LeBron for a Day

If you could become any basketball player for a day, whom would you choose? Jordan? Magic? Shaq? A few years ago, this would have been a more interesting question. Did you want to score? Distribute? Dominate inside? Now, you don’t really have to choose. One player gives you all of these things.

I asked a bunch of my hoop-playing friends who they’d like to become. There were conditions: the transformation would be similar to how the aliens become the Monstars in Space Jam—you’d get your chosen player’s size and skill but maintain your personality and facial features. And you’d only get those attributes for a day. In other words, it’s all about ball, not fame or fortune.

I started thinking about this as I watched the Dream Team documentary and played in my own rec league games. My strength is outside shooting, but I’d love to be able to distribute like an elite point guard. Setting up my teammates for baskets would be more fun than draining a few jumpers. So my first thought was Magic Johnson. He’s unselfish, creative, and, as a bonus, tall.

Nobody I emailed chose Magic, but one did choose Steve Nash for similar reasons. A few others went for lights-out shooters like Reggie Miller, Ray Allen, and Jimmer Fredette. Said the person who chose Miller: “It would be great to just never miss.” Said the Allen supporter: “I love the purity of a made jump shot.” Said the Jimmer wannabe: “I never cared too much about defense.”

I certainly get that (all of that). But I’ve done it before. I’m not comparing my shooting ability to those guys’, but I’ve had stretches where I’ve shot a very high percentage. I know what that feels like. I want to dominate in other ways. Which takes us back to Magic. Even as recently as last year’s NBA Finals, I may have chosen Magic. I now realize that would be foolish. I could basically get Magic’s passing ability—and better scoring, rebounding, defending, dunking, running, and jumping—with LeBron James.

Sure enough, LeBron got the most votes in my survey (about 60%). The second most popular selection, as you could have guessed, was Michael Jordan. Those who chose His Airness pointed to his clutch play, defensive tenacity, and winner’s mentality—though in my Space Jam scenario I didn’t intend for the mental aspects of the game to transfer. Either way, it’s hard to justify Jordan over James from a skills/size standpoint. As one person told me, LeBron is “the perfect blend of Magic and Michael.” Another said, “The combination of LeBron’s athleticism, size, strength, court vision, etc. is more desirable to me than Jordan’s skills, which require you to be a borderline psycho in order to maintain his level of play.”

I’m not saying LeBron James is better than Jordan or Magic at every facet of the game. But do you think his passing is that far below Magic’s? Is his scoring ability that worse than Jordan’s? Enough to offset his obvious advantages? As Doc Rivers pointed out during halftime of Team USA’s victory over France on Sunday, LeBron is Karl Malone’s size, but he moves and handles the ball like a point guard.

In a recent Sports Illustrated, the Heat’s Shane Battier said he’d like to be LeBron for a day (I didn’t think to ask him). What would he do with The King’s skills? “I’d dunk, lift weights, run fast. I’d challenge a horse to a race.” While I appreciate Battier’s creativity, that seems like a waste. Wouldn’t you want to play as much basketball as possible? I’d go from playground to playground showing off my skills. I’d dunk on as many people as possible. I’d hit fadeaway threes. I’d lead the fast break and flip a no-look pass to an open teammate. I’d defend the other team’s point guard one possession (and strip him) and its center on the next (and reject him). I’d stuff the stat sheet and help my team win, and everyone would enjoy playing with me.

And shouldn’t that be a factor—how much fun you would have? Remember, you keep your personality, so assuming you’re not the type of person to break your hometown fans’ hearts with a nationally-televised middle finger, I would think teammates would appreciate playing with you as LeBron more so than you as Jordan. Jordan wasn’t selfish, but he didn’t/couldn’t share the ball like LeBron.

My rec league team adds/drops a player or two every season, but one thing we’ve consistently lacked is a true play-making point guard. I’d love to be that guy, but sometimes my ball-handling isn’t good enough to break down a quick defender. Sometimes I’m a fraction of a second late finding an open teammate. Sometimes it would be fun to do this:

Or this:

Or this:

And those were just from the last two weeks.

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