TrueHoop: Michael Jordan
LeBron James announced Sunday that after four seasons of wearing No. 6 with the Miami Heat, he'll go back to his original No. 23 when he rejoins the Cleveland Cavaliers this season. When James originally announced his decision to change to No. 6, he did so out of respect for Michael Jordan -- who, coincidentally has his jersey hanging on the wall in Miami, despite never having played for the Heat.
However, James is far from the first superstar to change his number, then have a change of heart and change back.
Ray Allen (34 to 20 to 34)
James' old Miami teammate Ray Allen has some experience with this type of jersey switch. Allen came into the league wearing No. 34 -- his college number -- for the Milwaukee Bucks, then held on to it with the Seattle SuperSonics. However, when Allen was traded to the Boston Celtics, 34 was taken by Paul Pierce, so Allen switched to 20. Upon signing with the Heat, Allen had his choice of 20 or 34, and went back to his original number.
Dominique Wilkins (21 to 12 to 21)
Dominique Wilkins most famously wore No. 21 for the Atlanta Hawks, where his number hangs in the rafters. He kept the number when he was traded to the Los Angeles Clippers late in the 1993-94 season, but when he signed with the Celtics, 21 wasn't available (it's retired for Bill Sharman). Wilkins played one season in Boston wearing the unfamiliar No. 12, before bolting for Europe. When he returned to the NBA in 1996-97 with the San Antonio Spurs, he was back in his trademark No. 21 -- becoming the last Spur to wear it before Tim Duncan.
Charles Barkley (34 to 32 to 34)
After Magic Johnson announced his sudden retirement due to HIV, Charles Barkley chose to change his jersey number from his original 34 to 32 to honor Johnson -- getting permission from Philadelphia 76ers legend Billy Cunningham to have the number temporarily unretired. However when Barkley was traded to the Phoenix Suns in the offseason, No. 32 was already being worn by Negele Knight, so Barkley switched back to 34, before finishing his career in Houston wearing No. 4.
Shaquille O'Neal (32 to 34 to 32)
In the exact reverse of Barkley, Shaquille O'Neal started his career wearing 32, switched to 34, then went back to 32 (before moving on to 33 and 36 in his twilight years). O'Neal actually wanted 33 -- his college number -- when he was drafted by the Orlando Magic, but that was taken by Terry Catledge, so O'Neal settled for 32. When he signed with the Los Angeles Lakers, both 32 (Magic Johnson) and 33 (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) were retired, so he took No. 34, which was available after George Lynch was traded to the Vancouver Grizzlies. When O'Neal was traded to the Heat, he had his choice between 34 and 32, and decided to go back to his original number.
Michael Jordan (23 to 45 to 23)
Perhaps the most famous jersey number reversal, Michael Jordan wore No. 23 during his original stint with the Chicago Bulls, up until his retirement in 1993. When he returned to basketball in 1995, he chose to wear No. 45 -- the number he'd worn during his brief professional baseball career -- and leave No. 23 in the rafters. However, during the Bulls' Eastern Conference semifinal loss to the Magic, Jordan switched back to his customary No. 23, a move he said made him more comfortable, but cost his team a $25,000 fine. Jordan remained in 23 for the rest of his time with the Bulls, and kept the number during his brief comeback with the Washington Wizards.
Special to ESPN.com
They fight like siblings, like roommates, like couples. When you see the same people every day, there’s friction. Sometimes frustration away from the court manifests itself on it. Sometimes tempers flare in the heat of battle. As a player, you know this. You know a little confrontation doesn’t have to mean anything.
Until you’re trading punches with Michael Jordan.
“I don’t know what the hell I was thinking,” TNT analyst Steve Kerr says, laughing as he recalls his scrap with the Chicago Bulls legend in the fall of 1995 at Bulls training camp. “It’s Michael Jordan, it’s the greatest player ever, but I was pretty competitive and I kind of played with a chip on my shoulder. I had to or I wouldn’t have made it.”
The two guards were matched up in a scrimmage. It was intense. Jordan had heard the critics after the Bulls’ playoff loss to the Orlando Magic and intended to silence them. He averaged 26.9 points in the final 17 regular-season games after coming out of retirement, but shot only 41 percent from the field. The postseason defeat to the Magic in the conference semifinals, his first series loss since 1990, had some suggesting his best years were behind him. At 32 years old, Jordan was hell-bent on proving otherwise. It was palpable in every drill, every time down the floor.
He and Kerr talked trash on a couple of possessions, and then it escalated.
“I took exception to something he said,” Kerr says. “So I was talking back and I don’t think Michael appreciated that ... and we got in the lane and he gave me a forearm shiver to the chest and I pushed him back. And next thing you know, our teammates were pulling him off of me.”
The 6-foot-3, 175-pound Kerr wound up with a black eye. He threw some punches before it was broken up, too.
“I knew that if we were in an actual fight he could actually probably kill me if he wanted to,” Kerr says. “It was more just I’m going to stand up for myself.”
Kerr and Jordan didn’t have much of a relationship at that point. They’d played together for only two months. Before Jordan left the arena that day, then-Bulls coach Phil Jackson -- who perhaps would have prevented the tiff if he wasn’t in his office doing a media conference call, Kerr suggests -- told the superstar he had to speak with Kerr that night.
