In “The Book of Basketball,” my favorite sports journalist, Bill Simmons, provided a 12-man team that he would pick in an attempt to save the world from some mythical group of aliens that challenged the team to a basketball game for the fate of man. Of course, all of this is purely theoretical, but it’s always fun to speculate. I figured that I would create my own 12-man team, mimicking Simmons’ format so as to create the best fit as opposed to the most talented team. I’ll cite the 2012-13 Lakers as an example that this old basketball adage is still relevant: It’s not about finding the most talented team; it’s about finding the best fit. Players will be selected with a few criterion in mind: They must have high Basketball IQ, must be able to adjust their skill-set/game in order to transcend time (will his game still be effective regardless of the era in which he plays?), and he must be a willing teammate who values winning above all else.
**Worth noting is that each player is in his prime at the time of this mythical draft**
Magic Johnson: Magic has long been thought to be the most selfless player in the history of the league. His charisma and love for the game brought out the best in his teammates and even elongated Kareem’s career by at least a couple of years. While at times the flashy pass can be reckless and/or inefficient, Magic executed it to perfection. When done correctly, the flashy pass energizes the crowd and can refocus a team; it is a true momentum swing. Despite his sub-par defense, it’s reasonable to suggest that Magic could be hid well on that end of the floor because of his ability to keep everyone involved on offense and thus, interested and motivated on the defensive end. The man is a winner and it’s no coincidence that his all of his teammates (save for Norm Nixon) turned out to be significantly better players than they would have been otherwise.
Michael Jordan: The best. Ever. If this game were to be decided in the fourth quarter, Jordan is the right man for the job. He is the best player ever and he runs to the moment, not away from it. This man is an absolute killer and he is more complete a player than most people give him credit for. He can defend phenomenally and he is a very capable passer when need be. A key part of Michael’s game will be his work in the post. By feeding Michael in the post, there are a bevy of consequences that will follow: 1) We control the pace of the game, 2) Michael gets into a rhythm if the aliens choose not to double, 3) If they do choose to double, we have Magic slashing to the basket, giving Michael the chance for a hockey assist or Larry Bird spotting up at the three-point line. Also, 6-0 in the Finals without ever reaching a Game 7? That’s all the justification I need here.
Larry Bird: All modern lineups need at least one sharpshooter and Larry’s our guy in that department. What people often forget is that Larry was far more than just a shooter. He was a wizard with the ball and an unbelievable playmaker. Bonus points were awarded here for how well Magic and Bird play together and how friendly the two remain to this day. Again, I’m valuing chemistry above all else here. I could have chosen several other players in this spot, but I think Bird fits the bill best. I think having Bird and Magic surround Jordan (not unlike their Dream Team days) would actually allow for healthy competition; the trio would all rise to the occasion and try to meet each other’s expectations.
Tim Duncan: Of course I had to start Timmy! Per my coaching strategies, we’ll be running this team inside-out so we’re going to need a post presence at all times. Tim Duncan is truly remarkable on the block and though his moves aren’t pretty, they sure are effective (he’s the best power forward of all time for a reason). Defensively, Duncan isn’t all that shabby either. Even in his old age, he has managed to defend players who are much more nimble and agile than he is. I attribute much of that to Gregg Popovich being very judicious in how he doles out minutes to Duncan, allowing him to remain fresh for the whole game. Thankfully, we’ll have plenty of frontline support to ensure that Timmy’s good to go when he’s in the game.
Bill Russell: Our defensive anchor. Bill Russell’s job is to wreak havoc whenever someone comes in the lane and snatch rebounds like a crazed man. In spite of an offensive game that likely would not have translated well to the modern era of basketball, Russell’s defense, effort, and leadership are timeless. Russell could do the dirty work and so while he might not be the most purely talented player available for this position, he might very well be the best cog here.
Sixth man – Kevin McHale: McHale is an absolute warrior. Having played on a broken foot in the playoffs, it’s fair to say that McHale is the team’s tough guy. McHale is a very strong post player, but he knows how to play within himself; I can’t see him clashing with Duncan or Olajuwon over how many touches he’s getting. He’ll know when to take a step back and when to assert himself which I think will prove to be his most valuable attribute.
PG – Stephen Curry: Curry is an invaluable asset in the modern game. Not only is he extremely entertaining, but he is in my opinion, the best pure shooter that the game has ever seen. Moreover, he’s a very unselfish player who commands double teams and torches defenses when they arrive. The only defense that could even remotely come close to mitigating his effect on the game would be one in which he is literally face-guarded and denied the ball at all costs. In that case though, Curry could act as an effective decoy while also tiring out his counterpart at point guard. On this team however, I think I’d have Curry as more of a spot-up shooter than anything. While he’s capable of playmaking, I think I’d rather give that responsibility to LeBron (spoiler alert!). Long story short, we need him.
