A few weeks ago, Los Angeles Lakers Legend Shaquille O’Neal made a bold statement. He said that if an all time Lakers squad led by Magic Johnson, Kobe Bryant, Elgin Baylor, Shaq, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, faced an all time Bulls squad led by Derrick Rose, Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman, and Horace Grant, the Lakers would win by fifty. Would the Lakers really win by fifty? Would they win at all? Here, I will break down each individual match-up to see which team would come out on top. Side note: for this scenario let’s assume that each player is in their respective prime, and that Derrick Rose is 100 percent healthy and is playing like his MVP form.
Matchup #1 Magic Johnson vs. Derrick Rose
There isn’t much you can say about Magic Johnson that hasn’t been said already, he’s a five time champion, a three time regular season and finals MVP, and a 12 time all star. He spent his entire career with the lakers, and is arguably the greatest point guard in NBA history. At 6″9′ and weighing in a 220 pounds, he had the size, speed, and versatility to guard any position on the floor if needed, which he proved by famously playing center for an injured Kareem in the close out game of the 1980 NBA finals, which still stands as one of the greatest playoff performances of all time. Magic had one of the highest basketball IQ’s of all time, and he was able to see the floor better than most and deliver some pretty insane passes. He also had a great post up game, and developed an effective set shot later in his career that made him a legitimate perimeter threat. He was always tough to contain in both ends of the floor.
When healthy, Derrick Rose is a beast on the court, and has the ability to dominate any game. At 6″3′ and weighing in at 190 pounds, his strength and athleticism as a point guard is near unstoppable, and he is able to use his speed and strength to attack the basket and get to the rim at will. He became the youngest MVP in league history, and made it within three games of a trip to the NBA finals. He changed the way the point guard position is played, and he would be a tough matchup for anyone to contain.
Each point guard would be able to control the pace of the game, but Magic Johnson has the clear edge here. His size advantage over Rose would allow him to feast in the low post in a one on one situation, and if the Bulls sent a double team, Magic would be able to easily kick it out to and open shooter for an easy bucket. He would also be able to stifle Rose on defense with his length and speed. Rose would put up a valiant effort no doubt, but in the end, Magic’s size would be too much to overcome. Advantage: Magic Johnson
Matchup #2 Michael Jordan vs. Kobe Bryant
There’s no denying that MJ is the GOAT of the game. His will to win and assassin’s mentality have never been matched in NBA history. Winning six NBA championships with six finals MVPs in two separate three-peats is impressive enough, but he also won five regular season MVPs, was selected to 14 all star teams, and took home ten NBA scoring titles boasting a career scoring average of 30.1 ppg. Jordan took over countless games in his career, and he was unstoppable in his prime.
Many argue that Kobe is the closest thing to Jordan since Jordan, and it’s easy to see why. It’s been well documented that Kobe took a lot of MJ’s moves to use in his own game. This is no knock against Kobe, if anything it’s a testament to his work ethic to perfect the moves that he knew to be unstoppable. Kobe also happens to be a perfect match-up to Jordan. Kobe is 6″6′ and 212 pounds and Jordan is 6″6′ at 216 pounds. Kobe also has the killer instinct that Jordan had, with five NBA championships in his Laker career, Kobe isn’t going to back down from anybody.
This is easily the closest match-up out of the five, it would be a never ending battle of trash talk and signature turnaround fadeaway jumpers. Kobe would get his,but he wouldn’t be able to stop MJ, however he would be able to contain him. But when you’re talking about the GOAT, containment simply isn’t enough to get it done. Advantage: Michael Jordan
Matchup #3 Elgin Baylor vs. Scottie Pippen
We might not even be having this debate today if it were not for the great Elgin Baylor. The reason? Elgin saved the Lakers franchise that was close to bankruptcy when he was selected with the number one overall pick in 1958 NBA draft. He made an immediate impact with the franchise, and he was able to make it to eight NBA finals, however he could never quite break through to win an NBA title. Elgin was an elite scorer and rebounder in his day, averaging 27.4 points and 13.5 rebounds per game for his career. One of the most underrated small forwards of all time, Elgin would make his offensive presence known.
