MJ vs. MJ: Past and Present

One of the more prominently promoted features of the new NBA 2K12 is the ability to play with great teams from NBA history. Ostensibly, this would allow one to discover who the greatest squad ever was, albeit in a virtual and fictional setting. Is it Jordan and the 72-win Bulls? Bird and the ’86 Celtics? The KobeShaq Lakers? The DuncanRobinson Spurs? Make it a head-to-head contest, and you can find your answer.

This aspect also allows you to put current teams (from a virtual and fictional setting in which the NBA isn’t locked out) up against those all-time greats, in an attempt to see how the squads of the past would fare today. A recent commercial spot for the game has Drake arguing with Michael Jordan that the new Big Three of the Miami Heat could beat those 72-win Bulls from ’95-’96. No doubt this would be an interesting battle, but the more intriguing matchup is how those 72-win Bulls, led on the floor by Jordan, would do against the present-day Charlotte Bobcats, led in the front office by Jordan. What would Michael Jordan – former NBA great and current NBA owner – do to have his current team beat his former self?

It would clearly be a tough feat for Charlotte. The Bobcats finished the year last season with a 34-48 record, good enough for only 10th out of 15 teams in the Eastern Conference. But after an offseason that featured a major trade and the drafting of both Kemba Walker and Bismack Biyombo, things could be looking up for the Bobcats – if the NBA actually plays any games this season. That clearly won’t put them in the same stratosphere as a team that features the greatest player ever and an NBA all-time single season record of 72 wins, but if anyone is going to take down Jordan in his prime, wouldn’t an older, wiser Jordan have the best shot?

For the purposes of this game, we are going to assume that the Bobcats have re-signed current free agents Joel Przybilla and Kwame Brown, because both of these players would be integral to Charlotte winning. Pryzbilla would provide height and a steadying veteran presence, while Kwame would be used to psyche out Jordan by having him approach past-MJ before the game and say: “My name is Kwame Brown. I’m often pointed to as the biggest bust in league history, and in about six years, you will make me the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA Draft.” That alone will freak out past-Jordan, and put Charlotte at an immediate advantage.

The game would also be played in Charlotte, because the Bobcats need every benefit they can get. Present-MJ would make sure the crowd showered past-MJ with love and adoration prior to the game, and maybe even have some of the Bobcat players ask for autographs or pictures as well. Nothing will be done to anger past-MJ and make that competitive fire come bubbling to the surface any more than it already does. The more adoring the environment, the better. The Bobcats also have Charles Oakley, former NBAer and long-time buddy of Jordan, on the bench as an assistant coach. Oakley’s job for the duration of the contest would be to tempt and distract past-MJ with expensive cigars and potential trips to Vegas. Present-MJ would even bring in his former college coach Dean Smith as an assistant, as well. The long-time Tar Heels leader was once said to be the only person that could hold Jordan to under 20 points in a game. The Bobcats would have to hope he has similar influence as an opposing coach.

Unfortunately, Charlotte would still have to find a way to slow past-MJ down on the floor. He’s certainly going to get his points, but keeping him in check and forcing him to take threes is the best bet. Once he starts with the turnaround fadeaway or gets to the line every other possession, you might as well hit the showers.

Over the course of his career, Jordan tended to struggle more going against smaller, bulkier guards like John Starks and Joe Dumars. The Bobcats’ Gerald Henderson is built with a similar frame, so the task would fall to him. Charlotte would run Tyrus Thomas at past-MJ on some double teams, as well, hoping his size and length could force a few turnovers. There will also be no discussion of Henderson’s future H-O-R-S-E victories. Guys like Corey Maggette and Boris Diaw will have to do their best to contain Scottie Pippen, Thomas and Dante Cunningham will have to rely on size and foul trouble to keep Dennis Rodman at bay on the boards, and D.J. Augustin and Walker will have to use speed and quickness to pester Ron Harper. DeSagana Diop/Pryzbilla on Luc Longley/Bill Wennington is as close to a wash as the Bobcats are going to get.

The offensive side of things is a different monster for the Bobcats. There is no way present-MJ’s squad could compete with the past-MJ Bulls in a half-court matchup. But the biggest knock against the 72-win Bulls was their lack of depth, with Steve Kerr and Toni Kukoc the most serviceable reserves. Granted, you don’t need much depth with names like Jordan, Pippen and Rodman, but if the Bobcats can get out and run with Walker, Augustin, Maggette, Thomas, and Henderson, they have an outside shot at tiring out the Bulls or getting them in foul trouble. And anytime they are forced to slow it down in a half-court set, just send Walker into “2011 Big East Tournament” mode and hope the scoreboard stays close.

In most cases, the outcome of this matchup would undoubtedly be a blowout in favor of Chicago. But if the Bobcats somehow manage to keep it close (by having Kwame scare past-MJ in pre-game warmups or Oakley slip him cigars for a halftime smoke), it would have to come down to a last-second shot. If it goes to the Bulls, past-MJ will put it to bed. But if the Bobcats get it, the shot is going to the new guy, the youngster that present-MJ undeniably sees a bit of past-MJ in: Kemba Walker. We’ve seen him do it at the collegiate level, but this would be his chance to become a legend in the pros – to get a win for the greatest, by beating the greatest.

Who do you think would win?

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