Bleacher Report's Ultimate 1-on-1 NBA Tournament of the Ages
How often does a sports event that would make you want to empty your entire bank account for tickets come around?
Bleacher Report's ultimate one-on-one NBA tournament of the ages would be one such event.
Quite frankly, I'd be willing to empty my bank, write an IOU for whatever money I make over the next 10 years and promise to give up my firstborn child if that's what it took to get front-row seats. I may even do so just for the ability to watch this event unfold on television.
That's what tends to happen when you take 128 of the great one-on-one players in NBA history and throw them together into a single-elimination tournament.
Who doesn't want to see Michael Jordan play someone like LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Larry Bird, Hakeem Olajuwon or Oscar Robertson? Would anyone turn down a chance to see Wilt Chamberlain play one of the modern-day greats?
Maybe those matchups happen, maybe they don't.
I won't spoil it for you yet.
This tournament was set up with four regions and 32 players to a region. Point guards got one, shooting guards got one, centers got one and small forwards and power forwards were combined into a single region. From there, the bracket was formatted so that the Final Four would be a battle of guards and a contest between frontcourt players.
The players included in each region were determined by selecting the best players at the position in NBA history and then throwing in at least a few of the current standouts to give the tournament a more modern feel. They were seeded by myself and Marvin Barge, a good friend of mine, but the seedings themselves weren't done in scientific fashion.
We wanted some upsets after all.
B/R's NBA writers and editors were asked to vote on every matchup, and you can see the voting disparity represented by the final scores of each game. This was a purely democratic process.
So, what about the games themselves?
Standard one-on-one rules apply. He who makes it takes it, fouls are called by the players, shots are worth either two or one points, first to 21 wins (must win by two), etc. Oh, and all players are squarely in the middle of their primes.
Now, let's get to these juicy matchups.
1st-Round Point Guards
No. 1 Oscar Robertson (21) defeats No. 32 Ricky Rubio (1)
Ricky Rubio may be one heck of a passer, but he's not capable of matching up against Oscar Robertson, the true master of the triple-double. The Big O has a complete advantage in the size department, and his dazzling display of dribbling moves ensures that the Spanish Sensation can't stop him.
Of course, it helps that Rubio is awful at creating offense for himself.
No. 2 Magic Johnson (21) defeats No. 31 Jason Williams (0)
We get another lopsided matchup here between a flashy floor general and a big point guard who would have his way with the opponent on both ends of the court.
Unless Jason Williams can elbow-pass the ball into the basket (he can't), he's going to fall victim to a lot of post-ups as Magic Johnson slowly fights his way to a shutout.
No. 3 Isiah Thomas (21) defeats No. 30 Damian Lillard (4)
Perhaps this would be closer once Damian Lillard has had a few more years of NBA experience, but for now, the veteran savvy and defensive excellence of Isiah Thomas makes it a blowout.
Not only is Zeke an elite offensive point guard who needs just one ankle to dominate, but he's also an excellent defender. The same can't be said about the second-year member of the Portland Trail Blazers, who struggled to prevent points throughout his rookie season.
No. 4 Chris Paul (21) defeats No. 29 Jrue Holiday (2)
Jrue Holiday was a first-time All-Star in 2013, but he still fell well shy of the current class at the point guard position.
Chris Paul wins this one going away, as he was essentially made to play one-on-one against other floor generals. Unless he runs into a matchup that takes advantage of his height deficiencies, CP3 can get to any spot he wants and has the shut-down abilities necessary to present his opponent from doing the same.
No. 5 Russell Westbrook (21) defeats No. 28 John Stockton (13)
John Stockton may be a Hall of Famer, but that doesn't help him in this matchup.
The Utah Jazz great doesn't get to pass the ball in a one-on-one game, and he doesn't have nearly enough athleticism to stay with Russell Westbrook, no matter how many dirty elbows he might throw in the process.
No. 6 Derrick Rose (21) defeats No. 27 Dennis Johnson (2)
As much as I love Dennis Johnson, he was never really a No. 1 option like Derrick Rose. And while Johnson was a great defender, it's different when he has to go mano-a-mano against one of the most explosive point guards of all time.
D-Rose, especially with two fully functioning ACLs, would inevitably spend a lot of time throwing down massive slam dunks, as he just brutalizes his older counterpart.
No. 7 Gary Payton (21) defeats No. 26 Bob Cousy (6)
Gary Payton's game was made for one-on-one battles. Bob Cousy's was not.
While The Glove was a sensational defender and a surprisingly adept scorer when he set his mind to it, Cooz's moniker was "The Houdini of the Hardwood." That was because of his creative, ahead-of-his time passing skills, which won't help him in this lopsided matchup.
No. 8 Tony Parker (21) defeats No. 25 Steve Nash (18)
In the second-closest point guard matchup of the first round, Tony Parker narrowly edges out Steve Nash.
In his prime, Nash wasn't just the best distributor in the league. He could also light up the scoreboard with an array of jumpers, runners and floaters, all of which Parker now has at his disposal. But it's defense that gets the job done here.
At the end of the game, Parker can get stops. Nash can't.
No. 9 Pete Maravich (21) defeats No. 24 Nate Robinson (5)
For all of Nate Robinson's explosive feats of athleticism and signature jumpers that involve him rising far higher than humanly possible before releasing the rock, he still can't hang with "Pistol" Pete Maravich's creativity.
At the end of this game, I fully expect Nate's head to be spinning. He won't understand the types of moves that Maravich is using against him.
No. 10 Jason Kidd (21) defeats No. 23 Brandon Jennings (11)
Let's not forget just how good Jason Kidd was in his prime, long before he took on lesser roles toward the end of his playing career.
He was a living, breathing triple-double who could lock down even the best perimeter scorers in the Association. Remember, this is a nine-time member of the NBA All-Defensive team.
No. 22 Stephen Curry (21) upsets No. 11 Tim Hardaway (11)
There are few moves that can trump Tim Hardaway's infamous "UTEP two-step."
Stephen Curry's shooting stroke, however, is one of them, as he provides us with the first upset of the tournament in rather definitive fashion. The Golden State Warriors sharpshooter doesn't always rely on other players, but rather creates his own looks from downtown with remarkable frequency.
Curry also becomes the lowest seed to advance to the next round, regardless of position.
No. 12 Kyrie Irving (21) defeats No. 21 Rajon Rondo (8)
Talk about a stark contrast in playing styles.
Kyrie Irving's handles and scoring talents are virtually unmatched at point guard, while Rajon Rondo is a passing and defensive specialist. In one-on-one, it's usually better to be able to score, which Rondo struggles with on occasion.
I'd expect this to be closer than 21-8. While I currently have Rondo ahead of Irving in my player rankings, it's the young gun who still gets the victory in my book.
No. 13 Tiny Archibald (21) defeats No. 20 Fat Lever (3)
Fat Lever's name and proclivity for acrobatic plays in the air won't help him out too much here.
Tiny Archibald still possesses too much scoring talent, and his remarkable quickness ultimately makes him too tough to stay in front of on the court.
No. 19 Stephon Marbury (21) upsets No. 14 Kevin Johnson (19)
This was the closest matchup between any two point guards in the first round, and for good reason.
