The next great NBA rivalry may be upon us

Magic versus Bird, Russell versus Chamberlain, Jordan versus everybody else.  These are the rivalries that molded the National Basketball Association into what it is today.  It’s why so many fans resented LeBron when he decided he’d rather play with his best friend instead of eking it out on his own. But fear not, NBA fans.  We may be on the verge of another great rivalry.  If franchise owners play their cards right, these two teams could dominate the league for years to come. I’m not talking LeBron versus Kobe.  That’s a Finals matchup we have yet to see. It can’t be LeBron-Carmelo.  Even though they entered the league in the same year, LeBron is showing us he’s a far more dominant player. Read more here…

NBA’s best one-two punches within the last 30 years

It can be argued that a team sport is not a one-man game. In fact, it’s very rare that one person can come along and change chemistry, talent and overall bring championships to an organization.

For every LeBron James there is a Dwyane Wade and for every Kobe Bryant there is a Shaquille O’Neal.

Because a team of the NBA features only five players at any given time one player does not make the difference, but history has shown us that when two key players join forces special things can happen.

1. Magic Johnson & Kareem Abdul Jabbar

As great as the 7″2 Hall Of Fame center was, Kareem Abdul Jabbar never won a championship with the Lakers until Earvin “Magic” Johnson came via first overall pick in the 1979 NBA Draft.

The story of Johnson’s rookie year is well…Magic.

Magic averaged 18 points, 7.7 rebounds, and 7.3 assists per game for the season. He was selected to the NBA All-Rookie Team and was named an NBA All-Star game starter.

The Lakers reached the NBA Finals where they faced Julius Erving “Dr. J” and the Philadelphia 76ers. The Lakers went out to a 3-2 lead but Abdul-Jabbar who was averaging 33 points-per-game in the series sprained his ankle and was ruled out of game six.

Instead of lying down and concentrating on game seven, head coach Paul Westhead made a drastic decision to start Magic at center in game six where he recorded 42 points, 15 rebounds, seven assists, and three steals. Magic became the only rookie to ever win the NBA Finals MVP award, but if it wasn’t for the MVP of the league “Kareem” they may not have been there to begin with.

It’s rare that two of the greatest players of all-time had the opportunity to play together and these two made the most of it.

The Lakers were one of the most dominant teams of the 1980’s appearing in the finals eight different times and winning five NBA championships.

2. Kobe Bryant & Shaquille O’Neal

It can be argued that these two future Hall of Fame players could have been the most dynamic duo of all time, but instead it becomes a “what could have been” situation.

Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant led the Lakers to three consecutive NBA titles but it was the feud between them that led to the separation of possibly the greatest one-two punch ever.

On the court it was the perfect harmony.

The center-guard combo was impossible to stop as O’Neal was named MVP of the NBA Finals three times and had the highest scoring average for a center in NBA Finals history.

He was also named the 1999-2000 NBA MVP while Kobe earned appearances in the league’s All-NBA, All-Star, and All-Defensive teams.

While opposing teams struggled to stop the size and power of Shaq it gave Kobe the opportunity to flourish and grow into the superstar that he has become today.

Kobe continues to be a dominant force in the NBA and remains one of the NBA’s top players ever.

Jordan-Pippen-sports-illustrated3. Michael Jordan & Scottie Pippen

If there was one person that could turn a team around by himself it was his royal airness, Michael “Air” Jordan.

In a playoff game against the Boston Celtics in 1986, Jordan scored a playoff record 63 points. After the game Celtics star Larry Bird described him as “God disguised as Michael Jordan.”

Jordan led the league in scoring for 10 seasons but was more than a scoring threat, he was the face of the NBA.

Gatorade, Nike and the Jordan image dominated the basketball scene and set an example of how a sports athlete can take advantage of the market.

Despite the image Jordan needed the defensive minded Scottie Pippen who was named to the NBA All-Defensive team 10 consecutive years during his career.

Phil Jackson once described him as a “one man wrecking crew, capable of guarding anyone from the point guard to the five position.”

Pippen is one of three NBA players to record 200 steals and 100 blocks in a season, and he also has the record for career steals by a forward (2,307), as well as in the playoffs (395).

4. Karl Malone & John Stockton

When comparing athletes it’s impossible not to account for how many championships each of them have won over their career, but despite never winning one, Karl Malone and John Stockton were one of the best duos in NBA history.

