Let’s reverse the equation – how would today’s stars have fared in Michael Jordan’s era?

You’d think Lebron James and Michael Jordan were playing one on one on First Things First on Tuesday morning – but it was just Nick Wright and Chris Broussard.

The Last Dance is affording fans a glimpse into the way the game was played in the 1980s and 1990s. And of course, one of our favorite pastimes is comparing eras.

The pastime is at its peak, and for the most part, NBA voices have discussed how successful Jordan would be in today’s NBA.

Michael Jordan Nba GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

But on Tuesday, the conversation shifted a little bit – how would the superstars today have fared in Jordan’s eras?

Former NBA player Jalen Rose said that today’s stars would have been great in any time period, but that the former greats are often considered tougher because their eras weren’t equipped with as many resources.

“I think the elite players today still have that same killer instinct and mind-state of great players from the past. I think that translates across eras. The great players today still would be great players in another era … But it tests your love when you don’t have the resources. Today’s player has a lot more resources … There can be a frustration today when you feel like people play the game because they have skill, not necessarily doing it for the love.”

Decades ago, NBA money was nowhere near what it is today, and NBA teams used to fly commercial, among other things. For that reason, many suggest that today’s stars couldn’t have lasted in the 80s and 90s, which Rose disagrees with.

Rose also discussed the evolution of the game, pointing to the physical similarities between LeBron James and NBA Hall of Famer, Karl Malone.

“They’re both similar if you look at their height and their weight … [but] Karl Malone had skills for a big man. LeBron James had skills for a guard.” 

Both James and Malone stand 6’9″ and weigh around 250 pounds.

Los Angeles Sport GIF by ESPN - Find & Share on GIPHY

Where Rose was diplomatic in his approach, Nick Wright and Chris Broussard were not.

The two respectfully got after it this morning on First Things First, beginning with Broussard listing four reasons why Jordan would average over 40 points per game in today’s NBA.

“It is easier than ever to get to the rim in today’s NBA … Defenses run you off the 3-point line. They’d rather you take a two than a three … Secondly, the midrange. He’s arguably the greatest midrange shooter in NBA history … Thirdly, 3-point shooting … If he played today, where the 3-pointer is encouraged, he would practice it more … Finally, the pace of play is so much faster today.”

Wright clapped back at Broussard’s claim, arguing that Broussard’s logic as to why Jordan’s scoring output would increase must also be applied to today’s superstars if they were to play in the past. With that, Wright points out that Broussard must be positing that LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard and others would average less than they do today in the 80s and 90s.

“In the last 35 years, the fastest pace of play was 1987, the year Michael Jordan averaged the 37. The 80s – not right now – was the highest scoring decade of the last 40 years, and the fastest decade as far as pace of play … If it’s so much easier to score, then why aren’t those guys scoring like that? Unless you believe Jordan’s offensive game is just exponentially greater than Durant’s. What you have to be saying is that the guys of Jordan’s era, like Domonique [Wilkins] would be at 38-39 a game right now … Are we only doing this era inflation for [Jordan]?”

Let’s look at some numbers:

NBA Decade: 1980-90

  • Jordan averaged a career-high 37.1 ppg in 1986-87
  • NBA teams averaged 109.06 ppg
  • NBA teams averaged 101.07 possessions per 48 minutes
  • NBA teams averaged 3.83 three-point attempts per game, and 1.13 made threes per game
  • NBA teams averaged 29.21 free throw attempts per game, and 22.12 made free throws per game

NBA Decade: 2010-20

  • NBA teams averaged 103.22 ppg
  • NBA teams averaged 95.29 possessions per 48 minutes
  • NBA teams averaged 22.97 free throw attempts per game, and 17.46 made free throws per game
  • NBA teams averaged 24.63 three-point attempts per game, and 8.78 made threes per game

These numbers seem to support Wright’s claim.

In response, Broussard said that the numbers don’t take into account the intangibles of the game, such as LeBron’s ability to adjust to the style of play. He also reminded Wright that rookie Zion Williamson is scoring at a tremendous rate without having the offensive arsenal that Jordan would bring to today’s game.

“People say, ‘LeBron would struggle because it was so physical.’ No! He would adjust to it and be able to take the hard hits at the rim … Zion Williamson, who can’t shoot and just stepped into the league is averaging like 20 points a game in 20 minutes a game. Michael Jordan couldn’t score like that in today’s NBA?”

Once again, to be exact, Williamson is averaging 23.6 points in 29.7 minutes. He is connecting on 0.3 of 0.7 threes per game, and he is making 5.2 of 8.0 free throws per game.

Zion Williamson GIF by New Orleans Pelicans - Find & Share on GIPHY

Comparing eras is indeed difficult, and ESPN’s Marcus Spears explained his issues with the conversation.

“There is this notion that these superstars we talk about in any era didn’t have players on their team to help them be dominant. KD and LeBron would be dominant in the 80s and 90s if they were surrounded by guys that played their role to the highest level … We always have this era conversation. If you can play basketball, you can play basketball … I don’t think those levels change based on the era that they’re in. They adapt to the era that they’re in.”

We can’t wait to talk about this again once LeBron retires.