Not even Father Time could stop Michael Jordan the way that Dean Smith could.
Even when Michael Jordan sank the game-winning shot to beat the Georgetown Hoyas in the thrilling 1982 NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship, few experts could have predicted back then that Jordan would eventually be considered the greatest professional NBA player ever.
As perhaps the greatest Carolina Tar Heel Michael Jordan turns 50 this week (marked by his 50th Sports Illustrated cover)…
…and as Duke Blue Devils and UNC Tar Heels renew their well-known rivalry tonight on the hardwood, Flaming Bag of Poo wonders: What if Michael Jordan had played for Duke instead of UNC?
Might his Airness have won more championships in his first five years? Did Dean Smith really stunt Jordan’s basketball growth with the slowdown tactics of the Four Corners offense?
Well, let’s take a look. Let’s examine the rosters that Michael Jordan would have joined had he signed with Duke out of high school.
Duke 1981-1982 – A relatively no-name roster by Duke standards led by Dan Meagher in Coach K’s second season of rebuilding. But UNC won the national championship over Georgetown, while Duke doesn’t even make the tournament with a 10-17 overall record.
Duke 1982-1983 – Johnny Dawkins, Mark Alarie, Dave Henderson, and Jay Bilas join a freshmen class that would later be known as Coach K’s first legendary recruiting class. But the Blue Devils still don’t make the tournament at 11-17.
Duke 1983-1984 – Tommy Amaker joins to run the point, and helps Coach K make his first NCAA tournament with Duke at 24-10 before they lose in the Round of 32.
Yes, Jordan made more NCAA basketball tournaments and won more championships at UNC than his counterparts at Duke won over that same span. And yes, the Duke stars during that span never really made a huge mark in the NBA. So, OK, perhaps Jordan was best served under Dean Smith.
It’s too bad that Jerry Tarkanian’s Running Rebels didn’t reach their peak until five or six years later. Can you imagine Jordan as a Running Rebel scorer who also would also be taught air-tight defense?
However, now Flaming Bag of Poo wonders about another great scorer…the player most often compared to Michael Jordan: Kobe Bryant.
It has long been rumored that Kobe Bryant had narrowed his two college choices to Duke and UNC (if had not jumped straight from high school into the pros with the Lakers). Kobe Bryant has always been publicly fond of Mike Krzyzewski—and vice versa.
So, let’s take a second look at Duke basketball—focusing on the Duke teams had Kobe Bryant stayed through his junior year like Michael Jordan did with Carolina.
Duke 1996-1997 – Guard-heavy featuring Jeff Capel III, Trajan Langdon, Steve Wojciechowski; went 24-9 and lost in the NCAA round of 32.
Duke 1997-1998 – Great freshmen additions of Elton Brand, Shane Battier, William Avery went 32-4 and lost in the NCAA Elite Eight.
Duke 1998-1999 – Add Corey Maggette to a super sophomore class to go 37-2, but lost to UConn in the national championship game.
Great ball movement and team defense were great hallmarks of those Duke teams. Hmmm….maybe some of that could have rubbed off on Kobe Bryant.
And then Bryant wouldn’t be so busy beating up on 7-footers. Especially the ones on his own Lakers teams.
Ah, yes. What if…