Jordan made the call within the hour and apologized. They talked some more at practice the next day and moved on.
As odd as it sounds when you consider that Kerr is the son of intellectuals, someone who was taught that violence is not the preferred method of conflict resolution, he believes that getting into it with his co-worker -- getting into it with Michael Jordan -- was the correct thing to do. He says he was embarrassed by how he was being treated and he wasn’t going to put up with it.
“You can’t run away from a fight,” says Bill Wennington, then Chicago’s backup center and now its radio color commentator. “You gotta protect yourself and defend yourself and Steve did just that.”
“It was a totally different relationship from that point on,” Kerr says.
There was mutual respect, with Kerr feeling that Jordan trusted him on the court more in important situations. In Jackson’s new book, "Eleven Rings," he says the punch was a wake-up call for Jordan and a turning point for the championship-winning 1995-96 Bulls who won 72 regular-season games, a record that will likely never be broken. Who knows what the wake-up call would have been if the fight never took place? Who knows if there even would have been one?
“It made me look at myself, and say, ‘You know what? You’re really being an idiot about this whole process,’” Jordan says in "Eleven Rings." He realized he hadn’t gotten in sync with his new teammates after coming back from his baseball sabbatical.
“He became, I think, more compassionate to everybody, and definitely to me,” says Kerr. “He had a different approach than most people and he was such a maniac, the way he would kind of attack the game and the season, that he had to understand that everyone was different and not everyone was as talented as him and not everyone was made up the same way as him.”
That was a two-way street. To be a teammate of Jordan, you’d have to accept that he’d push you sometimes. It just usually wasn’t that literal.
During one practice, Wennington blocked Jordan’s shot. After that, Jordan made a point of shooting over him, daring him to try again.
“It became almost his spark of the day,” Wennington says. “He must have come by me five or six more times in scrimmages. I’m guarding Luc [Longley] and I’m isolated in the corner, he drives through the whole lane, comes out to me, and [says], ‘Block this!’”
If you understood those challenges were all about wanting to win, you could enjoy playing with Jordan. Both Kerr and Wennington say they did. Still, relating and connecting to the most famous people on the planet isn’t simple. It was difficult to have normal interactions with Jordan away from the court because of the crowds he’d attract.
“We understood he lived a different life than the rest of us,” says Kerr. “So everyone respected his privacy away from the court and respected the fact that he needed a couple bodyguards on the road with him and that he was going to stay in his suite and play cards and stuff rather than go out. I mean, that’s probably what everybody else would have done, too, given the life that he led.”
There can be tension when one member of a team dwarfs the rest in attention and popularity. Jackson’s job was to diffuse that, to foster a sense of community. That season he also had to integrate Dennis Rodman and his colorful personality, ask Ron Harper to accept a role as a facilitator/stopper, and convince Toni Kukoc to be the sixth man. While this group’s transcendence might seem inevitable now, it was never guaranteed. A different coach might not have been able to manage them, to keep them in tune with each other.
“On a basketball team, you can have this phenomenon where even though you’re together every day, you’re not really communicating,” Kerr says. “And Phil never allowed that to happen.”
The Bulls couldn’t have been great without their immense talent, but they couldn’t have been historic without coming together. Chicago avoided major issues after the Kerr/Jordan incident and never lost more than two games in a row, taking on the characteristics of its coach and its leader. The same relentlessness that produced the training camp tussle led to arguably the best season of all time.
“We had this incredible sense of drive that came from Michael but that permeated through the whole team,” says Kerr.
There’s no easy road map to cohesion for a basketball team. Every locker room has different personalities, every coach different methods. From afar we don’t see what goes on in practices, and we’re unaware of little day-to-day arguments. Great teams don’t completely avoid clashes; they create an environment in which friction can be dealt with. A scuffle doesn’t have to splinter a squad -- it can be a catalyst for forging tighter bonds.
You could see the chemistry in the way those Bulls operated on the floor. In "Eleven Rings," the chapter about the season is titled “Basketball Poetry.” When the triangle offense is flowing, it’s a thing of beauty. Kerr says the team had a “magical dynamic,” that its energy was “incredible to experience.”
“People talk about the basketball gods,” says then-assistant coach Jim Cleamons. “The gods show up, they reward that type of play. They reward that type of selflessness and ... it’s wonderful to watch. It’s a joy to be around.”
That sort of harmony is all too rare. It’s certainly worth fighting for.
ESPN Stats & Information
Jordan's game-winning shot over Bryon Russell signaled the end of the Bulls dynasty.
Fifteen years later, another dynamic duo -- LeBron James and Dwyane Wade -- is potentially on the verge of a second straight NBA Championship while competing in its third straight NBA Finals.
Which is the better duo: Jordan/Pippen or James/Wade? Let's compare their three-year playoff runs.
Jordan and Pippen were the better scoring duo but James and Wade have scored more efficiently than the Bulls duo did from 1996-98. During that run, Jordan and Pippen shot just 44 percent overall and 29 percent on 3-pointers, while James and Wade have shot 48 percent overall and 31 percent on 3-pointers over the last three postseasons.
The Heat duo has also trumped the Bulls duo from 1996-98 in rebounds, assists and blocks per game.
