Michael Jordan turned 50 on Sunday, the same day that LeBron James scored 19 points in the NBA All-Star Game. The two superstars have been linked in a number of discussions lately, but very few people have the perspective on the subject that Idaho Stampede assistant coach Scott Williams does. Williams is one of two NBA players (along with Larry Hughes) to have been teammates with both Jordan and James. Statesman reporter Chris Langrill asked Williams to weigh in on his former teammates. Here is the bulk of that interview.
Question: First, a little history lesson. Did you play two seasons with Michael?
Answer: It was three seasons and three titles (1990-93).
Q: And then one year with LeBron, right?
A: Yeah, my last year, my 15th year, was his second year. That was the 2004-2005 season.
Q: So I imagine if you're on the playground picking one or the other, there might be a little bias toward Michael. You won three titles with him and you're both North Carolina guys.
A: That's right, we've got Tar Heel ties and the ties with the Bulls and the championships. But I loved my time with LeBron. He was really hungry. It was refreshing to be around him, because he was such a sponge, soaking up so much of the history of the game. He would just come up and ask me the randomest questions about the randomest dudes. He would want to know what they were like, and how they would practice. I enjoyed that.
Q: So one of the things that has been talked about recently is Jordan turning 50, and whether he could make a comeback at that age. Could you see him playing 15, 20 minutes a night in the NBA?
A: No (laughs). I could maybe see him going 15 minutes every other game or every third game. But I know for a fact, I'm about to turn 45, and my body -- I got out with these young kids -- and it's just in pain, just from the half-court contact stuff.
Q: Another one that came up was Magic (Johnson) weighing in, and saying in one-on-one games, he thought Michael was the best one-on-one player of all time. He said if Michael and LeBron played 10 games, Michael would win all 10 times. Would you agree with that?
A: I don't want to say he'd win all 10 times, but I think (Jordan) would take the title in an 11-game series. Michael was the fastest cat on the floor, and crafty, and good with the basketball. He wasn't a great ball-handler, but a good one-on-one ball-handler. But LeBron, with his strength, would really give Michael some problems. I got hit by LeBron when he was a second-year player, and I thought I got hit by Karl Malone.
Q: That's what I thought, that eventually LeBron would be able to wear Michael down with his size and strength.
A: Absolutely. Especially if they played 10 games in a row. It might be different if they played three one day and came back and played another three on Wednesday.
Q: Isiah Thomas said that he thinks that LeBron might be a better athlete than Jordan. I don't know how you quantify that.
A: I'm not an Isiah Thomas fan, and I know he's not a fan of Michael Jordan's so I have to kind of weigh that with a grain of salt. Michael's the most athletic player I've ever seen put on a pair of shorts.
Q: Really, when we talk about these two guys, they're two different athletes from two different eras. But talk about the one thing you saw in each of these guys that separates them.
A: Michael's a cold-blooded killer, a cold-blooded killer. It didn't matter when it was or where it was. And LeBron doesn't have that gear. He's admitted that he doesn't have that gear. But the one thing that they both do share is their work ethic. They both work extremely hard. That was the refreshing thing about LeBron, to see a superstar approach practice the way that Michael Jordan approached practice.
Q: On another topic, Michael weighed in recently on the Kobe (Bryant) versus LeBron thing, and kind of leaned toward Kobe because of the titles. Where would you go on that one?
A: Well, if I was Michael Jordan, I wouldn't have weighed in. But I'm Scott Williams, so I can weigh in and there won't be any backlash about it. I won't hear any comments from either one, I am sure. I think Kobe has that all-out ability to score, but I think LeBron has a more complete game.
Q: Finally, it sounds like you respect both Jordan and LeBron, and it's kind of fun to talk a little bit about them, right?
A: Absolutely. When you're with a guy, on a plane, in a bus, in a locker room, after a win, after a loss, after a hard practice, goofing around, being serious, that's when you get to know somebody. And I respect both of those guys for the way they handled all of those situations.