Beyond Michael Jordan's exploits as the best player of all time, there has always been this title too: master of marketing.
In the sports business world that Jordan played a transcendent role in shaping, being like Mike means choosing your brands and timing so wisely that it seems every venture is a success. And though that's not the case these days considering the state of his Charlotte Bobcats and the recent news that the foreclosure of his old trainer's gym in Chicago may result in Jordan's losing his $1.5 million investment, Jordan's involvement in the NBA 2K video game series shows he hasn't completely lost his touch.
With Team USA fresh off winning the gold medal for the second straight Olympics, the 20th anniversary of the 1992 Dream Team having been celebrated for months and the debate over which 12-player group was better raging on, Jordan on Tuesday was part of the video-game team announcing that -- conveniently enough -- the latest version, NBA2K13, will include USA Basketball for the first time. That means the 1992 and 2012 teams are featured in the game, which will be released Oct. 2.
Forget the fact that Scottie Pippen won't be available for the '92 squad (he didn't agree to terms with the game's makers) or that a simulation won't be settling the question about which team was better (I'm going with the old guys). Having Jordan surrounded by this kind of promotional synergy was vintage Air Jordan in every way -- as was the manner in which he used this particular platform.
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While Jordan and the Lakers' Kobe Bryant shared their opinions recently regarding the Dream Team discussion, Jordan pounded his point like only he can during a conference call with reporters on Tuesday. Bryant initially said the current Olympians could beat the '92 squad. He later clarified his remarks, saying that while he considers the original team of NBA pros superior, he believes the London group could win a game against the legends. Jordan, true to form, wasn't about to relinquish the throne to anyone.
"I know Kobe said some things early on and I responded to those -- where the '92 Dream Team, I felt, was a more well-rounded basketball team," Jordan said. "He felt we were a little old, but we only had two players that were over 30 at the time -- that was Magic [Johnson] and Larry [Bird]. Everybody else was 29 or below [Clyde Drexler, Patrick Ewing and John Stockton actually turned 30 shortly before or during the Olympics], so I think that the team itself would have been well-rounded defensively, offensively, inside, outside."
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Part of that balance for the Dream Team was having players such as centers David Robinson and Ewing to stop the sort of penetration that occasionally plagued the '12 crew. If the two teams could magically play on a court as opposed to a console, Jordan would want to exploit that weakness.
"I just felt like we had enough size that we could contend with the 2012 team," he said of the team that was without elite shot blocker Dwight Howard and relied heavily on the Knicks' Tyson Chandler at center. "I think one of the things the 2012 team lacked was size, you know? We probably would have attacked them from inside and outside, and I think that would have been pretty much solidified [for the '92 team's defense] with shot-blockers as well as perimeter defensive players.
"In [terms] of how the game is played from an offensive standpoint and a defense standpoint -- from a team standpoint -- I feel like we were much more solid defensively. We could definitely guard the perimeter and force them to penetrate to shot-blockers, which I felt like would've made a big difference with this team in 2012. They only had one shot-blocker. Granted, I know LeBron [James] and some of those guys can still block shots. It's not the same defense and it's not the same intensity."
Bryant's sound argument was based in part on the advantage in athleticism for the 2012 team. From James to Russell Westbrook to Kevin Durant to Andre Iguodala to James Harden and on, the 2012 version wins the foot race and -- sacrilege thought it may seem with Jordan and Drexler on the other side -- the collective dunk contest too.
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"Granted, I think those guys are much more athletic than maybe we were at that particular time, but I'd like to think that we were a little bit smarter and well-groomed about playing at that level of basketball," Jordan said. "So in all honesty, I don't think we would've had any problems with them, as much as they think they probably would've given us a lot more difficulties. I think our team would've been a lot better in terms of all-around basketball game."
Celtics coach Doc Rivers said during NBC's coverage that the London team's incredible shooting was superior to that of the '92 team, though Jordan didn't cover that topic. In the most rudimentary of comparisons of their undefeated runs, the original Dream Teamers hold the edge in margin of victory (an average of 43.8 points in wins over Angola, Croatia, Germany, Brazil, Spain, Puerto Rico, Lithuania and Croatia compared to the 2012 team's margin of 32.1 points against France, Tunisia, Nigeria, Lithuania, Argentina, Australia, Argentina and Spain), scoring (117.3 points for the '92 team, 115.5 for '12) and points allowed (73.5 for '92, 83.4 per for '12).
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But as Jordan acknowledged, the global game has come a long way in the last two decades. Thus, the numbers should be considered somewhat skewed because of the difference in the levels of competition.
"If were in the this same situation as 2012 with the talent we had, could we compete against the talent that's in Europe now?" Jordan said. "I think we could. Would it be as dominant as it was in '92? Probably not. I still think you'd see the separation between the two [American teams], but I think [international play has] gotten better -- tremendously it's gotten better. You've got more of those guys coming and playing in the NBA than what it used to be. I think globally basketball has grown, and I think the Dream Team had a lot to do with it."
Lest anyone think the famously proud Jordan spent all of his time arguing his team's case, he was gracious when discussing the latest team's accomplishments.
"I always have a sense of pride when the U.S. wins, in any event, because I am an American and obviously I want to see us do well," he said. "I'm very happy that the players actually felt what I felt in representing our country. It's very jubilating, and it's a once-in-a-lifetime, maybe twice-in-a-lifetime experience, and I think they experienced that. So it was joyful for me to see them be successful back-to-back, and hopefully it continues."