That time Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson almost played a pay-per-view one-on-one in Vegas

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Their career arcs were starting to cross. For most of the 1980s Magic Johnson had been as dominant a force as the NBA had seen in a generation (with all due respect to Larry Bird pushing him). But Johnson’s five rings, his MVPs were all in the rear view mirror — Michael Jordan was the star on the rise. He was 27, a scoring machine, but a guy without a ring as he had been taught hard lessons by the Bad Boy Detroit Pistons.

Who was the best player on the planet, Magic or Michael? Why not decide it in a one-on-one game played at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, where it would be treated as a title fight — complete with pay-per-view and huge payouts.

It never happened, but Jonathan Abrams has written a brilliant piece about how it almost did for Bleacher Report. It’s a must read.

“There was a lot of talk about it, and both players seemed to be real interested,” recalled Rod Thorn, who drafted Jordan as Chicago’s general manager before becoming the NBA’s executive vice president of basketball operations. “Magic wouldn’t have been able to stop him.”…

Jordan against Johnson, though, was the best of the NBA’s best pitted singularly against each other. And several major media outlets had reported this sure bet as all but a done deal. At the very least, the two stars had been approached and the game’s payout had been negotiated. Both were intrigued, with Jordan even teasing the matchup on ESPN after the All-Star break.

It obviously didn’t happen. Why? Like everything in life, there are multiple reasons and a lot of gray areas. For one, the NBA hated it — it’s two biggest stars in a made for gambling event? That was not the image David Stern wanted for the league. They didn’t like the precedent it set.

But the players were hesitant, too. Jordan in particular, according to his agent David Falk.

Falk recalls Jordan saying: “If I win, people will say, ‘So, what do you expect? That’s what Michael is—he’s a one-on-one player.’ And if I lose, then I don’t have the rings or the title. So what’s the point of doing it?”

Jordan would go on to get those rings, but a lot of fans who mythologize Jordan now forget the years he wasn’t seen as someone who made his teammates better. He was painted as a guy who couldn’t win the big one. Obviously he had to grow into that role, and get the right players and coach around him to make it all work, but do we cut guys slack for that now?

As for the big who would win question, let me state my bias up front: Magic is my all-time favorite player. I could argue he is the greatest ever, but he is certainly in the conversation, and there has never been a player like him before or since. But one-on-one, Jordan wins. He’s more athletic, and Magic’s great passing skills don’t come into play in that setting. Magic could score on some post ups, he’d hang around, but that game would have been all Jordan.

Phil Jackson to miss Kobe Bryant’s jersey retirement Monday

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For one last night, Staples Center will belong to Kobe Bryant on Monday.

Sure, the Warriors are in town to take on the Lakers, but Monday night the Lakers are retiring Kobe Bryant’s numbers — both 8 and 24 — in a halftime ceremony. It’s been the hottest ticket in Los Angeles, with celebrities, luminaries, and regular Lakers fans shelling out a lot of cash to see the Laker legend be honored.

Except, Phil Jackson will not be there, reports Ramona Shelburne of ESPN.

Jackson has been in touch with Bryant in advance of the ceremony to congratulate him, sources said. But he was unable to travel from his Montana home for the ceremony in Los Angeles.

No reason was given (nor does one need to be made public, that’s between Kobe and Jackson).

Jackson coached Kobe to all five of his NBA titles, and while their relationship had its ups and downs — remember Jackson called out Kobe as almost uncoachable in one of his books — they remain close.

 

Three Things to Know: LeBron James racks up third straight triple-double

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA. Here’s what you missed on Sunday while practicing your ax throwing in Paris

1) LeBron James has third straight triple-double… and sends equality message. Back in the 2008-09 season, LeBron James strung together three consecutive games of triple-doubles, the season he went on to win his first MVP award. Despite 61 career triple-doubles, he hasn’t had a string like that since.

Until now. LeBron put together three again this week, the most recent coming at the expense of the Washington Wizards on Sunday, a team that had no answer for his playmaking skills. James finished the game with 20 points, 12 rebounds and 15 assists. It wasn’t the most efficient LeBron scoring performance of his career (8-of-23 shooting overall, 2-of-7 from three, his legs looked a little tired on the back-to-back) and he was playing too much in isolation (nearly twice as many possessions as in pick-and-roll). However, down the stretch he was a fantastic playmaker, finding teammates — such as finding the cutting Jeff Green and Kyle Korver — and doing what it took to lift his team to the 106-99 win (Cleveland’s has won five straight and 18-of-19).

LeBron was also sending a message while playing in our nation’s capital: He wore one black and one white of the LeBron 15s, with the word “Equality” on the back of both of them. Good on LeBron, I love that he has found a voice and is comfortable using it.

2) Cavaliers sticking to plan even if he seems ready: Isaiah Thomas should join Cavaliers after the first of the year. Patience. It’s a virtue. Cleveland’s end game is to have another elite playmaker and scorer on the floor in late May and (hopefully) June, not for Christmas Day (no matter who is on the schedule).

Meaning that despite the face Isaiah Thomas is working out and says he and his injured hip feel ready to return, it will be 2018 before he officially pulls on a Cavaliers jersey and takes the court.

This is the smart play by the Cavaliers, who have racked up enough wins not to need to push him. That said, LeBron is carrying a heavy load — he’s played more minutes than anyone in the league so far, and this is his 15th NBA season — and the Cavaliers need to get him some help and rest so he is fresh for the postseason.

3) Detroit ties a franchise record with 17 made threes in win over Orlando. The Pistons are not exactly a great three-point shooting team: They average a middle-of-the-pack 29.3 attempts per game (31.6 percent of their attempts), but at least hit them at a healthy 38.3 percent clip. Detroit does a good job at least of getting corner threes up and knocking them down.

Sunday they were knocking everything down, hitting 17-of-34 threes to tie a franchise record for the most made threes in a game. Anthony Tolliver led the way (5-of-7 from deep) with Reggie Bullock pitching in 4-of-5.

The Pistons have snapped out of their seven-game losing streak to win three in a row now, including a quality win over the Pacers on the second night of a back-to-back.

Heat forward James Johnson expected to miss 7 to 10 days

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MIAMI (AP) The Miami Heat will be without starting forward James Johnson for at least two games and probably more after bursitis was found in his right ankle.

Johnson left Miami’s win over the Los Angeles Clippers on Saturday with ankle pain, and an MRI performed Sunday led to the bursitis diagnosis. Johnson is not traveling with the team for its trip for games at Atlanta on Monday and Boston on Wednesday.

The team says Johnson could miss seven to 10 days, which would also mean his status for home games against Dallas on Dec. 22, New Orleans on Dec. 23 and Orlando on Dec. 26 is in some doubt.

Johnson is averaging 10.9 points and 5.2 rebounds for the Heat this season.

LeBron James wears one black, one white LeBron 15 shoes with “Equality” on back (VIDEO)

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LeBron James notched his third-straight triple-double on Sunday, this one coming against the Washington Wizards. But before the game, the story was all about how James was voicing a silent protest — in Washington D.C., no less — by wearing a special version of his shoes.

LeBron took to the floor wearing his LeBron 15s, but this player edition had the word “Equality” on the back of them. James wore one black shoe and one white shoe.

James wore the black versions of this shoe in the Cleveland Cavaliers’ opener to start the season.

Via Twitter:

LeBron finished the game with 20 points, 15 assists, and 12 rebounds. The Cavaliers beat the Wizards, 106-99.