Kevin Johnson—in my opinion—is one of the most underrated players of all time, but he still can't match the offensive firepower that Stephon Marbury brought in his prime. Before the final years of his career tainted the perception of Starbury, he was a completely dominant scorer who could hit from any area of the court.
This match would be over almost immediately after it started. There just wouldn't be much defense played.
John Wall's blazing speed and ability to get to the rim help him out, but he's ultimately worn down by Deron Williams' excessive size, brutalizing crossover and ability to score out of the post. Still, this would be one heck of an intriguing first-round matchup.
No. 16 Earl Monroe (21) defeats No. 17 Walt Frazier (17)
New York Knicks fans, I apologize. I didn't mean to make you salivate so much that you ruin your keyboard.
I have to admit that this result surprises me and that my vote was easily in favor of Walt Frazier, but it's Earl "The Pearl" Monroe who advances to the next round. For all the style Clyde had off the court, he just has a little too much trouble stopping the on-court flair of his slightly smaller counterpart.
1st-Round Shooting Guards
No. 1 Michael Jordan (21) defeats No. 32 Jimmy Butler (0)
Everyone loves Jimmy Butler right now, but against Michael Jordan?
I have two words: C'mon man.
No. 2 Kobe Bryant (21) defeats No. 31 Eric Gordon (0)
It doesn't matter how good Eric Gordon is at mixing three-pointers with assaults on the rim, he isn't going to beat Kobe Bryant.
Absolutely no one should be surprised that the Mamba is advancing through the first round without giving up a single point.
No. 3 Allen Iverson (21) defeats No. 30 J.R. Smith (1)
Doesn't it just seem like Allen Iverson was made for one-on-one domination?
In this shot-happy contest with J.R. Smith, Iverson's extra speed and determination help him advance with ease. He might give up size to Smith, but he won't be giving up very many points.
No. 4 George Gervin (21) defeats No. 29 Jason Terry (0)
Get ready to see plenty of finger-rolls as George Gervin rolls over Jason Terry, 21-0, in the first round of the shooting guard bracket.
While Jet can drill a few three-pointers to keep things close, he won't have the ability to do so unless he gets the ball first. One miss would absolutely doom him, as he doesn't possess the size or the athletic ability necessary to corral The Iceman's scoring prowess.
No. 5 Dwyane Wade (21) defeats No. 28 Latrell Sprewell (2)
Remember, we're talking about players in their prime here.
As good as Latrell Sprewell was before he went nuts in P.J. Carlesimo's all-too-close vicinity, Dwyane Wade was just that much better. Not only is Flash one of the best slashing shooting guards in NBA history, with an abundance of offensive talent, but he's an All-Defensive mainstay who would add to his incredible shot-blocking totals in this match with the man who once said he couldn't feed his family.
No. 6 Jerry West (21) defeats No. 27 Joe Johnson (7)
That's right. We aren't going to let recency bias stand in the way of one of the all-time greats.
It's easy to forget about just how dominant Jerry West was during his prime, and the devastation he could inflict with a three-point arc at his disposal was absolutely terrifying. In this game against the overmatched Joe Johnson, I'm fully expecting West to make 10 shots from downtown and then finish things off with a pump fake and a layup.
No. 7 Tracy McGrady (21) defeats No. 26 Jerry Stackhouse (1)
Personally, I'd expect this to be a bit closer because it's not like we're dealing with the decrepit, washed-up version of Jerry Stackhouse. But still, Tracy McGrady wins this one going away.
During the early-to-mid 2000s, there was a legitimate debate about whether T-Mac or Kobe Bryant was the best player in basketball. Given the opportunity to play like he's in his prime once more, McGrady will prove why there was actually a discussion.
No. 8 James Harden (21) defeats No. 25 Jamal Crawford (10)
This would undoubtedly be one of the most entertaining first-round matchups between shooting guards.
Between Jamal Crawford's ridiculous handles and James Harden's left-handed offensive abilities, you wouldn't be able to blink. If you did, you'd surely miss a shake-and-bake or an all-out assault on the rim that finished with a thunderous slam dunk.
Err...should I say "Rocketous" now?
No. 9 David Thompson (21) defeats No. 24 Sidney Moncrief (6)
We're going old-school for the battle between the No. 9 and No. 24 seeds. And, boy, is it a nice contrast in style.
Sidney Moncrief was a defensive legend for the Milwaukee Bucks, and one of the few guards who has ever managed to win Defensive Player of the Year. That won't help him out much against David Thompson, who gets to prove to a modern audience exactly why he was called "Skywalker."
Expect a lot more dunks in this one.
No. 10 Penny Hardaway (21) defeats No. 23 Marques Johnson (1)
Unless Penny Hardaway gets injured in the middle of the game, this is his contest to win with a relative amount of ease. Marques Johnson may have been an All-Star back in his day, but he still isn't even remotely prepared to contend with Hardaway in a one-on-one setting.
Penny would grab every loose ball, secure every rebound and absolutely brutalize Johnson with his quickness and superior athletic ability.
Then he'd hit the ice bath.
No. 11 Vince Carter (21) defeats No. 22 Joe Dumars (5)
As long as Vince Carter was properly motivated, he'd be able to win against Joe Dumars without too much difficulty. While the former Detroit Piston was a great defender and an incredible scorer, he just couldn't hang with the superior athlete.
So, as it always is, it's a question of motivation for "Vinsanity." And what could motivate him more than the opportunity to produce SportsCenter-worthy highlights during a one-on-one tournament?
No. 12 Manu Ginobili (21) defeats No. 21 Mitch Richmond (14)
Believe it or not, this is the closest matchup in the first round of this section of the bracket. Shooting guards just don't have much parity when there are 32 of them left.
While Mitch Richmond would give his Argentine counterpart a serious run for his money, it's all about that Eurostep here. Ginobili's creativity with the ball in his hands bodes well not only for his first-round chances, but also for his ability to pull off another victory in the next round, depending on the matchup.
No. 13 Andre Iguodala (21) defeats No. 20 Monta Ellis (13)
Monta Ellis can score the ball well enough to stay in this one-on-one matchup, but he'll eventually be locked down by Andre Iguodala.
The difference here is that Iggy plays sensational defense and can still create for himself on the more glamorous end of the court. Ellis is very much a one-way player, and that doesn't help him out in this fictional tournament.
No. 14 Clyde Drexler (21) defeats No. 19 Brandon Roy (7)
Avert your eyes, Portland Trail Blazers fans. We know that you don't want to see either one of these shooting guards lose.
Brandon Roy was one hell of a scorer before his knees ended his career prematurely, but he was never on the same level as Clyde Drexler. The Glide is viewed as an all-time great, and he'd have his way with Roy.
No. 18 Reggie Miller (21) upsets No. 15 Rick Barry (13)
Leave it to Reggie Miller to provide the shooting guard bracket with the lone upset of the first round.
With his surprisingly effective defense and legendary stroke from the outside, Miller just tortures Rick Barry until the throwback 2-guard starts shooting his jumpers underhanded and getting them rejected with alarming frequency.
Still no word on whether Miller will close the proceedings with a choking sign or not, though.
