What would Michael Jordan versus Johnson at their peaks have been like? No, we're not talking about the 1991 NBA Finals (right), in which Air's hungry young Bulls ran roughshod over Magic's Kareem-less Lakers, but 1986-87 Showtime Los Angeles against Chicago's 1995-96 powerhouse. The latter matchup has occurred—on whatifsports.com, a year-old sports simulation website created by Tarek Kamil, a Cine engineer. The fantasy spine tingler (or, at least, this playing of it) wasn't decided until Lakers forward James Worthy stole the ball in the closing seconds of Game 7 at United Center to seal a 107-105 L.A. win.
The idea for the site "started with the '98 Yankees and the '75 Reds," says Kamil, 32. "My friends and I got tired of arguing about which team was better, so we decided to figure it out." What he and his fellow number crunchers devised was a statistical formula that can be applied in attempts to answer some of sports' great debates. At no charge, the site lets visitors pick from a database of almost 3,000 NBA, major league baseball and college basketball teams, or create a fantasy squad. The simulation engine spits out box scores and play-by-plays. Intriguingly, for any rivalry the program permits different results from simulation to simulation. "We want to show what could happen on any given night," says Kamil.
By the way, in our simulation the 1975 Reds defeated the '98 Yanks in seven games. As for that notorious best-of-nine 1919 World Series, the fix may still be in: In our what-if simulation, the Reds again prevailed over the Black Sox, this time in nine.