Karl Malone “The Mailman” twice won the NBA’s Most Valuable Player award and is considered one of the best power forwards to ever play the game while John Stockton holds NBA records for most assists and steals by a considerable margin.

Malone’s post game was flawless and became the staple of the Utah Jazz’s offense with point guard John Stockton as the general and distributor.

Stockton to Malone was heard during 1,412 regular season games and many of the record assists Stockton had were to his teammate.

By playing the tough style of 1980s basketball and perfecting the pick and roll the Jazz regularly made the playoffs and became one of the most consistent teams in NBA history.

5. LeBron James & Dwyane Wade

Dwayne Wade has one title under his belt and was named the NBA Finals MVP with the Miami Heat in 2006, but as a duo, the story has just started. There is no telling what these two NBA stars could accomplish over time.

King James finished second in the league in scoring in 2011 with 26.7 points per game and Dwyane Wade finished fourth (25.5 points per game). They combined to score 4,052 points last season, most by a duo in Miami Heat history.

4 thank you cards Kobe Bryant should send

Kobe Bryant and Shaq

Kobe BrantWithout a doubt Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers will go down as one of the greatest players in the history of professional basketball.  A premier scorer and five-time NBA Champion, Bryant has a few people who have played a key role in his perceived success.  Here are four thank you cards Kobe Bryant should send out.

Shaquille O’Neal – Dear Shaq, Thanks for the five rings.

Shaq and Kobe (in that order) were one of the most explosive tandems in NBA history.  If Shaq was Batman then Kobe was definitely his trusty sidekick “Boy Wonder” or Robin.  Without the big fella Kobe may have zero rings.  O’Neal carried the Lakers to back-to-back-to-back championships from 2000-02.  It was the Lakers trade of O’Neal that brought Lamar Odom to L.A.  Odom was a key figure in the Lakers and Bryant’s two championships after the departure of O’Neal.

Magic Johnson – Dear Magic, Thanks for retiring early.

Who knows how NBA History may have been rewritten if Magic wasn’t forced into retirement in 1991 after 13 NBA seasons.  The greatest point guard the NBA has ever seen, Magic led the Lakers to nine NBA final appearances winning five of them.  The only reason that Kobe is even in the same breath as Magic is because they have the same number of rings.  If Magic had been able to continue his career he may have gotten one or two more making the Kobe comparisons null and void.

LeBron James  –  Dear LeBron, Thanks for quitting on the Cavs…twice

Yep, Kobe even owes LeBron a thank you.  LeBron mailed it in against the Orlando Magic and Boston Celtics in back-to-back seasons in the playoffs.  That gave the Lakers favorable Finals matchups against the inexperienced Magic and the aging Celtics.  No one in their right mind thinks that Kobe and the Lakers would have beaten those Cleveland Cavalier teams.  But, we’ll never know.

Jerry West – Dear Jerry, Thanks for doing whatever it took to bring to L.A.

Believe it or not the Hornets didn’t draft Kobe and trade him.  He was drafted by the Hornets for the Lakers.  The two teams had agreed to the trade prior to draft day.  It wasn’t until five minutes before the Hornets selection at No. 13 that the Lakers told them who to draft.  Then Lakers General Manager Jerry West gave the word to the Hornets to draft the 17-year-old Bryant.  West had already worked out Bryant in Los Angeles and was very impressed.  The Hornets never had any intentions of taking him for themselves.  A Hall of Fame Center and Head Coach later, Kobe Bryant has become on of the best of all-time.

Follow Aaron on Twitter @Da_Bear_Truth

NBA supreme court: Magic Johnson’s junior hook beats Boston

Magic Johnson

Magic JohnsonIt was Game 4 of the 1987 NBA Finals. Magic Johnson and the Los Angeles Lakers led the series 2-1  against NBA rival Larry Bird and the Boston Celtics. If the Lakers could win the pivotal game in Boston they would take a commanding series lead. If the Celtics won, the series would be tied at two games a piece and they would be right back in it.

After the Celtics jumped out to a 16 point second half lead the Lakers came storming back.

The outcome on the game was still undecided with five seconds remaining in the 4th quarter and the Lakers trailing 105-106. It was Lakers’ ball and what happened next was pure Magic. Lakers lengedary broadcaster Chick Hearn made the call.

The Lakers took a 107-106 lead on Magic’s “junior hook.” It was a baby version of the famed hook shot of teammate Kareem Abdul Jabbar.