No. 16 Ray Allen (21) defeats No. 17 Sam Jones (6)
This is a matchup I think would be much closer. In fact, I even voted for Sam Jones, who doesn't seem to get enough historical recognition since he was the second fiddle on Bill Russell's Boston Celtics.
But here's the difference.
Jones' mid-range bank-shots are worth one point. Ray Allen's perimeter jumpers are worth two.
No. 1 LeBron James (21) defeats No. 32 Larry Johnson (0)
Well, right off the bat, you can tell that the forward bracket is ridiculous stacked. Thanks to combining small forwards and power forwards into one quarter of the field, Larry Johnson is all the way down as a No. 32 seed.
And that means he gets to run into the battering ram that is LeBron James. Good luck with that.
No. 2 Larry Bird (21) defeats No. 31 Blake Griffin (2)
Larry Bird isn't going to take it easy on anyone in this field, even Blake Griffin. While the young big man from the Los Angeles Clippers might free himself for two easy dunks, he still can't hang with Larry Legend.
How exactly is he going to guard Bird? The Boston Celtics superstar is one of the savviest players in NBA history, and he's going to score against Blake without breaking a sweat.
No. 3 Kevin Durant (21) defeats No. 30 Paul George (2)
A few years from now, Paul George will be earning a higher seed, thereby giving himself an easier first-round matchup. But for now, he runs into the unstoppable force that is Kevin Durant.
There are only a handful of players in NBA history who could hope to beat Durant in a one-on-one setting. George, despite the defensive prowess he showed throughout his breakout season, is not yet one of them.
No. 4 Tim Duncan (21) defeats No. 29 Shawn Kemp (5)
The difference here is that Tim Duncan can create his own shots.
While Shawn Kemp is a sensational athlete, it's not like he can just throw up alley-oop passes to himself. Even if he manages to find a loophole in the rulebook, Duncan would just swat away half of the attempts.
The Big Fundamental advances in rather definitive fashion.
No. 5 Scottie Pippen (21) defeats No. 28 Glenn Robinson (1)
Scottie Pippen is one of the greatest defenders in NBA history, and he'll prove that by holding Glenn Robinson to just a single point.
This would be a slow, gritty game that lasts as long as any other first-round matchup, but it's Pippen's lock-down abilities that eventually prove he's the big dog in this game.
No. 6 Carmelo Anthony (21) defeats No. 27 Adrian Dantley (3)
Adrian Dantley could score the ball from anywhere on the court, but he generally relied on his lanky arms and his ability to function in the post when he wanted to take things to the next level. Against a bigger, more physical forward, it'll be awfully tough for him to even get there.
Additionally, Carmelo Anthony is just a more well-rounded scorer. He can actually get to the post and score from there, but he also has a remarkable ability to drain contested jumpers.
'Melo shouldn't lose unless he runs into a quicker opponent with great defensive skills.
Isn't David West just a poor man's version of Kevin Garnett?
Both players are great at draining mid-range jumpers and facilitating for their teammates. Both thrive on the defensive end and intimidate opponents with their tough, physical play.
KG is just better.
No. 8 Charles Barkley (21) defeats No. 25 Rudy Gay (3)
This would be one of the more fun first-round matchups between the forwards, as there's a nice contrast between Rudy Gay's obvious athleticism and the sneaky physical attributes that Charles Barkley possesses.
But at the end of the day, Chuck is a more skilled and physical player who isn't as prone to throwing up ill-advised jumpers. Gay's shot selection will come back to haunt him after this early exit.
No. 9 Dirk Nowitzki (21) defeats No. 24 James Worthy (7)
Unless James Worthy somehow convinces himself that he's playing Game 7 of the NBA Finals, he isn't going to stand a chance against Dirk Nowitzki.
How exactly does he plan on stopping the one-legged flamingo fadeaway? I'll give you a hint: He doesn't.
No. 10 John Havlicek (21) defeats No. 23 Amar'e Stoudemire (16)
It's unfortunate that the combined nature of the forwards pool has to give us matchups like this, but c'est la vie.
John Havlicek's versatility gives him the advantage here, as there's no aspect of basketball that gave Hondo too much trouble. Amar'e Stoudemire struggles without anyone creating easy opportunities for him at the rim, and he simply isn't quick enough to stay in front of the former Boston Celtics standout.
No. 11 Dominique Wilkins (21) defeats No. 22 Josh Smith (5)
This matchup should just leave Atlanta Hawks fans drooling.
The athleticism is off the charts when Dominique Wilkins and Josh Smith play, but I'll take the established superstar over the stat-stuffing machine any day of the week. Except Tuesday. Maybe.
'Nique is a man who was born to score the basketball, and his decision-making should push him over the top in a battle that is sure to fill up the seats.
No. 12 Julius Erving (21) defeats No. 21 Pau Gasol (0)
Dr. J is in the building. That means that Pau Gasol is soon leaving the building.
A prime Julius Erving is an unstoppable offensive deity, and Pau Gasol has never been known for his one-on-one prowess. Gasol might stand a chance due to his excessive size, but things like his passing ability and cerebral team play aren't going to help him against Erving.
No. 20 Grant Hill (21) upsets No. 13 Bernard King (18)
Believe it or not, this is only the third-closest matchup on this slide. Two closer ones will be revealed below.
While Bernard King is one of the NBA's great scorers, he doesn't have the all-around game that Grant Hill possessed in his prime. Hill's defense in particular helps him gain a slight edge, although even he will have trouble slowing down the man who once made Madison Square Garden his own personal playground.
No. 14 Kevin McHale (22) defeats No. 19 Chris Webber (20)
We need some extra time to decide this matchup, as Kevin McHale narrowly edges out Chris Webber for the right to advance into the second round of our massive tournament.
Webber's athleticism and scoring ability serve him well, but it's still impossible for him to stop McHale in the post on a consistent basis. Only Hakeem Olajuwon has ever been in the same zone with his back to the basket, and McHale proves that as he squeezes out the first-round victory.
No. 18 Karl Malone (21) upsets No. 15 Alex English (8)
Now here's another contrast in styles.
Would you rather have the scoring prowess of Alex English, with those lanky arms and high release, or the physical play and defensive abilities of Karl Malone? Our voting panel went with The Mailman in rather definitive fashion, but my own vote went in English's favor.
No. 17 Elgin Baylor (21) upsets No. 16 Paul Pierce (19)
It's old school vs. new school in this battle between Elgin Baylor and Paul Pierce, although I suppose you could argue that Pierce plays an old-school style of basketball.
The truth of the matter is that Elgin Baylor is able to squeeze out a tough game, thanks to what must have been an off night from Pierce. Pierce's defense and jumper are usually on point, but Baylor had a way of breaking opponents, and it's not like this game is being played for an NBA title or anything.
No. 1 Wilt Chamberlain (21) defeats No. 32 Mark Eaton (0)
Someone had to be the sacrificial lamb.
No. 2 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (21) defeats No. 31 Ben Wallace (0)
Ben Wallace was so good at defense in his prime that he may be able to stop a few of the inevitable sky-hooks from falling through the bottom of the net, but how exactly is he supposed to score against Kareem Abdul-Jabbar?