However, the 1991-93 Jordan-Pippen combo has outdone James and Wade in virtually every category. They totaled more points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks with a better field goal percentage and 3-point percentage than the Heat duo.
Which duo is more clutch?
The biggest difference between the duos is their performance on the biggest stage -- the NBA Finals -- in clutch time -- the last five minutes with the score within five points.
In the 1998 NBA Finals, the Bulls scored 60 points in clutch time. In the last three NBA Finals, the Heat have scored a combined 63 points in clutch time.
Jordan alone scored 30 points in clutch time in the 1998 NBA Finals, the most by any player in an NBA Finals series since 1997. Jordan didn't commit a single turnover in clutch time in that series.
Jordan and Pippen combined to score 38 points in clutch time in the 1998 NBA Finals, the same amount of points James and Wade have scored in clutch time combined in the last three NBA Finals series.
The Bulls scored 0.98 points per play in clutch time in the 1998 NBA Finals, compared to the 0.78 points per play in clutch time for the Heat over the last three NBA Finals.
James is shooting 4-for-15 from the field (27%), including 1-for-9 on 3-pointers (11%), in clutch time over the last three NBA Finals series.
If James, Wade and the Heat are going to close out the Spurs, there's a good chance it will come down to clutch time. If it does, the Spurs will be prepared. In their five NBA Finals series, the Spurs have outscored their opponents by 40 points (124-84) in clutch time. They've done so by scoring a point per play and shooting 48 percent on 3-point attempts.
AP Photo/Julio CortezJoakim Noah came up huge for the Bulls as they eliminate the Nets in Game 7
The Brooklyn Nets failed in their attempt to become the ninth team in NBA history to win a series after falling behind three games to one. The Nets fall to 0-2 all-time in Game 7s and have not won a playoff series since 2007.
What went right for Bulls?
Joakim Noah talked the talk and then walked the walk. After Chicago’s Game 6 loss Noah said, “We're going to go into a hostile environment in Brooklyn and we're going to win."
Noah made certain of that with 24 points, 14 rebounds and six blocks. Considering his foot injury, it was a heroic and historic performance. Read on for more on where that stat line stands among the all-time greats below.
Noah had a series high 1.33 points per play and shot 71 percent from the field Saturday.
With Kirk Hinrich out, Marco Belinelli and Jimmy Butler came up big. Belinelli poured in a playoff career-high 24 points. Butler played the entire game and was stellar defensively – holding Deron Williams to 4-11 FG and Joe Johnson to 0-5 FG when they were matched up.
What went wrong for Nets?
The Nets never led in the game - trailing by as many as 17 points, but they were able to cut the deficit to single-digits for most of the last quarter-and-a-half.
Johnson’s struggles were part of the reason Brooklyn couldn’t complete the comeback. After an alley-oop dunk at the 6:37 mark in third, he missed his last seven shots of the game, six of them coming from beyond the arc.
Elias Sports Bureau Stat of the Game
Noah became the first player with at least 20 points, 10 rebounds and five blocks in a Game 7 win since Kevin Garnett in 2004. In fact since blocks became official in 1973-74 the only ones to reach those numbers in a Game 7 win besides Noah and Garnett are Dikembe Mutombo, Patrick Ewing and Elvin Hayes.
And after Monday’s comeback against the Boston Celtics, it’s worth noting in recent history just how great this Heat team has been in clutch situations.
In the past 17 seasons, the Heat are one of two teams that have outscored their opponents by more than 30 points per 100 possessions in "clutch time". The only team better than this year’s Heat? The 2008-09 Cleveland Cavaliers, who just happened to be led by LeBron.
For comparisons sake, Michael Jordan’s last two seasons in Chicago the Bulls net points per 100 clutch possessions was a combined 22.2 (14.8 in 1996-97, 7.4 in 1997-98). Jordan accounted for 54 percent of the Bulls' clutch points during the '96-97 season. James has accounted for more than 60 percent of Miami's "clutch" points.
This season, only Kevin Durant has scored more clutch points than LeBron; however, James does more than just score late in close games. In fact, he leads the NBA in points assisted on in the clutch -- and it isn’t even close. He has assisted on more than twice as many points as all but three players in the league. His 115 points off of assists are 46 more than any other player.
A combination of points and assists is points created. James has been responsible for 243 points in the clutch this season, the next closest is Paul Pierce with 172 points.
In Tuesday’s win over the Atlanta Hawks, Wade scored 23 points on 9-of-18 shooting. He has scored at least 20 points and shot at least 50 percent from the field in a career-high 10 consecutive games. The streak is tied for the third longest in the NBA this season and is the longest among guards.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Wade is the first guard to score 20 points and shoot 50 percent in at least 10 straight games since Michael Jordan during the 1995-96 season (11 games).
During the Heat’s 19-game win streak, Wade has seen an overall increase in his scoring as well as his efficiency from the field. Wade, who was already shooting a career-high 50.8 percent from the field in his first 39 games of the season, is averaging 24.2 points on 55 percent shooting during Miami’s win streak. Five of his eight 30-point games this season have come during the win streak, including a season-high 39 points on Feb. 26 against the Sacramento Kings.
