Fans today seem to enjoy speculating on “What If” sports scenarios as much as they enjoy watching actual athletic events. What if: Michael Jordan played one-on-one against Magic Johnson? What if: Muhammad Ali fought Joe Louis in his prime. What if: Lamar Jackson and Tom Brady stood back-to-back holding a football, walked 10 paces, then turned and fired off the ball at each other? Let the hours of entertaining arguments begin! These “What If” games are fun precisely because there is no way to resolve the question. It’s like asking who would win if Deadpool fought Wolverine to the death without their regenerative powers. I’m going to jump right on that bandwagon with a What If scenario of my own: What if I could assemble my NBA dream team for the coming decade?
About the process: I didn’t just look for the best individuals, I picked the best players who would go together as a team. There are many elite players that I didn’t include here because to do so would have been duplication. In some cases, I factored in the number and severity of injuries. In the end, I looked or compatible skills and demonstrated teamwork.
I’ve put together 11 players because you need a deep bench if you’re going to overcome inevitable injuries and road fatigue to win a championship. At UCLA, Coach Wooden drilled into us that the fittest team is generally also the winningest team because they’re still sprinting down the court on fast breaks when the other team is jogging with their mouths open. Following are my picks for the championship team because they are the fittest, most skilled players of the past 10 years. In alphabetical order:
Giannis Antetokounmpo (Milwaukee Bucks). He can do anything and everything. He could play center if needed as well as excel as forward. I also like his backstory: born in Athens to Nigerian parents, his sheer will power and dedication has made him one of the best players in the NBA. He’s the kind of enthusiastic player who can energize and excite his team.
Steph Curry (Golden State Warriors). His phenomenal long-range shooting makes it impossible to double-team. He’s forced teams to rethink the entire concept of defense. His general calm demeanor seems to spread to the other players, making them more focused and therefore more effective as a team.
Anthony Davis (Los Angeles Lakers). As my center, he’s the consummate Big Man. He can play offense with his back to the basket or facing it. He can shoot the three-pointer or attack the basket. I especially enjoy watching him block so many shots.
Joel Embiid (Philadelphia 76ers). He has the same skill set as Anthony Davis, a master inside the key as well as outside. He’s also a defensive powerhouse.
James Harden (Houston Rockets). James surgical shooting skills dominates the game offensively. His step-back jumper is extremely difficult to guard. He’s also great at drawing fouls which puts the opposing team’s starting guard on the bench in foul trouble.
Kyrie Irving (Brooklyn Nets). Every team needs a Larry ‘Mr. Clutch’ Bird-type shooter who can deliver in those high-pressure moments. Kyrie is that steel-nerves shooter. Fortunately, he’s just as effective defensively as he is offensively. Plus, every team needs someone who can play baritone sax.
LeBron James (Los Angeles Lakers). For me, LeBron represents the ideal player, both on and off the court. He’s too short to play the classic center position, but he can play four other positions with equal skill. Add to that his steady and inspiring leadership that unites a team in purpose. I also admire his commitment to community off the court, not just speaking out for social justice but building a school to promote education. He’s a role model as player and as community member.
Ben Simmons (Philadelphia 76ers). Ben represents the edgy new big player who can do everything the smaller player can. As a point forward, he can’t be guarded. As a teenager, he chose to play basketball over his other favorite sport, Australian rules football. But he brings some the intensity of that physical sport to his basketball game.
Klay Thompson (Golden State Warriors). Clay’s versatility makes him invaluable to my team. He’s a threat at both ends of the court because he’s not only a formidable defender but because he’s a great three-point shooter.
Jayson Tatum (Boston Celtics). Jayson was so impressive in last year’s All-Star Game. He has an incredible range as a shooter, but he’s also a terrific overall player.
Trae Young (Atlanta Hawks). Like LeBron, Trae is an exceptional team leader who does everything possible to set up his teammates for success. Plus, he’s an amazing shooter.
The best part of playing this What If game is that I can’t lose. Sure, over the comfort of domestic beer and salty bar nuts with an oldies station piping Bob Seger’s Night Moves on the sound system there might be some heated disagreements about my choices. My name might be taken in vain. More than once. But I’m confident that this team would be an unstoppable juggernaut that would easily be the NBA champions.