No. 3 Hakeem Olajuwon (21) defeats No. 30 Dikembe Mutombo (0)
See the description for the Kareem-Wallace matchup, then replace the names and change "sky-hooks" to "shots following post moves."
No. 4 Shaquille O'Neal (21) defeats No. 29 Bill Laimbeer (0)
Now that Shaquille O'Neal has eliminated the center everyone loved to hate from the field, let's look back at the top four seeds in the center bracket. Not a single one of them allowed a point.
If I had to guess, I'd say that this is the matchup most likely to produce a made shot for the underdog, but it's still just a pipe dream for Bill Laimbeer.
No. 5 Bill Russell (21) defeats No. 28 DeMarcus Cousins (6)
As great as Bill Russell was at defense, he's still going to concede a few points because he's physically outmatched by DeMarcus Cousins.
Boogie has the physical advantage and should be able to get into the paint for a few easy scores, but he's not going to be able to keep that up throughout the whole race to 21. At some point, he may even draw a technical foul.
No. 6 Bob McAdoo (21) defeats No. 27 Robert Parish (12)
It's a battle of defense vs. offense here, and offense reigns supreme.
While Robert Parish was one hell of a rim-protector, Bob McAdoo doesn't need to get to the hoop to score. And without the protection provided to him by Larry Bird and Kevin McHale when he was on the Boston Celtics, Parish is left in a hole that he can't dig himself out of.
Parish was made to dominate in five-on-five, but one-on-one is different.
This game would take forever. We'd see more blocked shots than points before Dwight Howard puts all of us out of our misery, unless defense is your thing.
Then you'd surely enjoy watching this all-out battle.
No. 8 Bill Walton (21) defeats No. 25 Al Jefferson (6)
Al Jefferson's inability to prevent points comes back to bite him here.
While the newest member of the Charlotte Bobcats is a dominant player when he can set up on the left block and go to work, it's not easy to beat Bill Walton when you're basically hemorrhaging points. Unfortunately for Big Al, that's exactly what would end up happening.
No. 9 Patrick Ewing (21) defeats No. 24 Wes Unseld (2)
Wes Unseld's greatness stems primarily from the fact that he was a sensational rebounder.
That won't help him if he can't get Patrick Ewing to miss shots.
No. 10 David Robinson (21) defeats No. 23 Walt Bellamy (0)
Personally, I think David Robinson was one of the most underrated players in NBA history, as his legacy never had a chance to resonate because Tim Duncan ensured that there wasn't a drop-off for the San Antonio Spurs after he retired.
After witnessing The Admiral's two-way excellence for himself, Walt Bellamy will agree.
No. 11 Moses Malone (21) defeats No. 22 Bob Lanier (1)
As talented as Bob Lanier was—and let's not forget that he averaged over 20 points per game for eight consecutive seasons—he just can't physically match up with Moses Malone.
This would be a long game, thanks to Malone's limitations on offense, but he'd eventually overpower his opponent and advance into the Round of 64.
And so begins the string of upsets. Seriously, this is the first of four in a row.
This is the perfect first-round matchup for Yao Ming to pull off an upset. He gets to use his height to his advantage against a center without loads of scoring talent.
Marc Gasol may be a great all-around player who specializes on defense, but he just can't handle those extra inches that he's giving up.
No. 20 Alonzo Mourning (21) upsets No. 13 Brook Lopez (13)
Defense vs. offense rears its head once more, and this time, it's defense that gets to take the cake.
Ugliness defines this first-round game, which won't be televised so that viewers don't gouge their eyes out for the eight hours it takes Alonzo Mourning to put up 21 points against Brook Lopez.
No. 19 Joakim Noah (22) upsets No. 14 Brad Daugherty (20)
When the matchup is fairly even, expect Joakim Noah to come out on top.
As skilled as Brad Daugherty was during his heyday, no one can realistically match Noah's determination and grit, especially when he gets to settle down and play defense against a big man who starts with the ball on the perimeter.
Noah can be beat by establishing deep positioning, but Daugherty isn't going to be able to get there too often.
No. 18 Willis Reed (21) upsets No. 15 Elvin Hayes (19)
With two fully functioning legs, Willis Reed isn't going to let Elvin Hayes come out on top.
This battle of undersized centers is determined by who can end up making shots down the stretch. Don't doubt Reed's mental game, as that's often a large component in one-on-one battles.
No. 16 Nate Thurmond (22) defeats No. 17 Al Horford (20)
Al Horford's predictability in the post comes back to bite him against Nate Thurmond.
Without the ability to either block many shots or fall back on his pick-and-pop jumper, the center for the Atlanta Hawks is overpowered by his older counterpart.
2nd-Round Point Guards
No. 1 Oscar Robertson (21) defeats No. 16 Earl Monroe (2)
Flashiness only gets you so far. Creativity doesn't help too much when you're severely overmatched.
That's the situation that Monroe finds himself in against Robertson, and it doesn't bode well for his chances of advancing into the third round. Quite frankly, it doesn't bode well for his chances of scoring a respectable number of points either.
No. 2 Magic Johnson (21) defeats No. 15 Deron Williams (1)
D-Will usually experiences a size advantage when he matches up against opposing point guards, but you can forget about that when playing Magic. The Hall of Famer is as big as it gets in this bracket, and he's not going to let Williams forget that.
Magic may not have been a score-first player, but he could still get to the basket when he wanted to. He needs to here, and he does.
No. 3 Isiah Thomas (21) defeats No. 19 Stephon Marbury (7)
Now that he's facing a truly elite defender, Marbury can't be carried quite as far by his offense. When it's Zeke's turn with the ball in his hands, Marbury doesn't have the point-stopping abilities necessary to slow him down.
Marbury will keep it close for a little while with a few perimeter jumpers, but Thomas wins this going away.
No. 4 Chris Paul (21) defeats No. 13 Tiny Archibald (2)
Isn't Chris Paul just a better version of Tiny Archibald?
No. 5 Russell Westbrook (21) defeats No. 12 Kyrie Irving (18)
This matchup would be sure to draw in all of the younger fans, as it features two of the NBA's premier young talents going head-to-head. So, what makes the difference?
While Westbrook and Irving are both stellar offensive talents, the former spent the 2012-13 season proving that he could actually play defense. Irving spent it proving that he was still just as porous as ever, and that's his downfall in this intense second-round clash.
No. 6 Derrick Rose (21) defeats No. 22 Stephen Curry (10)
While Rose drives to the basket time after time, Curry just launches up three-pointers with reckless abandon. Actually, I'm not so sure that "reckless" should ever be used in a sentence about Curry's shooting.
But just as was the case in the Westbrook-Irving battle, defense is the story here. Rose can play it, and Curry can't.
No. 7 Gary Payton (21) defeats No. 10 Jason Kidd (12)
While Jason Kidd was a stellar defender in his own right, he doesn't possess the offensive capabilities to score in bulk against arguably the greatest perimeter defender of all time.
The Glove lives up to his nickname in this match, and he again proves that his scoring abilities are historically underrated. How many people actually remember that Payton once averaged 24.2 points per game?
