Leave it to Dennis Rodman to spark a debate. The former Chicago Bulls power forward recently thought out loud about how LeBron James and his Miami Heat would fare against Rodman’s Chicago teams of the late 90s. “It would be no contest,” Rodman told the “Dan Patrick Show” last week. “The Heat has better talent than we had, but we had smarter players.” With Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen in their primes, would Miami really stand a chance against two of the top 50 players of all time? And is there any truth to the notion that James would just be an average player had he played two decades earlier? Perry Green and Stephen D. Riley of the AFRO Sports Desk debate the question.
Riley: James would have thrashed the competition had he played in the late 80s and 90s. That’s just pure ridiculous for Rodman to even come out and say that. Considering how often James plays power forward, can we really see Rodman hanging out on the wing trying to defend that type of force? There’s no telling how many titles he would’ve won in the Jordan era but would he have been the perennial NBA All-Star and superstar that he is now? Absolutely.
Green: I don’t think Rodman was really trying to say that James would have been an average player but there’s no doubt in my mind he would’ve had less success with all those Hall of Famers floating around. Although he only has one title, James has a host of awards including MVPs, All Star game MVPs, 60-plus wins on different teams and a bunch of other accolades that would’ve likely been nullified had he played consistent competition against the likes of the Jordans, O’Neals, Olajuwons and Barkleys of the Association. And had his Heat team run against the Bulls, we’d still be singing praise for Jordan’s six titles. We especially have to keep in mind just how tough and how lenient referees were in the NBA during Rodman’s era. LeBron loves to play the paint. Well during the late ’80’s and ’90’s, any player that came in the paint was completely decimated with hard fouls. You could literally close line a player and you probably wouldn’t get called for a personal foul. Nowadays, if you even breathe on a player too hard, you get called for a flagrant foul. I’m not sure LeBron and his current Heat squad would have survived that kind of physicality.
Riley: If we’re going to play fantasy basketball then we might as well put an in-its-prime Bulls team against an in-his-prime Dwyane Wade and the rest of the Heat. Had James joined Miami say, four to five years ago, there’s no doubt in my mind they’d already have at least three titles by now. Since James has been in South Beach, we haven’t seen the Wade of yesteryear so I’ll say a current James and an in-his-prime Wade would definitely be a match for Chicago. The Bulls had superior coaching though and that would be the ultimate difference but talent wise, it would’ve been equal.
Green: No way. I can see Pippen’s defense, especially in his prime, seriously limiting James and I can see Jordan’s defense affecting Wade. Mind you, neither James nor Wade are great shooters so Jordan and Pippen would’ve eaten them alive. Rodman’s prime was during the “bad boy” days when he was a Detroit Piston, winning championships with Isiah Thomas. He was a pure punisher on defense and could’ve handled Chris Bosh easily; Chicago would have run wild against the Heat of today or yesterday. Wade and James are elite defenders, as well, but no defense in the world could stop Jordan. We saw that with our own eyes. Chicago was just so mentally tough back then. It’s hard to find teams like that nowadays because when you watch games all you see are superstars complaining to the referees. James never thinks he commits any fouls and playing against the likes of Jordan and Pippen, mentally, James wouldn’t even be there because he would be exerting so much energy towards the officials.
Riley: A focused James is a dangerous force. And while he does spend his share of minutes whining about calls, that’s the nature of the Association. Jordan had his fair share of complaints back then so let’s not leave him out of the discussion. That series would go seven games. Miami is basically built in the same mold as the old Bulls team so why wouldn’t it be competitive? They both play similar styles except Miami tends to get out on the fast break more. The Heat would give Chicago all they could handle and vice versa.