It’s clear that the sports world is missing basketball these days. Not only is a potential NBA and ESPN project to air a game of H-O-R-S-E among a group of star players drawing significant attention this week but fictitious potential H-O-R-S-E games are warranting air time now.
The fictitious matchup: Lakers MVP candidate LeBron James and 57-year-old Hornets owner Michael Jordan.
This was fodder for debate on Fox Sports’ Undisputed when analyst Skip Bayless, who has based the entire second half of his career on lobbing nonsensical potshots at James, made the bold claim that James would not have much of a chance against Jordan if the two faced off in H-O-R-S-E—and would, in fact, be shut out.
“This would be a complete and utter mismatch,” Bayless said. “I believe if this were on national TV under huge pressure would the world watching, this could be internationally televised because this would be epic. I believe LeBron would lose this competition H-O-R-S-E to zero. LeBron would get no letters on Michael. It would be a wipeout.”
To be clear, there is no impending Jordan vs. James H-O-R-S-E matchup coming to a TV screen near you. James is not even likely to be part of the competition the NBA and ESPN are cooking up, assuming it does get off the ground.
And Jordan, it bears repeating, is 57. Not much chance he wants to get out in front of an international audience in his sweats with his paunch and fire up jumpers against James.
Free-Throws, Midrange Are Flaws for LeBron James
Still, Bayless put together some arguments supporting his thesis that warrant some examination.
First was the free-throw line, where James has struggled in two seasons since coming to Los Angeles. Bayless, a former Chicago Tribune columnist, recalled a practice in 1998 in which Jordan beat teammates in free-throw competitions while he was shooting lefthanded with a blindfold on. (Presumably, Jordan was also being chased by tigers.)
Jordan was, in fact, a much better free-throw shooter in his career than James, making 83.8 percent from the line to just 73.5 percent for James. Jordan’s accuracy did wane over time, though, and in his final three NBA seasons—including the two he played for the Wizards—he shot only 79.4 percent from the line. Better than James but not quite “H-O-R-S-E to zero.”
Bayless also pointed out Jordan’s superior midrange ability. That is, no doubt, true. According to Basketball-Reference.com, James has shot 36.8 percent from 10-16 feet and 38.6 percent from 16 feet out to the 3-point line. Jordan’s numbers, only available in his two Washington seasons: 43.0 percent and 41.7 percent.
“Michael could beat him at H-O-R-S-E, he could H-O-R-S-E just from the free-throw line,” Bayless said. “So this would be a wipeout and I did not even get to Michael’s specialty, which is mid-range jump-shooting. There have been very few any better than Michael at midrange hold-the-pose jump-shots which is LeBron’s weakness. It’s the big glaring hole in his game.”
Advantage, LeBron James: 3-Pointers, In-The-Paint
But Bayless also claimed 3-point shooting as a glaring hole in James’ game. No doubt, perimeter accuracy has been up-and-down throughout James’ career but he is, in the end, an average NBA 3-point shooter. He makes 34.9 percent from the arc this year, and the league average is 35.7 percent.
“He is average, at best, from 3,” Bayless said. “I can show you numbers that scream he’s way below average from a high-volume 3-point shooter.”
The numbers are irrelevant, though, when you consider that Jordan was never much of a 3-pointer shooter during his NBA career. It was not a perimeter-oriented league in his heyday, but Jordan did attempt 1,778 shots from the arc in his time. He made 581 one of them, which works out to 32.7 percent.
No need for Bayless’ high-volume numbers: James has been a more accurate 3-point shooter than Jordan was, plain and simple.
James has also been a very good in-the-paint finisher. He has made 41.8 percent of his 3-to-10-footers in his career, while Jordan made 32.9 percent in his Washington years.
Maybe Jordan could beat James by working him at the free-throw line. But then, maybe James could beat Jordan by doing eight-foot flip shots and firing 3-pointers.