Larry Bird would miss a desperation shot as time expired in Game 4 giving the Lakers the win. L.A. would go on to win the series in six.

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At the buzzer: Kobe or Magic?

Magic Johnson

Magic JohnsonAlright fantasy fanatics the Los Angeles Lakers are down by one with 3.4 seconds left in Game 7 of the NBA finals.  If both players are in their prime whose hands do you want the ball in, Magic Johnson or Kobe Bryant?

For those who argue Magic he is without a doubt one of the Top 5 players in the history of the NBA.  A 6-9 point guard with cat-like reflexes and eyes in the back of his head, Johnson was a premier passer who could seemingly thread a needle 85 feet away.

A prototype point guard in his prime Magic Johnson would likely use the dribble to penetrate forcing the defense to collapse on him before dishing the ball to an open teammate for an open jumper or easy lay up.

Johnson also possessed a junior skyhook that resembled the standstill pivot hook shot of teammate Kareem Abdul Jabbar.  Magic named his hook after using it to beat the Boston Celtics in Game 4 of the 1987 NBA Finals in Boston.

If you’re pro Kobe, anyone would be hard pressed to argue against him being the second greatest closer in NBA history (the first being Michael Jordan).  When you’ve got a closer on your team you’ve got to put the ball in their hands in the clutch.  Kobe Bryant has hit a countless number of game-winning shots for the Lakers throughout his career.

Bryant has the ability to create his own shot.  Whether he takes his defender off the dribble, pulls up for a jumper, or just goes hard to the basket to draw a foul, anyone would like their chances with the ball in the hands of number 24.

In this situation I take Magic 100 out of 100 times.  If Kobe has the ball, the Lakers are forced to live or die by his make or miss and with a career field goal percentage of 45, the chances are better that he misses.  In comparison Magic Johnson didn’t have to score for the Lakers to win.  Magic averaged 11.2 assists per game meaning that he made his teammates better.  He needed the ball in his hands to close out the game but his court awareness and creativity along with the ability to score Magic is the better option.

Don’t get me wrong.  Both players are tremendous talents in their respective eras and it would be a coaches’ dream to have to make this decision.  But with that said Magic remains the better option.

What do you think?

You can follow Aaron on Twitter @Da_Bear_Truth.

Larry Bird chooses Kobe over LeBron: But was he right?

Kobe Bryant and LeBron James

Kobe Bryant and LeBron JamesEver since LeBron James came into the NBA in 2003 the debate has waged on.  Who is better, Kobe Bryant or LeBron James?  For some, it’s a matter of championships and for others it’s purely personal preference.  But for NBA Hall of Famer Larry Bird, it’s all about winning.

In a recent interview Bird said that he would choose Kobe Bryant when asked who (Lebron James or Kobe Bryant) he would prefer to play with.

“Well, probably Kobe, because of the fact that … well, of course he wouldn’t have been shooting as much as he does now … but his desire to win, his dedication, to always get better, uh, and he’s just, he’s just tough,” Bird said. “He’s just a tough cat.

“But, if you want to have fun, like I did with Bill Walton, play with LeBron. It would have probably been more fun to play with LeBron, but if you want to win and win and win, it’s Kobe. Not that LeBron’s not a winner, just that [Kobe’s] mindset is to go into every practice, every game, to get better.”

Did Bird make the right choice?  Bryant does have five NBA titles and is arguably the most relentless player to don a professional basketball uniform since Michael Jordan. Even with that, Bird’s decision seems a bit off-key and here’s why.  Kobe’s drive is commendable but it isn’t enough.

If you look at Kobe’s game his work ethic doesn’t make the Lakers a better team.  It makes Kobe better, but not the team better.  When Magic Johnson played with the Lakers he was the best player in the game because he made his fellow Laker players the best team in the game.  No one would deny the fact that if Bird and Magic had ever teamed up they would have been unstoppable.  LeBron James is a more athletic Magic Johnson, so the same would apply with a one-two punch of James and Bird. Right?

On the other hand with Kobe and Bird on the same team it would be more of a love-hate relationship;  a lot like Shaq and Kobe when they played together.  Both Bird and Kobe are closers and need the ball in their hands to truly be effective. Granted, Bird was a better distributor than Bryant but getting teammates involved was secondary for him and has never been a high priority in Kobe’s game.