One of the primary reasons for Wade’s spike in his field goal percentage has been his aggressiveness in getting to the basket. Following offseason knee surgery, Wade lacked his usual explosiveness at the beginning of the season. But since the start of February, he is averaging 5.2 dunks and layups per game, including a season-high five dunks on March 4 against the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Wade continues to be one of the best slashers when it comes to attacking the paint, an area where he leads all guards in scoring for a fifth consecutive season. Since the start of February, Wade has been able to get even closer to the basket, averaging 11.5 points inside the restricted area (four-foot arc around the basket). He averaged just 8 points in that area in the first three months of the season.
On Wednesday, Miami starts a five-game road trip against the Philadelphia 76ers, a team the Heat have beaten 13 consecutive times during the regular season. With a win, Miami will be just the fourth team in NBA history to win 20 consecutive games in a single season, and set the mark for the longest win streak by a defending champion.
David Santiago/El Nuevo Herald/MCTIs it best to let LeBron go left or right? The answer might surprise you.
“So if I have to guard him… I'm gonna push him left so nine times out of 10, he's gonna shoot a jump shot. If he goes right, he's going to the hole and I can't stop him. So I ain't letting him go right."
-- Michael Jordan on LeBron James in ESPN The Magazine
Video tracking data from Synergy Sports allows us to provide a statistical scouting report on just how James plays in certain situations. What are his tendencies? Where is he most effective?
We took a look at James in two key areas in the half-court in which he primarily hurts teams: in isolation and in the post.
James has three basic options at the start of any isolation action. He can drive left, drive right or shoot early.
He drives on 62 percent of his isolations, favoring the left over the right side. He takes an early jumper on 38 percent of his isolations.
So how do his tendencies change depending on which direction he goes? And which is most effective?
When he goes left
LeBron drives left on just over one-third (34 percent) of his isolation plays. When he goes left, his most common decision is to pull up for a jumper. It’s moderately effective, scoring on roughly 45 percent of his attempts
When he drives left AND attacks the basket, he is practically unstoppable, scoring on more than 85 percent of his plays, either from a made basket or free throws. On a points-per-play basis, James leads the NBA in drives to the basket when going left.
When he goes right
James' tendencies change when he goes right. Just as Jordan said, “when he goes right, he’s going to the bucket,” doing so on more than half of his drives.
However, he isn’t nearly as effective finishing at the rim going this direction. While still very good, his right drives to the basket “only” result in points roughly 60 percent of the time.
The numbers don’t agree with Jordan when it comes to James being in isolation.
When James goes left, he averages more points per play than when he drives right.
When he drives left, James scores 60 percent of the time. That number dips below 50 percent if you can force him right or bait him into taking an early jumper.
What about in the post?
When it comes to scoring in the post, James' production doesn’t jibe with his overall tendencies.
James likes to use the left block, doing so on nearly 60 percent of his post ups. However, he scores just 43 percent of the time on the left block, ranking below average in points per play.
Contrast that with his production on the right block. Although he utilizes it on just a third of his post-ups, James ranks 2nd in the NBA in points per play on the right block, trailing only Kevin Durant.
So though Jordan may want to force him left there to take James out of his comfort zone, it's not something that will necessarily stop him.
What is the best way to defend James in the post?
Points are easy to come by for James himself or when he’s able to find cutters. However, when he kicks out to spot-up shooters, those plays result in points just over one-fourth of the time (26 percent).
That ranks worse than 85 percent of NBA players.
But if James does keep the ball, the key is to keep him out of the middle of the lane.
James averages nearly twice as many points per play when he turns towards the middle from either block than if he is forced baseline.
HOUSTON -- Ten years of retirement have colored our understanding of Michael Jordan’s infamous drive in a way six rings, six NBA Finals MVPs and five regular-season MVPs never could.
Because since stepping away, for a third time in 2003, Jordan has made it clear that he isn’t content with having dominated his generation and earning superiority over every player up to that point. He wants to beat any current player that challenges that unquestioned supremacy, whether it be now or 30 years from now.
In the speech for his Hall of Fame induction ceremony, an event to honor his past accomplishments, Jordan spent some 23 minutes coarsely dispelling any debates that have persisted since he hung it up, like Bryon Russell being able to stop him, and even joked that you might see him playing professional basketball at 50 -- an attempt at humor that came off more as a boast about what he’s capable of.
Jordan, who turns 50 years old today, hasn’t gone as far as to suit up again, but he is indeed battling today’s players, if only in his own head, as we found out in Wright Thompson’s illuminating profile of him:
Jordan plays his new favorite trivia game, asking which current players could be as successful in his era. “Our era,” he says, over and over again, calling modern players soft, coddled and ill-prepared for the highest level of the game. This is personal to him, since he’ll be compared to this generation, and since he has to build a franchise with this generation’s players.
“I’ll give you a hint,” he says. “I can only come up with four.”
He lists them, with explanations: LeBron, Kobe, Tim Duncan, Dirk Nowitzki. As he’s making his argument, [his finacee, Yvette Prieto] walks into the living room area, and in a tone of voice familiar to every husband who argues sports with his buddies, asks, “You guys need anything?”
When someone on television compares LeBron to Oscar Robertson, Jordan fumes. He rolls his eyes, stretches his neck, frustrated. “It’s absolutely ... ,” he says, catching himself. “The point is, no one is critiquing the personnel that he’s playing against. Their knowledge of how to play the game. ... That’s not a fair comparison. That’s not right. ... Now, could LeBron be successful in our era? Yes. Would he be as successful? No.”
