The age-old debate of eras is something that will never desert the NBA, with each generation of NBA players claiming that their time in the league was the most difficult to play in and, in turn, branding it the Golden Age of Basketball. The most recent NBA star to make this claim is former Detroit Pistons big man Rasheed Wallace, one of the most versatile big men in the game and a champion with the Pistons in 2004. His focus is one of the prime targets of previous generations of players, Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James. Sheed recently guested on the Million Dollaz Worth of Game Podcast, and when asked about LeBron, he had this much to say about The King.
"He would have held his own, but I don't think he would be as successful as he is now. It's a whole different era back then."
Rasheed Wallace, via Million Dollaz Worth of Game
The statement from Wallace comes as no surprise, as his Pistons and LeBron's Cavs dueled in the Eastern Conference for the better part of the 2000s. Being the more experienced team, Detroit handled James reasonably well in his earlier years with their connectivity and toughness on the defensive end. However, in 2007, LeBron James put the notion that Detroit had his number to rest with one of the most outstanding playoff performances of all time. If you are not old enough to remember The King's epic performance, check out the video below.
Rasheed Wallace was drafted in 1995, selected fourth by the Washington Bullets out of the University of North Carolina. Washington traded Sheed to the Portland Trail Blazers after his rookie season, but it took a while for Wallace to round out into the form that the Blazers needed in order to compete in the Western Conference. Sheed helped take Portland to the Western Conference Finals in 1999-2000, where they suffered a painful Game 7 loss to the eventual champion Los Angeles Lakers. Wallace played with greats such as Scottie Pippen and Steve Smith, but Sheed's presence made them a force in the league, and the 99-00 season is when he put the NBA on notice. Safe to say, Sheed's era was the post-Jordan era, one that Shaquille O'Neal and Tim Duncan dominated.
To say LeBron James would not dominate their era is nothing more than a quick way to get some publicity, but as they say, "if you come at the king you best not miss." Brian Windhorst points out that LeBron was built to play in Sheed's era and would arguably have much more success, had the league not shifted to a guard-centered approach.
"Somehow the rules of the game forced LeBron to adapt his game, to become more of a shooter. LeBron James has won a scoring title, and that was during the era of bully ball, where you could just use brute force to score on guys."
Brian Windhorst, via The Jump
LeBron's strength and athleticism is something that former players seem to dismiss when talking about LeBron James' odds for success in the previous eras of basketball. The soundbites are always about how he would not be able to take all the hard fouls and get knocked down from both a physical and mental standpoint, but no one ever talks about how such a physical force during their time didn't even exist. People talk about how hand-checking would slow LeBron down, but it never slowed Michael Jordan down because he was so much stronger than other guards at 6'6, 216. LeBron James is 6'8, 260; the only person in that era physically strong enough to hold LeBron in place would probably be Shaquille O'Neal. No one ever talks about how they would deal with the force the defensive players would need to withstand, coming from LeBron James. Maybe they would be able to neutralize his speed, but if James breaks your hold on him with this strength, there is no way you are catching up to him to try and recover.
It's silly to hear past players compare themselves to the players they see in the league today. Even if you give them the mental toughness argument, how will you keep up with guys who are built like nothing you have ever seen before? If the point Sheed is trying to make is that the post-Jordan era was so good that they could adapt to any circumstances, then I'm afraid he's terribly mistaken. In the same vain, if you think you can drop the former CEO of Kodak into the team at Instagram and expect them to beat out the young professionals who understand the product deeply and intuitively, then that is just delusional. Sheed is a great player, and it was a joy to watch him play, but everyone's time comes to an end, and his time did a long time ago. Industries evolve, societies evolve, and even sports evolve. In the wake of evolution, certain things/people are left behind; it's the way of life, and just because you don't like it doesn't make it wrong or any less valuable.