Years ago, when I worked in Detroit, we had a regular sports department caller who always posed the weirdest hypotheticals. My favorite: Who would win in a street fight between the late Bruce Lee and Mike Tyson? Yes, Lee had been dead a decade when this question was posed. The inquisitive caller wanted a serious and definitive answer, so we’d give him one, just to get him off the phone.
I hate hypotheticals. What a waste of time, debating how Babe Ruth would fare against today’s best pitchers. So much has changed about the game — just start with the baseball and keep adding to the list — that these “what if’s?” are just not answerable.
Michael Jordan is generally regarded as the best to ever play the game, in as much as there can be consensus about any such topic. He certainly was the best basketball player I ever saw. Like many fans, I didn’t root for the Bulls but I loved to watch Jordan play — and while I was in Detroit I got a lot of opportunities.
So why can’t he be happy with being regarded as the best to ever play the game? Wouldn’t most people? Instead, Jordan declared, while promoting a video game I won’t mention because I’m not promoting it, that he could have beaten LeBron James in his prime. He’s not sure about Kobe Bryant, because Bryant “steals all my moves.” He’d also like to have played Jerry West, Elgin Baylor, Julius Erving, Carmelo Anthony and Dwyane Wade one-on-one.
Oh, he’s just so competitive, people say. Well, then, perhaps Jordan would like to challenge West to a game of front-office moves. There’s one he wouldn’t win. He is, to put it kindly, not the greatest executive in the history of the league. The Wizards were the first to learn that, but hardly the last.
And who cares, when you can play basketball the way he can? If you were given the talent of Jordan, and had the career of Jordan, and were still making the money of Jordan, would you be sitting around kvetching about how you could school the young whippersnappers (not to mention the old whippersnappers)?
As a fierce competitor, Jordan was never known for his graciousness. It would be a nice change, at age 50, if he could find a way to relax a little about his place in the game. No one is ever going to forget Michael Jordan. Is there a player who will supplant him, firmly and without question, at the top of the “greatest” list? Yes. It’s inevitable.
The game has undergone radical changes since the days of West. In fact, the game has undergone some changes since the days of Jordan. And we circle back to the problem with these contrived comparisons — there is no way to reach an answer, no way to level the playing field or the hardwood court, no way to turn back the clock and get an answer.
Still, there remain people like Jordan — and many fans as well — who love these unending debates. As for me, I don’t care who Jordan could beat one-on-one, I don’t understand why he does, and I wish he’d stop talking about it.
Oh, and Lee would beat Tyson in a street fight. And both would beat Jordan.
For more by Tracee Hamilton, visit washingtonpost.com/hamilton.