No. 8 Tony Parker (21) defeats No. 9 Pete Maravich (19)
When Parker narrowly edges out Pistol Pete, who is still thrown off by the presence of that weird arc around the half-court set, he ensures that each and every one of the top eight seeds in the point guard bracket advance to the third round.
Parker's well-rounded efforts are enough for him to get by an offensive specialist, but he'll have his work cut out for him now.
2nd-Round Shooting Guards
No. 1 Michael Jordan (21) defeats No. 16 Ray Allen (0)
Through two rounds, Michael Jordan still hasn't allowed a single point. Only two other players in the field will be able to claim that, and both of them are in the center portion of the bracket.
If Allen can't free himself for three-pointers, he isn't going to stand a chance. And MJ will go out of his way to ensure that he can't.
No. 2 Kobe Bryant (21) defeats No. 18 Reggie Miller (4)
Kobe's defense isn't quite on the same level as Jordan's, which is why Miller is able to free himself for a couple of bombs from the outside.
But still, this matchup isn't even as close as the score indicates.
No. 3 Allen Iverson (21) defeats No. 14 Clyde Drexler (14)
A.I. will have trouble slowing down Drexler, but he'll still answer any and all questions about his ability to score against a bigger opponent.
Expect Iverson to glide his way to victory with one crossover after another, leaving his slower opponent in the dust.
No. 4 George Gervin (21) defeats No. 13 Andre Iguodala (3)
Iggy's offense just isn't enough to keep up when The Iceman cometh.
George Gervin proved throughout his NBA career that he can score against just about everyone, and the 13th-seeded swingman is no exception. Unfortunately for Iguodala, he just can't say the same thing.
No. 5 Dwyane Wade (21) defeats No. 12 Manu Ginobili (9)
Has there ever been a point in these two contemporaries' careers in which Ginobili was better than Wade?
The two-way excellence of the Miami Heat superstar does the trick here, and the result is a matchup that isn't even as close as the score might indicate. You can forget about that classic 12-5 upset.
No. 6 Jerry West (21) defeats No. 11 Vince Carter (19)
Talk about a contrast in styles between two shooting guards.
Neither West nor Carter will be able to stop each other, but each can score in bulk. Carter's damage will come with his bursts to the rim and quick elevations that finish in dunks. West's points will come from behind the three-point arc, which in this case is the two-point arc.
Last time I checked, two is still greater than one.
No. 7 Tracy McGrady (21) defeats No. 10 Penny Hardaway (3)
In this battle of massive guards, T-Mac proves his superiority once more.
Penny can hold his own, and the game is closer than the score would indicate, but McGrady is still a genetic freak who was seemingly created to score in one-on-one situations. Between his pull-up jumper and drives to the basket, he's going to pull away soon after the opening possession.
No. 8 James Harden (21) defeats No. 9 David Thompson (13)
Just as in the point guard bracket, there are no upsets in the second round. All eight of the top seeds are advancing through to the Round of 32.
Harden may not be able to stop Thompson from elevating for easy dunks, but he's a much more efficient scorer, even without the ability to get to the charity stripe. It's the bearded 2-guard's deep ball that makes the difference in this matchup, which happens to be the third-closest game in this portion of the bracket.
No. 1 LeBron James (21) defeats No. 17 Elgin Baylor (2)
I'm not entirely sure how Elgin Baylor plans to score against LeBron James, but our voters have indicated that he'd get two points against the reigning MVP.
No. 2 Larry Bird (21) defeats No. 18 Karl Malone (4)
Larry Legend has his work cut out for him here, as he gives up quite a few inches and pounds to the much-bigger Malone. But it's still Bird that we're talking about, and he always found a way to live up to the challenge.
Plus, this is a big game. That means it's a Sunday because The Mailman doesn't deliver then.
No. 3 Kevin Durant (21) defeats No. 14 Kevin McHale (4)
Not only are Durant and McHale battling for the right to advance into the third round of our tournament, but they're also fighting for the name "Kevin." Seriously, I heard a rumor that the loser has to change his first name.
The difference here—even though Durant gives up a lot of poundage—is that McHale can't stick with the Durantula on the perimeter. Not even a tiny bit.
No. 4 Tim Duncan (21) defeats No. 20 Grant Hill (11)
If Grant Hill had run into a smaller player, he might have been able to pull off another upset and become the lowest-seeded player to advance into the Round of 32. But alas, he gets Tim Duncan.
And that doesn't mean positive things for him, as he has no chance of stopping The Big Fundamental from putting the ball in the basket whenever he so chooses.
No. 5 Scottie Pippen (21) defeats No. 12 Julius Erving (17)
It takes a special defender to stop Julius Erving from scoring the basketball.
Pippen is a special defender.
No. 6 Carmelo Anthony (21) defeats No. 11 Dominique Wilkins (8)
'Nique is giving up an inch and about 30 pounds in this matchup. That's all the leeway that 'Melo needs in this clash of players whose nicknames are shortened versions of their first names with an apostrophe in front.
Seriously. I can't make this stuff up.
Anthony might not have the athleticism that Wilkins boasted in his prime, but he doesn't need it. Between the two, he's more adept at getting off—and making—tough shots. That's all he needs, as he actually starts to focus on defense.
No. 7 Kevin Garnett (21) defeats No. 10 John Havlicek (8)
Hondo often overcame his lack of a bulky frame to dominate the opponent, but it was far easier to do that before the NBA-ABA merger and the influx of new, bigger players. Garnett is one of those bigger players.
No. 9 Dirk Nowitzki (21) upsets No. 8 Charles Barkley (12)
It took 24 matchups in the second round to get to one, but we finally have an upset! Dirk is the first player with a number greater than eight in front of his name to advance to the third round.
It's all about that unblockable jumper.
While Nowitzki isn't enough of a plus-defender to shut down Barkley, he still can't be stopped when he gets rolling. And that's what it takes to advance here.
No. 1 Wilt Chamberlain (21) defeats No. 16 Nate Thurmond (0)
Wilt Chamberlain joins MJ in the zero-points-allowed-through-two-rounds club after shutting down Nate Thurmond, who is just severely overmatched.
With more skill, more size and more strength, Wilt ensures that this is over almost as soon as it starts.
No. 2 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (21) defeats No. 18 Willis Reed (0)
And the club quickly gets a third member.
To beat Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, a player needs size, quickness and an incredible amount of offensive ability. Reed doesn't have all three elements, as he's entirely destroyed from the first possession until the final one.
No. 3 Hakeem Olajuwon (21) defeats No. 19 Joakim Noah (1)
Noah is gritty enough to squeeze one point out of Hakeem, but he has to count his blessings that he's even able to do that.
Olajuwon is a vastly superior offensive player, and he's arguably a better defender. That's a pretty deadly combination. Noah is now doomed to let his hair down and watch the rest of the proceedings from the audience.
No. 4 Shaquille O'Neal (21) defeats No. 20 Alonzo Mourning (2)
Mourning might have been able to score against the sieve known as Brook Lopez, but it's a different story when he gets to face Shaq.
Not only is O'Neal even more of a physical presence than Zo ever was, but he's got enough finesse that he can score with relative ease against his former teammate's similarly stellar defense. These two know each other's moves, but it still doesn't help out Mourning.
