If there was a single basketball game to determine the fate of the world, who is the starting five?
Long before Space Jam, there was a single question posited in bars and around water coolers to determine the best basketball players in the world: if aliens landed and, instead of saying, “Take me to your leader,” they said, “Go get your best five,” who would you choose?
Thanks to the change in the FIBA rules in the early 1990’s, we’ve been fortunate enough to watch this play out in real time, particularly in 1992 with the Dream Team (Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Scottie Pippen, Patrick Ewing, Karl Malone, Charles Barkley, Larry Bird, etc.) and the Redeem Team of 2008 (featuring LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, Dwyane Wade, and more). However, that’s only taken place every four years and, besides, sometimes the best players drop out or the team isn’t constructed in the right way – we’re looking at you, 2004.
To be clear, this is not a conversation about the MVP, a once-a-year award with voting predicated on luck, health, narrative, and single regular season accomplishments. Rather, you’re the coach/GM of Team Earth and you’re going to play against Team Mars for one game to determine the fate of this half of the Milky Way. This is not an all-time thing. You can’t have 1988 Michael Jordan or Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 1972. This is right now. You have every player available to you today in the spring of 2017.
It’s not simply a ranking of the five best players, but rather the construction of the best starting five.
So the Monstars show up and want to play one game for the fate of the galaxy.
Who you taking?
First Pick: LeBron James
A no-brainer. Even in his thirties, after more than a decade of greatness, he’s still the best player on the planet and, as he proved last June, if you need to win a game against a superteam, he’s your leader. He can do it all. All hail the king.
Second Pick: Russell Westbrook
Who better to defeat a team of extraterrestrials than an alien himself? Westbrook is a cyborg whose sole mission is to decimate rims and destroy opposing teams’ and fans’ hopes and dreams. Just like a 100-point game or a 56-game hitting streak, I thought there was no chance anyone would ever average a triple double for an entire season. Westbrook isn’t human.
Third Pick: Kevin Durant
Another player whose combination of size and skills would have been unthinkable a generation ago, Kevin Durant can do it all. He can shoot from almost anywhere, create off the dribble, make the perfect pass and, as he proved in last year’s Western Conference Finals, his length can make him a defensive terror as well. He went to Golden State and made a great team even greater, so he’s a perfect fit (and he and Westbrook could finally bury the hatchet).
Fourth Pick: Steph Curry
He’ll have trouble defending the aliens, but even if he isn’t the greatest all-around player, Steph Curry is the greatest shooter we’ve ever seen and having the ability to hit a shot from anywhere within fifty feet of the basket is a huge asset. He didn’t have his best season, but every time he pulls up and lets fly from behind the arc, everyone in the arena expects it to go in. After all, how many other players can claim to be a one-man revolution?
Fifth Pick: Anthony Davis
I debated this one long and hard. Kawhi Leonard, Giannis Antetokounmpo, James Harden, and even Draymond Green would be fine choices, but this team needs some size and interior presence. And it needs it without sacrificing any of its ball movement or creativity and an old-school, back-to-the-basket post player would slow the flow and clog the driving lanes of Russ, Durant, and LeBron. The solution is Anthony Davis. He gives you inside scoring and rebounding while also being able to stretch the defense with range and his length and quickness mean that he can defend anyone from guards to centers.
There you have it. The starting five to save the world. Bring your squad.
Christopher Pierznik’s eight books are available in paperback and Kindle. His work has appeared on XXL, Cuepoint, Business Insider, The Cauldron, Medium, Fatherly, Hip Hop Golden Age, and many more. Subscribe to his monthly reading review newsletter or follow him on Facebook or Twitter.