Jordan is correct: It is not a fair comparison.
It is an impossible comparison.
One that even Hall of Famers from the same era wouldn’t make.
“The thing is we’ll never know,” Dominique Wilkins told me. “My thing is, I hate comparisons and those sort of things. But those ‘80s and early ‘90s were just a brutal time to play basketball physically. It was a physical league. And the guys played more natural positions -- a 2 played the 2, a 3 played the 3. And guys were big, physical guys. It was a little different then.
“But LeBron James is a monster. He can play. And he’s kind of that throwback kind of player. But you look at that era, and the way the defenses were played, it made it difficult not for guys to have high-scoring efforts, but high-scoring percentages.
“But LeBron would have been great in any -- any -- era. Period.”
You can argue, like Nique does, that Jordan’s NBA was more physically taxing because it was played before the hand-checking rules. And for the other side, you can point to the advancements of today’s athletes. But until we make major advancements in the technology that brought Tupac back from the dead at last year’s Coachella festival and pit in-their-prime holograms against each other, there’s no way to settle this.
And that powerlessness, for one of the most powerful and influential persons in the world, has led to today’s Jordan. This cannot be solved with a last-second jumper or a steal, and so Jordan blankets himself in nostalgia and largely secludes himself from the rational world.
This is not about Michael versus LeBron. It’s about Michael versus his own mortality.
For once, Michael is losing.
And it seems to be affecting today’s league as much as any of his accomplishments.
In the midst of one of his most trying experiences, Kobe Bryant, a player who’s seen as most driven to match Mike’s drive, has found some sort of zen, at least for now. And it’s refreshing to hear LeBron dismiss talk of rings defining a player’s worth and focusing on “maximizing my potential” rather than trying to adhere to the bar anyone’s set for him.
LeBron clearly has the type of drive that spurred on Jordan’s greatness. He’s just not letting it consume him anymore, not after what happened in his first season in Miami, when he said he retreated to a more bitter, angry state.
Be like Mike?
Being LeBron seems way more fun.
1 -- NCAA title (1982), in which he scored the game-winning points.
2 -- Olympic gold medals (1984, 1992).
3 -- Selected third overall in the 1984 NBA draft after Hakeem Olajuwon and Sam Bowie.
4 -- 60-point games in his career.
5 -- MVP awards (1988, 1991, 1992, 1996, 1998).
6 -- NBA titles (1991, 1992, 1993, 1996, 1997, 1998).
7 -- Consecutive seasons leading the NBA in scoring, from 1987 to '93 (tied for NBA record).
8 -- Led North Carolina to the Elite Eight in the 1982-83 season, where the Tar Heels lost to Georgia.
9 -- Times named to the NBA All-Defensive first team.
10 -- Seasons he led the NBA in scoring (NBA record).
11 -- Times named to the All-NBA team, including 10 on the first team.
12 -- Jersey number in a game against the Magic on Feb. 14, 1990, after someone stole his No. 23 jersey.
13 -- Postseason appearances.
14 -- Number of All-Star Games selected to in career.
15 -- NBA seasons (13 with Bulls, two with Wizards).
16 -- Points scored in the 1982 NCAA championship game, in which he made the game-winning basket.
17 -- Career high for assists, reached March 24, 1989, against the Trail Blazers.
18 -- Games played his second season because of a broken foot.
19 -- Returned to the NBA as an executive with the Wizards on Jan. 19, 2000.
20 -- Hit a 20-foot shot over Bryon Russell on April 6, 1998, to win Game 6 of the NBA Finals.
21 -- Age at NBA debut (Oct. 26, 1984).
22 -- Field goals made (and 19 free throws) for a postseason-record 63 points against the Celtics on April 20, 1986.
23 -- Jersey number for most of his career.
24 -- Career high for field goals made in a regulation game (Nov. 16, 1988, in regular season and May 1, 1988, in postseason).
25 -- On Sept. 25, 2001, Jordan announced his return to the NBA as a member of the Wizards.
26 -- Minutes played in the 1997 All-Star Game. Jordan had 14 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists (the first triple-double in the game's history).
27 -- On March 27, 1995, only five games into his return, Jordan scored 55 points against the Knicks at Madison Square Garden.
28 -- Career triple-doubles.
29 -- On Oct. 29, 1996, the NBA released its 50 Greatest Players, including Michael Jordan.
30 -- Actually 30.1, which is Jordan's career scoring average (NBA record).
31 -- 50-point games in his career.
32 -- Age at which he retired from baseball before eventually returning to the NBA.
33 -- Actually 33.4, which is Jordan's career scoring average in the playoffs (NBA record).
34 -- Games played his freshman season at North Carolina.
35 -- First-half points (including six 3-pointers) in Game 1 of the 1992 Finals against the Trail Blazers.
36 -- Points scored in his first NBA Finals game (June 2, 1991, versus the Lakers).
37 -- Steals in 13 All-Star Game appearances.
38 -- Points scored in the "Flu Game" in the 1997 Finals against the Jazz.
39 -- Age at the start of his final season (2002-03).
40 -- Age at which Jordan played his final game, April 16, 2003, against the Philadelphia 76ers.