So if Larry Bird’s true intention behind his choice was winning then he should have chosen “the Chosen One.”   In the same interview Bird admitted that James is the best player in the league but mocked his desire to team up with James by saying it would be “fun.”  If you have the opportunity to play with the best player in the NBA wouldn’t you take it?   If you’re Larry Bird why not choose LeBron over Kobe as their games would complement one another better than a Bird-Kobe pairing.

Maybe Bird’s decision was based more on the era that he played in and which of the two superstars’ mentalities would have thrived back in his day.  If that was the case, then Bird indeed made the right call by choosing the hard-working Bryant.  But if not…I don’t get it.

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Top 5 Lakers of all-time: Did Kobe make the cut?

Kobe and Shaq

Kobe and ShaqThe Los Angeles Lakers are arguably one of the most elite franchises in professional sports.  With 16 NBA Championships dating back to their days in Minneapolis, the Lakers have had a wealth of talented stars that have dazzled the hardwood and helped make the NBA what it is today.  Here are the Top 5 Lakers of all-time.

1.       Magic Johnson:  At 6’9, Earvin “Magic” Johnson redefined the position of point guard.  His cat-like instincts and ability find the open man often made it appear as if he had eyes in the back of his head while leaving defenders looking foolish.  Magic spent all 13 seasons of his NBA career with the Lakers before retiring prematurely after testing positive for HIV.  During his career, Magic scored over 17,000 points but even more impressively finished with over 10,000 assist.  That equates to directly contributing to over 37,000 points during his abbreviated NBA career. Johnson led the Lakers to five NBA championships in a nine-year span earning league MVP honors as well as Finals’ MVP three times a piece. 

 2.       Shaquille O’Neal:  At 7’1 and a generous 325 lbs, Shaq was arguably to most opposing figure to ever play professional basketball.  O’Neal joined the Lakers after four years with the Orlando Magic.  During his eight seasons in L.A., Shaq averaged 27 points and just under 12 rebounds a game.  He led the Lakers to four final appearances in five years with three straight titles between the 1999-2002 seasons.  He was named Finals MVP in each of the championship years and NBA MVP in the 1999-00 season.  Although Shaq would go on to play with four more NBA teams and win a 4th championship with the Miami Heat, without a doubt, the most productive stint of his career came in L.A.

3.       George Mikan:  The NBA calls George Mikan it first “superstar,” so what would a Top 5 Lakers’ list be without him?  Mikan was 6’10 and one of basketballs’ original big men.  He joined the Lakers of the then Basketball Association of America back in 1948 when they were still in Minneapolis.  In seven short professional seasons Mikan amassed over 10,000 points as he led the Lakers to five championships.  Rebounds were not recorded in the NBA until the 1973-74 season but rest assure that Mikan grabbed plenty.

 4.       Kareem Abdul-Jabbar:  At 7’2, Kareem was by far one of the most dominant players of his time.  Before joining the Lakers in the 1975-76 season, Jabbar spent six years with the Milwaukee Bucks.  Known for his unstoppable “skyhook” and trademark goggles, Kareem would spend 14 years with the Lakers before retiring in 1989.  He won three league MVP honors with L.A. while helping them win five NBA championships.  When it was all said and done, Abdul-Jabbar had amassed an NBA record 38,386 points in 20 seasons.  That’s one record that just may never be broken.

 5.      Kobe Bryant:  Of all the players that have entered the NBA directly out of high school, Kobe Bryant is without a doubt the most successful.    Originally drafted by the Charlotte Hornets in 1996, Kobe was subsequently traded to the Lakers.  In 15 NBA seasons, Kobe has accumulated over 28,000 points averaging just over 25 points a game.  With Shaquille O’Neal at his side, Kobe helped the Lakers win three consecutive championships in the early 2000’s.  He would go on to lead the Lakers to two more without O’Neal later in the decade.  Bryant has been named the NBA MVP once, in the 2007-08 season and NBA Finals MVP twice.   Although his career still hangs in the balance, it is doubtful that he will ever be higher than the 5th greatest Laker of all-time.

Noticeably absent from this list are Laker greats Jerry West, Elgin Baylor and Wilt Chamberlain.  Despite West being the NBA logo and Wilt’s profound dominance during his era, these three only combined for one title with the Lakers in 1972.

 Aaron Moon is the CEO and a Featured Journalist for Shatter The Backboard. An active duty Navy Chief and avid writer, Aaron is a longtime Bulls’ fan who enjoys the history of the NBA. You can contact Aaron on Facebook or follow him on Twitter @DA_Bear_Truth.