No. 5 Bill Russell (21) defeats No. 21 Yao Ming (10)
Let's not forget just how athletic Bill Russell was during his prime.
This is a man who once jumped over another NBA player during a fast-break opportunity, so he's not going to be afraid to match up against a giant. After all, he was used to guarding Wilt Chamberlain.
Yao Ming's size advantage helps him, but he still doesn't have the technical skill to dethrone basketball's greatest champion.
No. 11 Moses Malone (21) upsets No. 6 Bob McAdoo (14)
It's all about physical play here.
Malone is able to contest McAdoo's looks, and then, he's so good at boxing out that he eliminates any possibility of second-chance points. This wouldn't be the most fun second-round matchup to watch, but at least it would keep you in your seats for a long time.
No. 10 David Robinson (21) upsets No. 7 Dwight Howard (10)
It's rare to find a physical specimen who can almost make Dwight Howard look tiny, but The Admiral just so happens to be one of them.
Robinson was every bit as good as D12 on the defensive end of the court during his prime, but he could also light up the scoreboard. Last I checked, Howard hasn't won any scoring titles or even been close to one.
No. 9 Patrick Ewing (22) upsets No. 8 Bill Walton (20)
What? Three upsets in one section of the bracket?
I wouldn't call this much of an upset, though, as the No. 9 vs. No. 8 battle always seems to go in favor of the "underdog." Such is the case with Ewing and Walton, who we can safely assume is the version that carried the Portland Trail Blazers to a title.
But Walton's outlet passes and team-based excellence don't help him here, as he faces off against an offensively superior center.
3rd-Round Point Guards
No. 1 Oscar Robertson (21) defeats No. 8 Tony Parker (3)
Player A is 6'5" and 205 pounds. Player B is 6'2" and 180 pounds.
Player A has more skill on both ends of the court.
So, who would you take? Obviously, Player A is The Big O.
No. 2 Magic Johnson (21) defeats No. 7 Gary Payton (9)
I have to admit that I voted for Gary Payton in this matchup, simply because I can't see Magic scoring on him with anything even resembling ease. However, that's not the final result, as it's the greatest point guard of all time who ends up advancing through to the Sweet 16.
Magic's size definitely works to his advantage here, and he's creative enough with the ball that he might be able to fool Payton with a little bit more frequency than I'd expect.
No. 6 Derrick Rose (21) upsets No. 3 Isiah Thomas (14)
During his prime, Thomas' defense was just about impenetrable, but it also helped that he had great defensive anchors on the Detroit Pistons helping him out.
In this one-on-one clash, there's no one to function as his security blanket. The result is Rose spending a lot of time at the rim, as he becomes the first underdog to advance into the fourth round of the tournament.
No. 4 Chris Paul (21) defeats No. 5 Russell Westbrook (19)
In 15 games against Westbrook, CP3 has averaged 19.5 points and 2.4 turnovers per game on 49.5 percent shooting. During the same set, the Oklahoma City Thunder floor general has put up 18.9 points and 4.2 turnovers per contest while shooting 41.1 percent from the field, according to Basketball-Reference.
The trend continues.
3rd-Round Shooting Guards
No. 1 Michael Jordan (21) defeats No. 8 James Harden (0)
Through three rounds, MJ still hasn't allowed a single point.
Spoiler alert, but every other player in the tournament allows at least one bucket by the end of this round. Only one other player in the field pitches a third-round shutout, but he had already allowed points during the second round of the tournament.
Jordan is just that good.
No. 2 Kobe Bryant (21) defeats No. 7 Tracy McGrady (9)
This matchup might be closer than the score indicates.
Kobe and T-Mac enjoyed one hell of a rivalry in their primes, but true to form, the Mamba gets the better of his opponent.
He's just a better shooter from all areas of the court inside the three-point arc, and he was a better lockdown defender when he put his mind to it. It's that man-to-man defense that gives the second-seeded Bryant a victory in the third round.
No. 3 Allen Iverson (21) defeats No. 6 Jerry West (16)
Talk about another offensive explosion.
While Jerry West is historically an underrated defender, he's still not quick enough to stay in front of Iverson. And until someone is, the combo guard is going to continue putting up enough points to advance.
Iverson's crossover and pull-up jumper were just that good.
No. 5 Dwyane Wade (21) upsets No. 4 George Gervin (18)
It's all about physicality here, as Gervin finally runs into someone who is strong enough both to match up with him defensively and bully him around on the other end of the court.
Wade is an elite two-way player, and he has to be to advance past one of the greatest scorers that the sport has ever witnessed. It's the lone upset in this round for the shooting guards as Flash bucks the odds to get into the Sweet 16.
No. 1 LeBron James (21) defeats No. 9 Dirk Nowitzki (0)
Dirk may have gotten the better of LeBron when they squared off in the 2011 NBA Finals, but that was never a one-on-one matchup.
Driven by that haunting memory, LeBron just never relinquishes possession of the ball. The German 7-footer is nowhere near quick enough to stay in front of him, and he's not strong enough to avoid being backed down whenever the reigning MVP decides to establish himself in the post.
Given our make-it-take-it rules, Nowitzki never even touches the ball.
No. 2 Larry Bird (21) defeats No. 7 Kevin Garnett (11)
For the second round in a row, KG is forced to face a Celtics legend. This time, the literal legend gets the better of him.
Garnett's size and intensity help him against Bird, but he can't match up with the smaller forward on the perimeter. Talking trash the entire time, Bird rains in one jumper after another while Garnett gets more and more frustrated.
On the last possession, Bird even points to the spot he'll shoot from and it doesn't matter. KG still can't stop him.
No. 3 Kevin Durant (21) defeats No. 6 Carmelo Anthony (9)
Isn't this one of the matchups that everyone wants to see?
'Melo may have won the scoring title in 2012-13, but he's still not a better scorer than Durant. Efficiency matters here. It also helps that Durant is willing to commit to the defensive end. Few players can make tougher shots with more consistency than Anthony, but Durant is one of the lucky few.
What's scary is that if we run this tournament again in a couple of years, Durant will be an even stronger seed.
No. 5 Scottie Pippen (21) upsets No. 4 Tim Duncan (19)
Is Duncan quick enough to match up with Pippen on the perimeter? That's a particularly important question if Scottie begins the game by hitting a few jumpers, which he proved that he was able to do as his career with the Chicago Bulls progressed.
The answer is no.
Unfortunately for Duncan, Pippen is strong and smart enough to stop him a few times in the post. That's all it takes in this battle of historically great defenders.
No. 1 Wilt Chamberlain (21) defeats No. 9 Patrick Ewing (3)
Patrick Ewing is the first person to score on Wilt Chamberlain in this tournament, but it's nowhere near enough to take down The Chairman of the Boards.
Wilt may have played long before athleticism took over the sport, but he was still one of the greatest athletic freaks to ever lace up his sneakers on the NBA court. Even taken out of his era, he still stands up against the best that the Association has to offer.
He'll swat quite a few of Ewing's shots and still have more than enough left in the tank to do some damage of his own.
No. 2 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (21) defeats No. 10 David Robinson (4)
David Robinson may have been significantly more physical than Kareem, but it doesn't matter.