41 -- Averaged a Finals-record 41 points per game as the Bulls beat the Suns in six games to win the 1993 NBA title.
42 -- Points Jordan and Charles Barkley each scored in Game 2 of the 1993 Finals, the first time opposing players scored 40-plus points in a Finals game.
43 -- Points scored at 40 years and 4 days old against the Nets, the most by a 40-year-old in NBA history.
44 -- Points scored in Game 5 of the first round of the 1989 NBA playoffs, culminating with a game-winning buzzer-beater over Craig Ehlo of the Cavaliers.
45 -- Jersey number in his comeback with the Bulls until returning to No. 23.
46 -- Age at which Jordan was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame, and the most points he scored in a game on his birthday (1992).
47 -- Age when Jordan became the first ex-player to have a majority stake in an NBA team when he bought the Bobcats.
48 -- He played ZERO regulation games of 48 minutes in his regular-season career.
49 -- Field goal percent for his career (49.7). Jordan also scored exactly 49 points in a game 10 times.
50 -- Minutes played when he scored a career-high 69 points and 18 rebounds on March 28, 1990, against the Cavaliers
James has scored 185 points, hauled in 40 rebounds, handed out 39 assists and shot 71.7 percent from the floor over his last six games. The Elias Sports Bureau notes the only other player in the shot-clock era who had a six-game span like that at any time in his career is Wilt Chamberlain, who had two overlapping stretches like that in February of 1967.
James was 9-of-9 inside of 10 feet Tuesday against the Trail Blazers, including four dunks, and is shooting 86 percent from that range (46-for-53) in his last six games.
Through 738 regular-season games, James has won 476 games, eight fewer than Michael Jordan had through the same number games. At that same career checkpoint, both have the same number of MVPs and the same number of finals appearances.
LeBron is averaging 27.1 points, 8.1 rebounds and 6.9 assists this season. The last player to average at least 27 points, eight rebounds and six assists in a single season was Michael Jordan (1988-89).
The Heat play the Thunder on Thursday (8 ET). The two teams met on Christmas Day with the Heat winning 103-97. LeBron fell one point short of 30 points in that game, but he did shoot 60 percent (12-of-20) from the floor.
If the Heat win on Thursday, they will be the first team this season to beat the Thunder twice.
James has fared well against Kevin Durant in his career. In addition to last season’s NBA Finals that the Heat won in five games, James has won eight of 10 regular-season meetings against Durant.
In fact, since joining the Heat, James is 3-0 against teams he faced in the NBA Finals the previous season.
Finally, if James scores 30 in Oklahoma City, the Elias Sports Bureau notes he will become the first player with 30 or more points in seven straight games entering the All-Star break since Wilt Chamberlain in 1962-63 (also seven).
It’s happened only four times in history, and Wilt did it three of those times. For comparison’s sake, Jordan’s longest such streak was four games in 1986-87.
- NBA stars are severely underpaid vis-a-vis their market value to their sport. They're not the only ones. From Paul Doyle, a track and field agent, via Sports Illustrated and Forbes: "'Bolt is the highest-paid athlete in the history of track and field, but he’s also probably the most underpaid athlete in the history of track and field.' ... His appearance at the Penn Relays in 2010 resulted in the highest single day attendance (54,310) in the event’s 118-year history."
- Younger (and newer) Clippers fans need to appreciate that if some of the longstanding fans of Clipper Nation seem cautious headed into 2012-13, they have their reasons. From John Raffo of Clips Nation: "I'm old enough (and grey enough) to have seen this before. Twice before. While, admittedly the long winter of the nineties is not nearly as interminable as the distance between 2005-6 and now, but I believe I've learned my lesson. Unless the Clippers are very very careful, unless they commit to inspired coaching and visionary management."
- As Rob Mahoney writes at The Two Man Game, teambuilding is rarely a linear process. And at Red94, Rahat Huq wonders if most "young cores" are destined to fail.
- Philadunkia's Tom Sunnergren chats with new Sixer Nick Young. If anyone in Philly has a place to lease, Swaggy P is looking.
- Former Atlanta Hawks standout Dan Roundfield tragically died while swimming in Aruba. Roundfield was a pro's pro -- a dogged defensive player and a three-time All-Star while with the Hawks. Danny Solomon, a Hawks ballboy during the 1980s and my classmate at the Hebrew Academy of Atlanta, told the AJC's Michael Cunningham that Roundfield was “the nicest dude in the world," but that, "[b]ack then, all the centers were very, very strong. That’s back when it was ‘real’ basketball and if you tried to go to the hole against a guy like Roundfield, you would go straight down to the floor. He was known for being really rough. He was a stud down low."
- Chris Bernucca of Sheridan Hoops runs down the remainders in the free agent market. The list isn't void of useful players: Carlos Delfino, Anthony Tolliver, Mickael Pietrus and Jannero Pargo might not be world-beaters, but worse players have been signed to guaranteed deals this offseason.
- When economist Tyler Cowen hosts a talk, he often has the audience write out questions in advance. Cowen says that, at one recent event, "I was asked about Jeremy Lin, and whether he or LeBron James did more to maximize global wealth. I suggested that Lin did more to maximize utility, as his fame in Asia did not much detract from the fame of any other NBA player, but that LeBron did more to maximize wealth, in part through endorsement income."