Scottie Pippen doesn’t get enough credit for the impact he made as Jordan’s running mate en route to six NBA titles. While he was a well rounded player offensively, with modest career averages of 16.1 ppg and 5.2 apg, Pippen was able to wreak havoc on the other side of the ball. He made ten all defensive teams in his career, including eight consecutive first teams from 1992-1999, which was the height of the Bulls dynasty. He often guarded the other team’s best player, which allowed Jordan to focus on killing teams with his offense. He even was able to contain Magic Johnson in the 1991 finals, helping deliver the first of six titles in an eight year stretch.
This is a close one to call, Baylor has a clear advantage of offense, but I’m not going to gloss over the defensive prowess of Pippen. In the end, there is not enough of a size advantage or difference in athletic ability here, and the offense of Baylor will be canceled out by the defense of Pippen. Advantage: Too close to call
Matchup #4 Shaquille O’Neal vs. Dennis Rodman
In his prime, Shaq was arguably the most overpowering force in the history of basketball. Standing at 7″1 and weighing 325 pounds, Shaq was a beast that would overpower all challengers in the post. At his peak in LA, you could pencil him for 30 points and 12 rebounds a night, as well as close to 3 blocks per game. He led the Lakers to a three peat from 2000-2002, winning the finals MVP each year. Though he sometimes had conditioning issues, Shaq could destroy any opponent when he set his mind to it, and there are few players who could ever slow down Shaq Diesel.
Dennis Rodman was a bad man. He was one of the greatest under the rim rebounders of all time, averaging 13.1 boards a game despite being only 6″7′. He was apart of five NBA championship teams, winning two with the bad boy pistons and three with the Chicago Bulls dynasty. He didn’t provide much in offense, but his grit and willingness to give hard fouls is what gave the Bulls and Pistons their defensive grit.
I’m not gonna beat around the bush here, this match-up simply isn’t fair. There is simply too much of a size difference for Rodman to do anything with Shaq. Shaq will dominate the post and get anything he wants against the undersized Rodman. Advantage: Shaquille O’Neal
Matchup #5 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar vs. Horace Grant
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is the most underrated player of all time, there’s just no way around it. There have been many discussions about who the GOAT is in the NBA, and there are a lot of names thrown into the ring MJ, Magic, Russell, Wilt, Oscar Robertson, Kobe, even Lebron, But the one man who seems to be always left out it the great Kareem. He was a winner at every level, winning 3 consecutive High school city championships, three straight national championships at UCLA, and six NBA championships. He also won six regular season MVP awards, and is the NBA’s all time leading scorer, becoming the model of longevity and consistency that every player strives for. Also, he owns the one truly unstoppable shot the “skyhook”, which he used to dominate opponents on the low block for years. He was able to use that shot to counter the fact that even though he was 7″2′, he only weighed 225 pounds. Even into his early forties, Kareem always found a way to gain an edge on his opponent.
Horace Grant was a key member of the first Bulls three peat in the early 90’s, and his contributions are often overlooked. Grant was a great scoring option behind Jordan and Pippen, and he was always a terrific rebounder. He was also a good defender, making four consecutive all- NBA defensive second teams from 1993-1996. Standing at 6″10′, Grant was able to play either power forward or center, showing great versatility in his career, and always put the team first. This style of play rewarded him with four NBA championships.
Even though Grant was a great defender, he wouldn’t be able to contain the skyhook of Kareem. Kareem would do whatever he wanted with Grant, and his size would give Grant fits on the offensive end. Grant would put up a fight, but he wouldn’t be able to solve Kareem. Advantage: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
The players from both teams have 41 rings between them, and there is certainly no shortage of talent here. The all time Bulls squad would be able to hang around for awhile, and MJ would not allow his team to lose by anything close to fifty points, but in the end, the inside dominance of Shaq and Kareem would be too much to overcome. And quite frankly, the Bulls are lucky that this is only a starting five scenario, because if each team had a bench, the Bulls would have to deal with players like Jerry West, Wilt Chamberlain, George Mikan, George Gervin, and James Worthy just to name a few. It wouldn’t be a fifty point defeat, but the all time Lakers would easily overpower the all time Bulls. Final verdict: All Time Lakers defeat All Time Bulls
By: Eric Shreve