The sky-hook simply can't be blocked, as Kareem is dropping 21 of them through the net. You have to catch Kareem on an off night to beat him, and through three rounds of the tournament, that just ain't happening.
No. 3 Hakeem Olajuwon (21) defeats No. 11 Moses Malone (3)
Malone finally runs into someone he can't overpower.
The prolific rebounder was never much of a scorer, and compounded with Hakeem's greatness on defense, that is enough to eliminate him from the remaining field of centers in rather definitive fashion. Not only will he be tortured by the Dream Shake on a regular basis, but he also won't be able to do much scoring of his own.
Olajuwon advances without even taking off his warmups.
No. 4 Shaquille O'Neal (21) defeats No. 5 Bill Russell (10)
There were upsets in each of the other three regions, but not for the centers. All four of the top seeds are advancing, thanks to Shaq's physical dominance over the first true legend in NBA history (sorry, George Mikan).
Russell is athletic enough to match up with many modern-day players, but O'Neal is not one of them. Even in the 2000s, he stood out as a physical specimen.
Expect lots of back-downs from Shaq, but not many successful ones from Russell.
Sweet 16 Point Guards
No. 1 Oscar Robertson (21) defeats No. 4 Chris Paul (7)
Chris Paul finally runs into someone who can beat him at his own game.
When CP3 plays, every move has a purpose. The hesitation dribbles, subtle movements of the head and everything in between matter as he tries to get to the spot of his choosing. But that's exactly how Robertson played back in the day.
Because the two have such similar playing styles, it becomes a battle between two elements: Paul's defensive abilities and Robertson's size. The former gives the Big O some trouble, but the latter gives CP3 even more.
Robertson becomes the first member of the Elite Eight.
No. 2 Magic Johnson (21) defeats No. 6 Derrick Rose (12)
Apparently it's still all about size, which means that we're going to be in for a showdown of massive point guards when Magic and Robertson battle it out for a spot in the Final Four.
Magic's creativity is enough to baffle Rose, who, while a competent defender, has never really excelled on the less-glamorous end of the court. And given the margin of victory, it's safe to assume that D-Rose just isn't connecting on his jumpers, which allows Magic to sag off and prevent as many relentless assaults at the basket.
Rose should be proud of getting this far, but he ultimately bows out at the hands of a legend.
Sweet 16 Shooting Guards
No. 1 Michael Jordan (21) defeats No. 5 Dwyane Wade (0)
At some point, this is going to change, right?
Through the Sweet 16, Michael Jordan still hasn't allowed a single point. Apparently he's incredibly motivated in this tournament, and he's pouring all of his highly competitive juices into each and every matchup.
Should a battle between prime Jordan and prime D-Wade become reality, I'd bet on Wade at least getting into double figures. He has enough defensive excellence to slow down Jordan on a few possessions, and it's not like he's devoid of offensive talent.
But the voters have spoken, and a shutout it is.
No. 2 Kobe Bryant (21) defeats No. 3 Allen Iverson (7)
Kobe's and Iverson's careers overlapped enough that they met 29 times during the regular season, according to Basketball-Reference.
Over the course of those meetings, A.I. averaged 1.3 more points per game, but he also coughed the ball up 0.3 extra times each contest and shot 6.5 percent lower from the field. A similar story unfolded whenever they squared off in the postseason, although the Mamba turned it over with more frequency.
It's all about efficiency here. And yes, that might be the first time that anyone has said that and then used the argument to favor Kobe.
But as expected, we're now set up for an epic battle between Kobe and MJ to advance into the Final Four.
Sweet 16 Forwards
No. 1 LeBron James (21) defeats No. 5 Scottie Pippen (2)
LeBron is essentially an upgraded version of Pippen.
He's the new do-everything forward who excels on both ends of the court, except he's also better at everything. Their defensive levels of play are close, but LeBron is every bit as versatile and intelligent on that end. And their offense isn't even remotely close.
That's where LeBron tears Pippen apart, as he can score in ways that the Chicago Bulls superstar never even dreamed of. There's a reason that Jordan was the No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 offensive option on those title-winning squads in the '90s.
This battle might actually take a little while to complete because both players are so good at preventing points, but it's still LeBron's in a blowout.
No. 3 Kevin Durant (21) upsets No. 2 Larry Bird (16)
I would pay an insane amount of money to watch this matchup in real life.
Durant and Bird are two of the greatest shooting forwards of all time, and they're also the only two members of the 50/40/90 club to gain entry during a season in which they truly competed for a scoring title. Their shot-making abilities are simply astounding.
Right now, Bird has had a more successful career than Durant, though there's a possibility of that changing down the road. And yet that doesn't mean he should win this game.
So much of what made Bird great was his ability to make his team better, and that doesn't help out in a one-on-one matchup. Advantage, Durant.
Sweet 16 Centers
No. 4 Shaquille O'Neal (21) upsets No. 1 Wilt Chamberlain (16)
Wilt is the first No. 1 seed to bow out, and the phrase "the bigger they are, the harder they fall" should be ringing loud and clear right now.
For the first time in the tournament, Wilt has to match up with another evolutionary wonder. And this time, he's giving up too much physicality, no matter how much of an ahead-of-his time athlete and weight-lifting sensation he may have been. Trust me, I'm well aware of his exploits.
Wilt was only 275 pounds, and while he was a very strong 275, Shaq is a very strong 325.
O'Neal was the most dominant individual center of all time during his prime, and he proves that in this matchup, thereby becoming the lowest seed to advance into the Elite Eight.
No. 3 Hakeem Olajuwon (21) upsets No. 2 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (18)
This battle of giants would have been absolutely incredible to watch, and Kareem finally comes up against someone with the elite combination of size, quickness and athleticism needed to corral him on the offensive end.
The Dream Shake works against anyone—he proved that when he embarrassed David Robinson with a ridiculous sequence of moves—and Kareem is no exception. The defensive play in this Sweet 16 matchup will be off the charts, but it's Olajuwon advancing after a long and grueling contest.
At the end of the day, the modern player has the advantage in this game. Olajuwon is more used to battling against elite centers, and that experience works to his advantage.
Elite 8 Point Guards
No. 2 Magic Johnson (21) upsets No. 1 Oscar Robertson (16)
There were a great deal of people who took Oscar in this matchup, and they generally tended to make an argument that went something like Garrett Jochnau's:
Part of what made Magic so great was his ability to work with others. No doubt he's an exceptional individual player—after all, he made it this far. But without a sidekick, he was only destined to go so far. He'll come up short against Robertson, whose claim to fame was his individual success.
But that was still the minority opinion, as most people tended to point toward Magic's superior size and ability to work into the post. B/R Lead Writer Josh Martin was one of those:
Think of Magic as the evolutionary Big O: a bigger, stronger, smarter and flashier version of one of the greatest players of all time. One-on-one, Johnson's superior size (6'8", 215 pounds to Oscar's 6'5", 205 pounds) and water-well-deep bag of tricks would be tough for Robertson to top.
