HANG TIME, Texas — It starts out like the beginning of an old joke.
You know, somebody says that as great as Bill Russell was in winning 11 championships with the Celtics, he’d have difficulty winning even one against today’s class of NBA athletes.
Of course, goes the punchline, Russell will turn 79 on Tuesday.
But Antawn Jamison wasn’t kidding when he told Dave McMenamin of ESPNLosAngeles.com that Michael Jordan could still play effectively in the league right now.
Jordan turns 50 on Feb. 17, coincidentally the day of the NBA All-Star Game.
“I wouldn’t doubt that in the right situation with a LeBron (James) on his team or with a Kobe (Bryant) on this team, he could get you about 10 or 11 points, come in and play 15-20 minutes,” said Antawn Jamison before the Lakers played the Bobcats on Friday. “I wouldn’t doubt that at all, especially if he was in shape and injuries were prevented and things of that nature.”
That’s saying a lot, considering Jamison has Bryant on his team, and only averages 8.1 points per game in 20.5 minutes per game and he’s “only” 36 years old.
Jordan averaged 20 points in 37 minutes per game in his 15th and final season in the league before retiring for good at age 40.
Would it ever happen? Could it ever happen? Other than Larry Bird actually sprouting real wings, is there anything you might imagine that is more preposterous?
Remember, it was Jordan himself who raised the possibility near the end of his challenging, often vitriolic speech at the 2009 Hall of Fame induction ceremony.
“One day you might look up and see me playing the game at 50,” Jordan said. “Oh, don’t laugh. Never say never. Because limits, like fears, are often just an illusion.”
We know that on the court there were never any limits or fears to Jordan, only challenges — some real, some imagined — that he used to constantly lift himself to a higher plane.
That is precisely the reason I have a standing bet with my good friend Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle that was made when Jordan hung up his Wizards jersey. I said then I didn’t believe His Airness was finished and one day we’d see him back on the court in an NBA game. At the start of each new season, Jonathan tries to get me to surrender. Then along comes word that the owner of the Bobcats showed up at practice one day in December to show them how it’s done. Or maybe just to feed his ego.
But after taking on some of his kids — Gerald Henderson, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Bismack Biyombo — in a little one-on-one, it’s always clear that the competitive spark is just below the surface and the skills are still there.
“He’s still got it. He can still shoot,” Henderson said. “I don’t know about his defense, but he can still score.”
Biyombo: “He’s pretty good.”
So we mark down Biyombo for understatement of the year, consider the opinion of Jamison and ponder the possibilities.
I once asked Hakeem Olajuwon, who just turned 50, if he thought he could still play in the league.
“Not full-time. But for a few minutes, yes,” he insisted. “ I’m in shape.”
When a 50-year-old Clyde Drexler was asked the same question, he nodded his head. “Absolutely. I could go out there and run up and down the floor with those guys one night,” he said laughing. “Then the next day I’d be in traction.”
So what do we do with the Jordan question? Could he? Would he? Should he, as the old Nike slogan said, just do it?
I’ll tell you one thing I’m not doing: Paying off Jonathan. Yet.