Sometimes I enjoying checking out old posts we’ve written. One of our most viewed posts is the ‘Top Ten Oldest NBA players‘ from 2010 and 2011. Shaquille O’Neal has been the oldest player in the NBA for over a year now, reaching the respectable top spot after Lindsey Hunter called it quits. Shaq turned 39 last month. His production and his ability to stay healthy have both gone down hill and are pretty much on par with what you would expect from a guy pushing 40 with nearly 1500 pro basketball games behind him.
Shaquille has a career average of 23.7 points and 10.9 rebounds, playing 34.7 minutes a night. He has a total of 90 games during the last two years with the Cavs and the Celtics, playing just more than 20 minutes a night. His glory days are way way behind him. I’m not sure we’ll see him in these playoffs and who knows what his body will tell him after the season is over.
That got me thinking of Michael Jordan. He returned from his second retirement at the age of 38. He averaged 22.9 points per game in 2001-2002, after turning 39. He averaged 20 points per game while playing 37 minutes a night for 82 games during his 4-0 year. A 40 year old man, with six NBA titles and nothing to prove, already the greatest ever, playing at an All-Star level. His defense wasn’t there and the quickness as well. Old, what can you do. Still, Michael Jordan, playing against guys who were just babies when he entered the league, was among the best guards in the NBA.
Now, the longevity of big men and guards is different. It’s much harder to play with a big load for so long. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on the other hand is a perfect example of a big man who kept a very high level of basketball during his late 30’s and early 40’s (was 42 when he retired). He was 90 pounds lighter than Shaq and never really had any injury problems.
Back to Jordan. With all his achievements – Six time NBA Champions, 5 time MVP, 14 time All-Star and 3 time All-Star MVP, Six Time Finals MVP, ten scoring titles and the highest scoring average of all time to name his most known and prolific accomplishments, playing at such a high level while entering his fifth decade on this earth ranks right up there with all his MVP’s. Maybe I’m just one of those 90’s kids that MJ could do no wrong in his eyes and everything he seemed to do was god-like on the basketball court. Maybe.
On to Kobe Bryant – He’s not MJ. He’s always had a better supporting cast and he can’t take over a game, when it really matters, the way Jordan did. Jordan just willed the victory into his own hands. Except for Gary Payton, I don’t think anyone really ever managed to actually frustrate Jordan and relatively keep him at bay for a series. In crunch time, it seemed like it’s Michael Jordan and nine other people on the court. It’s something that teams with LeBron James in them suffer from, with everyone, including Dwyane Wade, disappearing when the game is on the line. I hope they got it figured over there in Miami.
Bryant needs the help. If it wasn’t for Gasol, there would be no title last year. Jordan wouldn’t have been that great without Pippen and Grant/Rodman, but I’m talking about the key moments. Gasol was the one who stepped up when it mattered the most. I think letting Kobe Bryant try and win the game or series on his own is a good idea for anybody. Let his shoot nearly 30 shots and scored 40-45. If that means the Lakers don’t play inside and use their greatest advantage in Gasol and Bynum, all the better.
Jordan never had any half decent big man, at least offensively, play with him on those Chicago Bulls teams. When he picked Kwame Brown as the ‘future’ of the Wizards’ franchise, it showed he never really knew how to recognize good big men. He never played with one, how could he?
But we’re not here only to flatter Jordan. Bryant is only 32, but he has 15 NBA seasons behind him – 1103 regular season games, 204 in the post season. He entered the NBA’s top 10 greatest scorers list this year and has made his way up to sixth. Next up? Shaquille O’Neal. He’s no longer the best player in the league, not even the best shooting guard. Michael Jordan played 15 seasons of basketball during his three-phase-career. I wonder how much Kobe will reach, and for how long he’ll be able to keep up being one of the best offensive threats in the league.