Room For Debate: The NBA, Tejas vs. Teachers


Tejas Vadali In order to truly recognize how wonderful the NBA is today, we must take a step back and look at the history that has made it great. On my quest to find answers to some of the NBA’s most debated questions, I found three knowledgeable (and willing) interviewees: Mr. Sanchez, Mr. van Benthuysen, and Mr. Gupta. Each of these teachers were asked a highly debatable NBA question and given time to mull it over (except Mr. Sanchez, whom I asked on the spot). I gave each of the teachers first choice in what to debate, and I structured my debates to contradict theirs. Without further ado, here are their answers, and my responses.  

Was Michael Jordan a better player than LeBron James?

Mr. Sanchez: The NBA is full of great talent, both past and present, but when it comes to the debate of who the best player is, MJ is the only one in the conversation. Here, you’re talking about a 6’6” shooting guard who isn’t afraid to drive hard at 7-footers. Here, you’re talking about a performer that was so consistent in the clutch that opponents would double, triple, and sometimes quadruple-team him. Here, you’re talking about a man who was so tough that he could stare death himself in the face and not even flinch. In today’s NBA, players like LeBron rely solely on their height and athleticism, but things would be different if you put them in the league 20 years ago. Michael Jordan knew that to survive in the NBA he needed strong fundamentals, so he developed his crossover, he practiced his midrange jumper time and time again, but most importantly, he was able to move without the ball. MJ was able to rely on his teammates to pass him the ball, but all we see LeBron doing is playing all five positions because he’s too scared to let anyone else help him. MJ also had the toughness that was necessary to survive in his NBA, whereas LeBron will break down and cry if he loses a game. If Michael got injured, he would crawl to the sideline himself, and unless he was mortally wounded, he wouldn’t let anyone help him up. LeBron flops so much that it’s like every other day we see him screaming in pain on the sideline while the team physician runs onto the court. Not only was MJ a better player than LeBron, but he was better for the league. His charisma brought him fame and stardom worldwide, and this subsequently brought lots of money into the NBA. To recap, MJ was miles better than LeBron, and that’s how it’s going to be for the rest of LeBron’s career. Tejas: Allow me to engage you in a little round of “I think not.” According to, LeBron James has averaged 7.1 assists over his career, a significantly higher average than Michael Jordan’s 5.3. LeBron doesn’t trust his teammates enough? I think not. It’s important to note that, for the majority of his career, LeBron didn’t have anybody to pass to. It’s one thing to have players like Scottie Pippen on your team early in your career, and it’s another thing to have your best teammate be Zydrunas Ilgauskas when you come into the league. Granted, LeBron did eventually find talented teammates in Bosh, Wade, and Kyrie Irving, but that doesn’t negate how he consistently dragged a Cavaliers team consisting of himself, Mo Williams, and Anderson Varejao’s hair. What I’m trying to say is that LeBron’s teammates were bad. If we’re talking about revenue, nobody brings in more revenue for the league than LeBron, and fans will pay for almost anything he does. Michael Jordan’s career was only 14 years long, and LeBron is at 14 this season. Both players will go down as some of the best players of all time. Michael Jordan may have garnered more awards and championships, but LeBron will be regarded as the better player because he consistently demonstrated an ability to make any team a contender despite its lack of talent.  

What is your all-time starting five players in terms of chemistry?