- Get ready for the "Obama Classic" with Michael Jordan, Carmelo Anthony and Patrick Ewing.
- A man from central Illinois is picking up and moving his family to Haiti to build a basketball court and to teach.
- Attention Phoenix press corps, especially those in the locker room: Kendall Marshall values his personal space.
According to AccuScore, which ran 10,000 computer simulations, the 1992 team would win 53.1 percent of the time and by an average margin of one point per game.
No one will ever know the true answer, but let's take a look at the Next Level analytical facts about the rosters at each point of their careers to help make the case either way.
REBOUNDING AND DEFENSE
Much has been made about the current team’s weak frontcourt. The 1992 team had four players who grabbed at least 15 percent of available rebounds in 1991-92 (Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing, Karl Malone, David Robinson). The current team has three players at that rebound rate last season (Tyson Chandler, Blake Griffin, Kevin Love).
The 1992 team had two players (Ewing, Robinson) who blocked at least 5 percent of the shot attempts they faced in 1991-92. No 2012 player had a block percentage higher than 3.4 last season (Chandler).
Four current members had a true shooting percentage (a measure of shooting efficiency that takes into account 2-pointers, 3-pointers and free throws) of at least 60 last season (Chandler, Kevin Durant, James Harden, LeBron James). Chandler (70.8 in 2011-12) led the NBA each of the past two seasons. Only one of the 1992 members had a 60 true shooting percentage (Barkley), although three others fell just short of that threshold in 1991-92 (Malone, Robinson, John Stockton).
Five Dream Team members assisted on at least 25 percent of their teammates’ field goals in 1991-92 (Larry Bird, Clyde Drexler, Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Stockton), plus Magic Johnson had a 49.3 assist percentage in his most recent NBA season (1990-91). LeBron, Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook and Deron Williams had a 25 assist percentage or better last season, but none were as high as Stockton (53.7), who was in the midst of leading the league in assist percentage for 10 straight seasons.
AGE, EXPERIENCE AND CHAMPIONSHIPS
The 1992 team was about 2½ years older on average (28.8-26.2). Other than Bird and Magic, every Dream Team member was 30 years old or younger. Every member of the current team is 29 or younger, other than Kobe, who is 33.
But the NBA experience level is about the same. The 1992 team had, on average, 7.3 years of experience per player. This year’s team has 7.1.
As far as NBA titles, give the edge to the 1992 team. Its players had a combined 12 championships as they entered the Olympics -- five by Magic, three by Bird and two each from Jordan and Pippen.
The 2012 version has seven championships among them, carried by Kobe’s five. LeBron and Chandler each have one. The current team has members of each of the past four NBA champions, while the 1992 team had members of the then-past two champions.
Using average win shares per 48 minutes in their previous NBA seasons, (including Magic’s 1990-91 season and not including Christian Laettner), the 1992 squad’s average is higher by 9 percent (.215-.198). Prefer player efficiency rating to win shares? The Dream Team’s PER was 3 percent higher (23.8-23.0).
IN THEIR PRIME?
Other than Laettner, all 11 Dream Team members are Hall of Famers. And only two could be considered in the twilight of their careers. Bird had just finished his last NBA season, while Magic had retired the previous year, although he made a brief comeback in 1995-96. As for this edition, one could make the case that all but the 33-year-old Kobe on the roster could appear on another Olympic team again.
The 2012 team gets under way with an exhibition game Thursday against the Dominican Republic on ESPN at 9 p.m. ET. Only time will tell whether this team is the modern-day Dream Team.
Is he Michael Jordan? Or is he Oscar Robertson?
LeBron had 26 points, 12 assists and nine rebounds in the Miami Heat’s Game 4 victory Tuesday, plateaus Jordan never reached in an NBA Finals game. LeBron is the first player with those numbers in an NBA Finals game since Larry Bird in 1986.
LeBron has three regular-season MVP awards. When Jordan was LeBron’s age, he had only one MVP.
LeBron is averaging 30.5 points, 9.7 rebounds and 5.3 assists per game this postseason. Jordan averaged at least 30 points per game in each of his last 12 postseasons, but he never averaged as many as eight rebounds per game in a postseason.
Jordan had 22 double-digit assist games and 21 double-digit rebound games in his postseason career, but he had just two postseason triple-doubles.
LeBron already has seven career postseason triple-doubles and was a rebound shy of his eighth in Game 4.
Jordan was certainly known for his scoring prowess, but he never scored at least 25 points in 14 straight games in a single postseason. LeBron has done that twice, in 2009 and his current streak. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, nobody else in NBA playoff history has done that even once.
Only twice previously in NBA history has a player averaged at least 30 points, nine rebounds and five assists per game in a postseason. Robertson did it in 1963 for the Cincinnati Royals, and LeBron did it in 2009 for the Cleveland Cavaliers. If he maintains his averages this postseason, LeBron will add his name to that list once again.
Robertson was known for his triple-doubles. He’s the only player in NBA history to average a triple-double for an entire season. But LeBron has the upper hand in the playoffs. Eight career playoff triple-doubles would be one more than Oscar had in his career. And let’s not forget that LeBron has plenty of time to add to that total.
