it’s all-around ability and the matchup problems it causes. When you’re playing pick-up basketball you want to be able to stay on the court for hours, and that means beating all kinds of different types of teams. This team is a match-up nightmare for any combination. All 5 guys can play multiple positions at an elite level on both sides of the court. They can get out and run in transition, or slow it down in a variety of half-court styles. Smaller speedy teams wouldn’t have much of an advantage because Jordan, Lebron, and Hakeem are fast and lockdown defenders, then on offense they’d have no chance stopping the ball against all 5 guys who can post you up. A bigger team with two guys like Shaq and Duncan might, and I emphasize might, cause this squad it’s biggest problem because they’d be undersized at 2 positions (C and PF). However, Lebron’s strength should be able to at least hold Timmy in check, and offensively TD couldn’t do anything to guard LJ if he brings him outside the paint.
The reason that I replaced Worthy and Pippen with Lebron and Bird are for exactly these matchup reasons. Worthy is a great player, but simply was not the shooter that Bird was in his prime. This team needs at least one guy who’s a threat from 20ft and out on every possession to keep the floor spread so other players can get into the paint. And the Lebron for Pippen exchange is the biggest no-doubter EVER. Lebron can do everything Pippen can do, but BETTER, not to mention add a few things into the mix that Pippen simply could never do. Pippen was a great player, seriously one of the most under appreciated of the past 40 years, but he simply at no point is even close to Lebron.
For all you guys who want to talk about Wilt, Russell, or Kareem, here is the sad fact – they could not play against these players. They were generationally amazing and elite, but just could not handle the skills and size advancements of the new era basketball player. If there was one player of the 3 who might deserve a spot on the floor that was Russell. He was an absolute beast, who could box out, rebound, and bring enough offensively to be a threat in the post. However, you’re kidding yourself if you think Russell playing center could consistently handle Hakeem or Shaq. And for the record I LOVE Russell. It’s the same as acknowledging that Jim Brown just would not run over every single linebacker in the league in 2014 the way he did in 1964. It’s not a knock on their game, it’s just a generational truth.