SG – Kobe Bryant: I seriously deliberated about whether or not I should pick Kobe here and as a die-hard Lakers fan, that pained me greatly. He certainly has the talent to be on this team, but he is introverted and not your typical leader. For that reason, I wondered how well he would grasp playing on a team such as this one— would he try to take over the game? Kobe’s a winner, but I feel as though he likes to win on his terms which means he needs to be the alpha dog on whatever team he is placed on. Strangely enough, Kobe’s saving grace is that MJ is on this team. Kobe IDOLIZES Michael and I think that if the two were to play together, Michael could curb Kobe’s ego and take him to heights that even he never thought possible. In the event that Michael needed a breather, who better than a mini-MJ to take over a game for a short spurt?
Any position – LeBron James: LeBron is a fantastic player, a one of a kind talent. He is a great leader and he makes everyone around him better. We’d have to be careful placing LeBron and Magic together on the court, as the two would have to play somewhat of a similar role on this team. Call me crazy, but on this team, I wouldn’t want LeBron scoring the ball much, but rather facilitating more often than not. Self-admittedly, the freak of nature prefers distributing the ball to scoring it and in this role, he has the potential to thrive.
SF – Scottie Pippen: Ah yes, the most underrated player ever. Very few casual basketball fans gave Scottie the love that he deserved, thanks largely to the fact that he played alongside Jordan. However, Scottie didn’t seem to mind so long as the Bulls were winning; he embodies the grit that we’ll surely need to take down this mythical team of “Monstars.” Scottie is also an incredibly versatile player, particularly on defense. I’d like to think of him as a more gifted Draymond Green, someone who can really irritate you on the defensive end while refusing to leave the confines of his role. He is a very composed player which will only help his cause.
PF – Anthony Davis: What Anthony Davis has done in this past season has been unprecedented and quite frankly, enough to land himself a place on this roster. Davis is a special player – an elite shot-blocker who can leave his imprint on offense without necessarily having plays drawn up for him. Davis in the pick-and-roll is a force to be reckoned with and he’ll certainly be able to get his fair share of put-backs and easy alley-oops. The area where he could quite possibly help us most is in the mid-range game, where he has significantly improved. Davis is extremely versatile and efficient and for that, he belongs.
C – Hakeem Olajuwon: Hakeem! Olajuwon in the post is a thing of beauty. His footwork is a marvel and his mark on the game is no more evident than when he trains current NBA players in the post. Hakeem is no slouch on the defensive end either and he should be able to ensure that the paint is protected well. A great teammate, our last man off the bench could actually prove to be one of our most important pieces in defeating the Monstars.
Ray Allen: The numbers don’t lie, he’s the best spot-up shooter ever. In a game that has become increasingly reliant on the three-point shot, players like Allen are heralded as among the most valuable. Again, our surplus of capable post players will only serve to get Allen open looks. Does he need to play 30 minutes a night? No. But, just the threat of open looks for Ray-Ray should be enough to keep the defense honest. If nothing else, he spreads the floor and sets up penetration opportunities for everyone else. However, I don’t want to sacrifice our astounding perimeter defense and I think that we already have ample enough shooting, so Allen doesn’t quite make the cut.
Oscar Robertson: The Big O produced at levels that we will probably never see again. Again though, I don’t want anyone to dominate the ball on a team where Magic and Michael will undoubtedly need the ball in order to make an impact. I would rather fill Oscar’s triple-double stats by committee so as to ensure that everyone feels involved and important, which in turn, will keep everyone focused and aware.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: Kareem could really score the ball, but my reason for omission here is that I figured a rim protector would be slightly more valuable than Kareem on this particular team. It was difficult especially because Magic revived his career and the two play so well together, but I’m a little hesitant to throw Kareem into a situation where he isn’t the alpha-male; I don’t know how he’d adjust.
Three-point lineup: Stephen Curry, Kobe Bryant, Larry Bird, LeBron James, Anthony Davis
Small-ball: Stephen Curry, Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, LeBron James, Tim Duncan
Big-ball: Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Kevin McHale, Hakeem Olajuwon
Irritating defense: Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Anthony Davis, Bill Russell
Fast-break: Stephen Curry, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, LeBron James, Anthony Davis