Kelly Scaletta took a similar stance, saying that "Magic could have played a power forward. I can't say the same about Oscar." And Dan Favale completely agreed:
I imagine Magic would live in the post, using his strength to overpower old Oscar, bruising his way toward a rather lopsided victory. Of course, if Magic forgets he doesn't have teammates and starts throwing passes into the stands, it's a different story.
Quite frankly, there's no way that he's going to be throwing passes into the crowd. Magic may be a people-pleaser, but that still ain't happening.
Elite 8 Shooting Guards
No. 1 Michael Jordan (21) defeats No. 2 Kobe Bryant (6)
It's a shame this isn't the final matchup of the tournament. After all, who doesn't want to see MJ and Kobe battling it out in their primes with everything on the line?
That said, it probably still wouldn't be too close. And it's tough to put it any better than Kelly Scaletta did when he submitted his ballot:
It's Michael Jordan. Duh. If this actually happened, in some hypothetical world, I think both players would be playing to prove themselves, but "prime-Jordan" would teach "prime-Kobe" that there is a massive difference between the original and the forgery.
Forgery? Strong words there, Kelly!
But his point still stands, and it's one that the vast majority of our voters agreed with. Kobe has spent his career imitating and learning from his predecessor, but he still never reached the level that Jordan attained during his prime with the Chicago Bulls.
They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but Kobe is about to make Jordan feel even better. Seeing others lose tends to do that for the consensus G.O.A.T.
Elite 8 Forwards
No. 1 LeBron James (21) defeats No. 3 Kevin Durant (5)
Haven't we seen this before?
LeBron just seems to have Durant's number at this stage of their careers, and he's proved it on a bigger stage than this one. In a one-on-one battle, he has a major advantage because he's not just a dominant offensive player; he's a Defensive Player of the Year candidate as well.
And Durant can't say the same thing.
As Dan Favale said, watching the Oklahoma City Thunder forward attempt to guard LeBron would be like "watching a lanky stick in the mud trying to stand up against an incoming flood."
I wish I had some insight into the minds of those who did vote for Durant, but alas, only the LeBron supporters voiced the reasons behind their decisions. I have to assume it has something to do with that world-class shooting ability that can't truly be corralled by any one man's defensive efforts.
It's also worth noting that both of these players are still getting better, and LeBron might not win if they matched up a few years down the road. As Andy Bailey wrote, "A year or two from now, my answer might be different."
Now "a year or two" might not be a sufficient time frame in my mind, but Durant is only 25 years old. He still has a lot of growing left to do before he approaches his ceiling.
But we aren't worried about the future here. Just the present, and it's a present that LeBron dominates.
Elite 8 Centers
No. 3 Hakeem Olajuwon (22) defeats No. 4 Shaquille O'Neal (20)
According to Basketball-Reference, Shaq and Hakeem squared off 20 times during the regular season throughout their respective careers. And the Diesel almost always came out on top, averaging 22.1 points per game on 54.4 percent shooting, vastly superior to Hakeem's 18.4 points per contest on 44.7 percent shooting.
The story was the same in the postseason, but it's also worth noting that Hakeem was past his prime when the two started facing each other. After all, the majority of the matchups came after the end of the 1995-96 season, when Olajuwon was already 35 years old.
According to our voters, the tables are turned when The Dream gets to play during the peak of his career, although it's so close that we have to go past 21 points to decide a winner.
As Dave Leonardis says, "Big men with agility and an outside shot have always confounded Shaq. We saw it when he faced Dream in the Finals, and we've seen the way Tim Duncan has played him like a fiddle for years."
I don't think that we're dealing with a fiddle here, but Hakeem's array of moves—when aided by the ridiculous agility he possessed in his 20s—definitely gives him an advantage over the paint-bound Big Aristotle. Many people point to Shaq's power as a reason for his superiority here, but it just wasn't enough.
Hakeem wins this one by a whisker.
Final 4 Matchups
No. 1 Michael Jordan (21) defeats No. 2 Magic Johnson (1)
Of all our voters, only one selected Magic to take down the greatest player of all time. It was an anonymous vote, but here's the justification that was left in its entirety:
Magic wins out because of his sheer size. Both are tremendous passers and defensive players, but Magic can do more with the ball. I don't see MJ defending against the Baby Sky Hook.
Other than that, everyone picked Michael, and for good reason. He's simply made to play one-on-one basketball, and Magic can't say the same thing. Although the big point guard has the size advantage, he typically played a team game rather than asking his teammates to get out of the way for yet another isolation play.
Do "Magic Rules" exist?
No, but "Jordan Rules" do.
Magic just doesn't stand a chance. Don't believe me? Let's ask Magic himself, courtesy of the Midland Daily News' Jon Becker:
Michael would win. That’s not my game. My game is assisting, setting up my teammates. Michael’s the greatest one-on-one player. I couldn’t go out and drop 60 like him, but he couldn’t run a team like I could.
Well, there you have it.
No. 1 LeBron James (21) defeats No. 3 Hakeem Olajuwon (9)
Of all the matchups out there, this is the one that gave me the most trouble when I was filling out my own ballot.
And I do have to admit that I was almost part of the minority that picked Hakeem to give LeBron a little too much trouble. Prime Hakeem has enough agility to stay so close that his length could give LeBron some trouble, and he has such a diverse array of moves in the paint that the reigning MVP wouldn't be able to stop him on a consistent basis.
But as I said, that was the minority viewpoint, and LeBron is moving into the championship game.
Ben Leibowitz essentially summed up the majority opinion by saying, "Although this matchup would be a close one, LeBron's all-around athletic ability and outside shooting stroke trump the interior majesty of Olajuwon in my eyes."
It was all about those physical tools, and now—even without The Dream—we're left with the dream matchup in the final game.
Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images
No. 1 Michael Jordan (21) defeats No. 1 LeBron James (15)
Is it all about desire in the legendary clash between Jordan and James?
In James Davis' mind, it is: "For LeBron James, winning is the goal. For Michael Jordan, winning is the cure."
But it's not just about desire. Sim Risso was one of many who pointed out that—oh hey—Jordan was pretty good at this whole basketball thing:
On top of his obvious scoring prowess, Jordan was also an elite wing defender. And while LeBron has the size advantage, MJ could use his quickness to get into the lane on the bigger James. Failing everything else, he could revert to the unstoppable fadeaway jumper he developed later in his career.
I'll go ahead and say it.
I was one of those who voted for LeBron, and I'd only change that opinion if the game were close down the stretch, as that's the moment when Michael's unsurpassed will would give him the advantage.
The voter who seemed to voice my opinion best was an anonymous B/R writer, but here's what he had to say:
LeBron is bigger, stronger, faster and more athletic than Michael was. Jordan's bag of tricks was (and, in this case, is) a bit deeper than James', but don't underestimate the depths of LBJ's arsenal. If bona fide big men can't stop LeBron in the post, how could a guy like Jordan, at a listed weight of 216 pounds, so much as hope to shut down a guy with a 35-pound edge?
At the end of the day, though, LeBron's physical advantages just didn't matter. Michael makes good on what would presumably have been the No. 1 overall seed had we ordered them in such fashion and takes home yet another trophy to add to his collection.
But even he isn't the biggest winner of the tournament. That would be us if we got to watch this epic battle actually unfold.
At the very least, we get to imagine it.