(The Root) — A popular discussion during the run-up to London 2012 involved Team USA's hypothetical chances in men's basketball against the original Dream Team. It all started when Kobe Bryant, not surprisingly, said that he thought his team would prevail.
Charles Barkley, among other Dream Teamers, said Bryant was crazy. Even President Obama weighed in, siding with the 1992 squad that featured Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird.
But what about Jordan vs. LeBron James, the heart and soul of 2012's gold-medal-winning team? That long-running debate about who's better was pretty lopsided before James won his first NBA title this year, and he's still five championships behind Jordan. But he just pulled off a feat that only Jordan ever accomplished: winning an NBA title, the MVP award and an Olympic gold medal in the same season.
Bryant, with his five NBA rings, historically has come closest to equaling Jordan. But three of Bryant's titles were won with larger-than-life Shaquille O'Neal playing center. Both Jordan and James have their Robins (Scottie Pippen and Dwyane Wade, respectively); Bryant was aided by the Incredible Hulk.
James' unselfish nature and passing skills led to comparisons to Magic Johnson more so than to Jordan. But his NBA breakthrough and second gold medal have put James back in the MJ conversation. U.S. Olympic coach Mike Krzyzewski said James is "the most unique player to ever play basketball." If the Miami Heat forward wins another two or three NBA championships, he'll have even more ammunition to challenge Jordan's status.
But Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim, an assistant on the U.S. Olympic team, has seen enough to make him question the long-standing hierarchy of Jordan first and everyone else behind him.
"I've always thought Michael Jordan was the best player that I've ever seen," Boeheim said Tuesday on ESPN Radio's The Herd With Colin Cowherd. "I always have, and I didn't think it was close. I'm not so sure anymore. And I love Michael Jordan. I'm not so sure anymore."
"This guy [LeBron] is 6-foot-9 and 260 pounds, and he's getting better," Boeheim said. "He works on his game. His shooting is getting better. He's a phenomenal, phenomenal basketball player. I love this game, I love the history of this game. I know we've had great, great players through the years. He's like Magic Johnson with Michael Jordan-type skills as well."
There's no way to settle debates like this, or the one about Dream Team vs. 2012. But the latter can be played out — sort of — thanks to an upcoming video game. USA Basketball and 2K Sports have formed a partnership that will allow fans to pit Jordan's team against LeBron's team and see who wins.
"We'll never know, but let's talk about it," Jordan said on a conference call. "I know Kobe said some things early on, and I responded to those. The '92 Dream Team, I felt, was a more well-rounded basketball team."
As to which player holds the title of GOAT — Greatest of All Time — it's still Jordan. But that might not be the case by the time James is done.