The ultimate game of 3-on-3 in the NBA
"There's no way I would've ever called up Larry, called up Magic and said, 'Hey, look, let's get together and play on one team.'" - Michael Jordan
Since his elected exodus from Cleveland, LeBron James' decision has been universally vilified (save for those living in the greater Miami area). Cavalier fans felt betrayed and bamboozled, particularly with the hindsight of their hometown hero's performance against Boston in the playoffs. Almost anyone with a sense of self-image mocked the man's hubris of proclaiming his destination in a prime-time TV forum. Basketball legends shook their heads at LeBron's priority of improving his "brand" rather than his jump-shot.
Yet the most belittling battle cry hurled at James concerns his contentment in playing second banana rather than maintaining his alpha-dog status in pursuit of a championship. This attitude was echoed by His Airness, who delivered the above quote when asked his thoughts on the matter. If any doubt remained, this damning declaration settled the debate. In the words of the Grail Knight from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, "He chose-poorly."
But 23's proclamation initiated an intriguing inquiry: what IF Jordan, Bird and Magic had united forces? Better yet, what if we could hop into Doc Brown's DeLorean and have Jordan-Bird-Magic test Miami's refurbished roster?
Wade, James, and Bosh will be entering their eighth seasons with only one ring between them. To put that truth in perspective, Bird and Magic won championships in SIX of their first seven years, with Philadelphia's '83 triumph as the lone outlier. Add Jordan's '91 title during his seventh year in the league, and suddenly the accomplishments of the boys from South Beach look feeble. (Although I'm sure if a statistic monitored the amount of stares and chest-thumps executed after dunks, blocks, and welcoming parties, Miami's numbers would be off the charts. Alas.)
To settle the debate, we entered the current Heat lineup into the Whatifsports.com Simulation Engine to compete against Magic, Jordan, Bird. To complete the legends' roster, we added solid complimentary players from their championship teams, a la Luc Longley, A.C. Green, etc. We pitted the two foes in a seven-game series, and here's what transpired.
Best of Seven Series
Miami went into halftime with the lead; however, like most LeBron James' teams, the Heat faded in the clutch. Jordan led the Legend squad with 30 points, 8 assists, and 7 boards, with Bird adding 16 points and 11 rebounds in the winning effort. Bosh took advantage of the Legends' lack of a power forward-presence, racking up 26 points and 9 rebounds in the losing cause. But the real noteworthy stat comes to us via Wade, who accumulated a jaw-dropping 17 assists. Some of the early speculation concerning the Heat revolves around ball-handling duties. If Game 1 is any indication, it appears #3 is aptly suited for this responsibility.
LeBron was the story in this battle, as James lit up the scoreboard with 26 points, 13 rebounds, and 12 assists. While the destruction of James' popularity appears to have a prolonged shelf life, the Chosen One's witnesses will return if triple-doubles become the norm in the first few weeks of the 2010-2011 season. As ridiculous as the premise may sound, if James was averaging 30/7/8 with the likes of Mo Williams, offensively-challenged Anderson Varejao, and a washed-up Shaquille O'Neal, imagine his possible carnage with Wade, Bosh, and sharpshooter Mike Miller in his arsenal.
The Hick from French Lick finished with a triple-double (19 points, 12 rebounds, 10 assists) as the Legends take a 2-1 lead in the series. Basketball pundits have hypothesized that in a theoretical 2011 Finals matchup, Dwayne Wade has the defensive prowess to shutdown Kobe Bryant. Unfortunately, this opinion does not carry over to the simulation engine, as Jordan torched D-Wade for 40 in Game 3 and is averaging 31 ppg during the series.
This contest wasn't as close as advertised, as Bird and Magic sat out most of the 4th quarter until a flurry of 3-pointers from Mario Chalmers in the closing minutes brought the score to a respectable margin. Magic, who had taken a backseat to Bird and Jordan in the first three games, exploded with 27 points, 10 dimes, and 7 boards for the Legends. The remarkable trend of the series lies in the role players, as each squad's production has generally canceled the output of their opponent. This has yielded us a clash of the titans, as teams' destinies lie in the hands of their "Big 3." And through four games, the Legends have risen to the challenge.
Miami pulled away in the 4th quarter to stave off elimination in Game 5. This comes off as somewhat peculiar, as the Legends possess two of the greatest clutch players in basketball history. If this team added Robert Horry, they'd never come up short in a tight ballgame. Wade goes 14-for-26 from the field to lead the Heat, while MJ submits a near triple-double with 21 points, 8 rebounds, and 9 dishes.
The Legends took a 38-24 1st quarter lead and never looked back. Fittingly, Michael Jordan took home the series MVP with a Game 6 performance of 39 points and 11 rebounds. The Birdman added 21 points and 10 boards, with Magic contributing 12 assists in the victory. The 3-ball doomed the Heat, as LeBron, Wade, and Chalmers combined to shoot 2-for-11 behind the arc. Wade led Miami with 25 points, as LeBron and Bosh chipped in 21 and 20 points, respectively.
Before submitting this article into the multitude of "F*#% Miami" literature that's been published this offseason, let us note some of the influences that impacted this outcome. Most basketball experts concur that Mike Miller will be the fourth scoring option for the Heat in '10-'11. The former Gator quietly submitted one of the better shooting years in NBA history, hitting 48% behind the arc, 50% from the field, and 82% at the line. Miller, a preseason favorite for the 6th Man award, managed just 4.8 points per game in our simulated series. Granted, this probably has some correlation to the tandem of Bird, Jordan, and A.C. Green in his grill. Still, one would have to imagine Miller contributing more to the Heat than a measly 5 points per contest.
Additionally, it's easy to get lost in the present propaganda of Miami's three amigos. While they may be on their way to greatness, this Heat squad just faced a foundation of three of the best players ever to step on the hardwood. Bird, Magic, and Jordan have combined for 28 All-NBA First-Team appearances. To give that stat context, through seven seasons, Wade has been granted First-Team status twice. Bosh has yet to appear on this list.
Some have called the trio of James, Wade, and Bosh the greatest trinity of basketball skill ever assembled. But thanks to our engines, we know that in the "what if" world, this statement is simply hyperbole.
Let us know what you think of Whatifsports.com's Old School vs New School simulation. Shoot us an email at BtB@whatifsports.com.