Mr. van Benthuysen: We all know that it would be way too easy to put LeBron or MJ on my all-time team, so I’m automatically ruling them out and adding another stipulation. I’ve decided that in order to make an effective team, there needs to be some chemistry. If I just put the best players of all-time on one team, they’d just blow everyone out by 50 points like in the Olympics, so I tried to make this more of a team and not a one-man-show. Point Guard: Oscar Robertson- Oscar was the foundation for triple-double-machines like Westbrook and Harden. He consistently averaged superstar-caliber stats, and his longevity was very enviable. You’re going to hear me say this about every player on this list, but he was simply too dominant and above and beyond those around him for me to leave him off of my team. Shooting Guard: Julius Erving- I chose The Doctor because I need an athletic guard who can take a charge and drive to the basket. His ball-handling ability is immaculate, and his post-game is extremely solid. Dr. J’s dunks are sure to get the rest of my team pumped up, and that’s just another reason he’s my two-guard. Small Forward: Larry Bird- Larry Legend’s jump shot, although unorthodox, is one of the best in history. I need a forward who is not too ball-dominant and who can play catch-and-shoot ball, and that’s why I chose Larry. His work ethic, leadership, and hatred of losing will most definitely motivate my teammates, and his presence on the court alone is bound to intimidate defenders, something that I definitely value on my team. Power Forward: Tim Duncan- Timmy is a guy who knows his place on a team. He can take charge and be the main man when he’s needed, but he can also be a valuable team player. His fundamentals are out-of-this-world, and his board-grabbing is second to none. I need someone who will grab all of the rebounds for me and can effectively protect the rim, and that’s why Timmy is at the four for me. Center: Wilt Chamberlain- It’s pretty clear at this point that I’ll be running my offense through The Stilt, but come on, can you blame me? His athleticism is outstanding, and he certainly knows how to score, as evidenced by his 100-point performance in ‘62. Wilt was amazing in his prime, and I’m convinced that he would be as great if he were put in any generation. The Stilt was one of the most dominant players in history, and he made his opponents cower in his presence. Wilt’s overall basketball ability is the reason for him being both the center and the centerpiece on my all-time team.   Tejas: Just like Mr. van, I’m going to keep LeBron and MJ off of my team in order to preserve some chemistry. Therefore, without further ado, here is my all-time starting five. Point Guard: John Stockton- Stockton was a crafty player with an interesting playstyle. Throughout his career, he averaged crazy numbers in assists and steals, and he’s even the all-time leader in those two categories. Stockton was never a ball-dominant player, and clearly, he was a very effective distributor and defender. Although he wasn’t too athletic, Stockton’s craftiness and selflessness make up for that, and for that reason, he is my point guard. Shooting Guard: Reggie Miller- Reggie’s 3-point shooting, in my opinion, is the greatest of all time(sorry Steph Curry). He is one of the best catch-and-shoot players in history, and this will work well with my team’s tendency towards ball movement. Reggie hates to lose, and his grit spurs quite a good amount of trash talk out of him. This will be a valuable skill to have against tougher opponents, and for these reasons coupled with his undeniable clutch-factor, Reggie Miller is my two-guard. Small Forward: Scottie Pippen- It is pretty evident that I’m angling towards a more defense-oriented lineup, and Scottie will fit right in. His penchant for stealing the ball is an invaluable asset, and his consistently excellent performance is indispensable. It is evident that Scottie can be an effective second option, and he will fill in the same role on my team. Power Forward: Dirk Nowitzki- German Jesus is a player whose game can never truly be emulated. He is a 7-footer who can play in the post, hit fadeaway jumpers, and even bury deep 3-pointers. Dirk will be an excellent pick-and-roll partner due to his versatility and ability to read the court. Dirk is a patient player, so he will not be too hasty to shoot, and this will rub off on my other players so that they will learn to time their shots appropriately. Dirk is a very consistent player who knows how to deal with tough opponents. Dirk is very capable of being the first option on his team, as he did so for his entire career in Dallas. Therefore, he will also be the main scoring option on my team. He will never shy away from a challenge, which is why he’s at the four for me. Center: Hakeem Olajuwon- The Dream is essentially a hyper-skilled guard trapped in a big man’s body. He has a godly post-game, the best footwork of any center in his, and he is quite simply a gazelle when he runs down the court. Hakeem proved time and time again that he is one of the greatest players of all time, as evidenced by his championships and MVP award. To add a much needed skill to my team, Hakeem also averaged just over 11 rebounds per game throughout his career, which is why he rounds out my lineup at center.  

Do awards or stats determine a player’s greatness?

Mr. Gupta: Greatness in all sports is so subjective and tough, but especially in basketball where there are 10 players on the court and one person can make a huge difference in the outcome. I look at a couple of things when rating players: how do they perform in crunch time and on the big stages? How do their stats compare to players in their era and the zeitgeist of the league at that point in time? Have they improved their play and their team’s play over time? Are they available to make an impact, or have injuries played a factor? I think all-NBA designations are more telling than all-star nods; one is voted by sportswriters/broadcasters, and the latter is voted by fans, making it a simple popularity contest. MVPs also have historically been a tough single barometer because the criteria again varies because of the mood and direction of the league in a given year (see Derrick Rose’s MVP year for evidence). I think when you couple all those things together, then you get to what people would say should be the ultimate criteria, which is the number of rings won. Now if that is the simple stipulation, then Bill Russell would be deemed the greatest player of all time because of his 11 championships. However, most NBA fans don’t regard him as the best, if even in the top five best players of all time. I guess my long winded answer is one needs to combine all of those things mentioned above to get to how “great” a player is. And let me say this: there have been MANY great players who haven’t won a championship in the NBA and there are MANY great players currently in the NBA who won’t ever win a championship. And that does not take away from their careers at all. Anyone who says that is way too black and white for my liking. Tejas: Although I do agree with Mr. Gupta that stats and awards alone cannot decide whether a player is great or not, I do believe that stats are more indicative of a player’s greatness than he does. Now, this is within reason, of course. For example, we all know that Wilt Chamberlain was one of the greatest players to ever play basketball, but his stats must be taken into account separately. Wilt averaged about 50 points and 27 rebounds, a stat line that in today’s NBA would probably result in Kenny Smith and Charles Barkley trying to lift Shaq’s jaw off the floor on the TNT set. However, Wilt put up those numbers in an NBA with about a third of the teams as today’s, so it was considerably easier, but still a great feat, to achieve such a stat line. In the modern NBA, stats are considerably more important in determining a player’s greatness. As a prime example, take these two players: one player averaged nearly 27 points per game over his career and had no championships, whereas the other player averaged 7 points per game over his career and had seven championships. The first player is Allen Iverson, and the second player is Robert Horry. It’s pretty clear that Allen Iverson is the greater player, but he never had the talent around him to win a championship. Robert Horry, on the other hand, played with the likes of Hakeem, Kobe, Shaq, and Tim Duncan. Allen Iverson’s stats compared to those around him were phenomenal, and that is why he is regarded as an all-time great despite his dearth of championships. It is evident that stats are not the only deciding factor in a player’s greatness, but they most certainly play a more important role than awards do.]]>