Former Heat player Alonzo Mourning was speaking to group of people at the opening of a Microsoft store in Miami when he was asked to comment on the endlessly spinning LeBron James versus Michael Jordan debate. Instead of taking a pass — probably the smartest move he could have made — Mourning said:
“You know, Scottie Pippen and I, we were just at Michael’s 50th birthday party, hanging out for a week, and we were talking. I’m going to tell you what Scottie said. I’m going to tell you what Scottie said. Scottie said that LeBron would’ve kicked MJ’s ass.”
After the expected cheering and applause, Mourning continued:
“I said, I said ‘Scottie, you’re right.’”
Following the laughter elicited by that comment, Mourning provided a little clarification:
“I said, ‘but because LeBron is my size.’ I mean, he’s 265, so when he’s playing point guard, it’s like a freight train coming. I couldn’t imagine doing the things he’s doing at my size.”
Nothing groundbreaking here. This is the standard response by people in the Pro-LeBron camp of this particular debate. Size and strength would be LeBron’s primary advantage in this theoretical one-on-one battle. But it’s all theoretical and not really worth digging into too deeply, even if people will never be able to stop taking about it.
Hey, I was a kid once, so I know action figure battles are crazy fun. When you have the toys, you want to see Hulk versus Superman. Snake Eyes versus Storm Shadow. Optimus Prime versus Megatron.
Past that, you sort of expect Mourning — who is considered one of the great players in Miami Heat history — to side with LeBron. That said, it was a little surprising that dragged Pippen into it, given that this was probably a private comment Scottie never intended to see in print. He’ll see it now.
“Michael Jordan is probably the greatest scorer to play the game. But I may go as far as to say LeBron James may be the greatest player to ever play the game because he is so potent offensively that not only can he score at will but he keeps everybody involved. You have to be on your P’s and Q’s on defense. No guy on the basketball court is a threat to score with LeBron James out there. Not only will LeBron dominate from the offensive end as well, but he’s also doing it on the defensive end, which really makes him the complete package. He’s able to get in those passing lanes, shoot those gaps and create transition opportunities where he is pretty much unstoppable.”
Naturally, the Pro-Jordan camp exploded at this seeming betrayal, and even former Bulls player Horace Grant (and good friend of Pippen) spoke up:
“Pip is my man, and we will always be close but I totally disagree. LeBron is going to be one of the top players to ever play the game. But Michael Jeffrey Jordan, who we bumped heads with at times, is I think in my era, the best who ever played the game. I’m kind of at a loss for words because Michael Jordan … when you win numerous MVPs and you’ve taken the team to six championships — and probably could have been eight if he didn’t retire those two years — and MVPs in the playoffs … and he made us better. Believe me, he made myself, Scottie, B.J. [Armstrong], even Bill Cartwright who I love, he made us better players. He gave us that confidence. But first we had to earn his trust. And once we earned his trust you saw championship after championship.”
Things got ugly enough that Pippen eventually defended himself with the following tweets:
“For all of you that don’t know, I played the game you keep watching and cheering.”
“Don’t get me wrong, MJ was and is the greatest. But LeBron could by all means get to his level someday.”
None of what any of these men said is all that unreasonable. People have opinions and they’re free to express them. Personally, I think these “versus” debates do a disservice to NBA history and the players themselves, but they’re always fun talking points…even if in the end none of it really means anything.
But MJ was the best.