Robertson won one NBA championship in his career, and that wasn’t until he was 32 years old. Like LeBron, Oscar didn’t win a ring with his original team. He was traded from the Royals to the Milwaukee Bucks after spending 10 seasons in Cincinnati and finally won one alongside Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. And Oscar finished his career with just one MVP award.
LeBron is the first player in NBA history with at least 650 points, 200 rebounds and 100 assists in a single postseason.
Now, he’s one win from his first NBA championship.
Perhaps LeBron isn’t MJ or Oscar or anyone else.
Maybe he’s just LeBron James.
Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty ImagesLeBron James scored an NBA Finals career-high 32 points in Game 2.
After two previous NBA Finals appearances without a ring, LeBron found his Miami Heat down 1-0 against the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Coming into the 2012 NBA Finals, LeBron had never scored more than 25 points in 10 previous NBA Finals games. Nobody had more turnovers per game in their NBA Finals career than LeBron. He had averaged 10 fewer points per game in the NBA Finals than all other playoff rounds.
But that has changed.
LeBron scored 32 points in the Heat’s 100-96 Game 2 victory. He has had at least 30 points in both games, setting new NBA Finals career highs in each game.
LeBron had 30 points and nine rebounds in Game 1, so it’s not like he didn’t produce. What was the difference in Game 2?
For one, his right-hand man, Dwyane Wade, came to play. After shooting less than 50 percent in six straight playoff games for the first time in his career, Wade shot 50 percent in Game 2. He was 7-for-19 from the field in Game 1 but a more efficient 10-20 in Game 2.
Despite a furious comeback by the Thunder, James and Wade ensured a Heat victory down the stretch.
James made a 15-foot bank shot with 1:26 left in the fourth quarter to give the Heat a 96-91 lead. Then, with seven seconds remaining and the Heat leading 98-96, LeBron hit two clutch free throws to seal the deal.
Entering Game 2, LeBron was 1-for-3 this postseason on free throws in the final minute of the fourth quarter and overtime in one-possession games. He was 9-for-14 during the 2011-12 regular season and 13-for-18 in his postseason career entering Game 2.
But LeBron, a 74 percent career postseason free-throw shooter entering Game 2, drained two clutch free throws to seal the deal. He was 12-for-12 from the line for the game, marking just the second time in his postseason career he has made at least 12 free throws without a miss.
It was the first time LeBron made two free throws in the final minute of the fourth quarter or overtime in a one-possession playoff game since May 26, 2009 against the Orlando Magic.
Wade chipped in during crunch time as well. He made a turnaround jumper to put the Heat up 94-87 with 2:58 left and then assisted on a Chris Bosh dunk to put the Heat ahead by seven once again with 53 seconds remaining.
All of this was despite another special performance from Kevin Durant, who scored 16 of his 32 points in the fourth quarter. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Durant is the only player since the ABA-NBA merger (1976-77) with at least 14 fourth-quarter points in consecutive NBA Finals games (he had 17 in Game 1). Nobody since the merger has had more combined fourth-quarter points in their first two career NBA Finals games than Durant.
According to Elias, Durant’s combined 68 points in Games 1 and 2 are the third-most in NBA history by a player in their first two career NBA Finals games. The only players with more are Allen Iverson (71 in 2001) and Michael Jordan (69 in 1991).
Statistical support for this story from NBA.com.
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesWestbrook joined Michael Jordan as the only players with 25 points and 10 assists in his Finals debut.
What's more, in each of their previous two NBA Finals appearances, the Heat lost Game 2 in both series (2006 and 2011). Miami is 4-5 on the road this postseason while averaging just 92.1 points, compared to 99.4 points at home. That road average is crucial, as the Heat are 8-0 this postseason when scoring at least 100 points but just 4-7 this postseason when they fail to reach 100.
Don't Blame James
While LeBron James struggled in the fourth quarter in the Finals last year against the Dallas Mavericks, that was not the case in Game 1 this time around. James ranked first on the team in field goal attempts and free throws in the fourth quarter and tied with Dwyane Wade for the team-high in points and points in the paint. His four free throw attempts were also more than the rest of the Heat combined.
James has also scored at least 25 points in each of his last 11 games, the second-longest streak of scoring 25+ points in his postseason career (had a 17-game streak across the 2008 and 2009 postseason).
Things certainly look good for the Thunder. Since moving to Oklahoma City entering the 2008-09 season, the Thunder are 3-0 in series when they win Game 1. The Thunder are also 9-0 at home this postseason, and according to Elias, that is tied for the longest home win streak to start a postseason in franchise history. The Seattle SuperSonics started the 1978 postseason also winning nine.
What do the Thunder need to do to win Game 2? The answer lies in the fast break. The Thunder outscored the Heat in fast break points 24-4 in Game 1, marking the team’s second-highest fast break differential this postseason.
Another incredible game by Kevin Durant certainly wouldn't hurt, either. Durant’s 36 points in Game 1 tied the franchise mark for most points in a Finals game, and he also became the fourth-youngest (23 years-257 days) player in NBA history to score at least 35 points in a NBA Finals game.
Teammate Russell Westbrook is also heating up, having recorded at least 20 points and 10 assists in two of his last three games overall. That's impressive, considering he did not record any 20-10 games in his first 13 games this postseason. What's more, Elias says Westbrook is only the second player to record at least 25 points and 10 assists in his Finals debut, alongside Michael Jordan.