MJ on rule changes: “If teams were able to play zone defenses, I never would’ve had the career I had.”

MJ on rule changes: “If teams were able to play zone defenses, I never would’ve had the career I had.”

How would Michael Jordan, universally recognized as the greatest ever, square up against today’s competition? The answer to that question seems consensual — Michael would be even more dominant than he was.

David Falk, Jordan’s longtime agent, said MJ would average 60 on 75% shooting. Vlade Divac went even further, saying he would average 80. Jeff Van Gundy stopped at 40, and Dennis Rodman, who played alongside No.23 in Chicago, predicted at least 50 a game.

While most of these hyperbolize Jordan’s greatness to the point of absurdity, finding an alternative answer to the greatest hypothetical question of them all seems impossible. But I’ve stumbled upon one, and unlike the aforementioned praise bordering on insanity, this one is as objective as it gets — the person behind it; Michael Jordan himself.

It was right before the NBA’s latest revolution when the league decided to eliminate illegal-defense guidelines, allowing teams to play any defense, including a zone. They also implemented a defensive three-second rule to prevent teams from anchoring a big guy down low for an entire possession. A few months before these changes became official, due to the potential harm they would do to the game, Michael decided to speak out against their implementation. And to everyone’s surprise, he used himself as an example.

Jordan was making an impassioned plea before the competition committee that had gathered to consider rules changes to enliven the NBA game. Jordan spoke passionately. If teams were able to play zone defenses, he said, he never would have had the career he did.

Sam Smith, Chicago Tribune

Let’s give Michael the benefit of the doubt and remember that he never actually gave his opinion on this after the changes were implemented. Let’s also keep in mind that Jordan focused solely on zone defenses, that hardly anyone runs in today’s NBA — not in their original form, at least. But that can also be seen as a double-edged sword — elimination of illegal defenses allowed the creation of other, more complex defensive schemes that today’s teams use for most of the games.

Let’s also remember that the league banned the hand-checking — a go-to defensive tactic of the 90s — after the 2003-04 NBA season. So it took a long time before teams and players caught up with changes introduced in the early 2000s. It took a long time before they learned to maximize, as well as counter them. Not to mention how the game evolved from then to what it is today.

That being said, would it be fair to say MJ’s words apply to the context of today’s NBA? In some sense, sure. But should we go as far as to say they are his most-up-to date answer to the greatest NBA hypothetical question out there? By no means.

I would say Michael made an educated guess. Some people will say he’s right. More people will say he’s wrong. The answer, as always, is probably somewhere in the middle.