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NBA

Zion Williamson vs. LeBron James and other 'first matchups' between rookie phenoms and established NBA superstars

Zion Wlliamson's rookie season is arguably the most anticipated since 2003-04 when an 18-year-old LeBron James burst onto the scene.

It didn't take long for James to deliver on the hype and a dozen games into Williamson's career, it once again appears the buzz was well worth it.

On Tuesday in Los Angeles, they'll meet on an NBA floor for the first time.

Williamson, the generational cinder block of a forward who at 19 years old often looks like the biggest physical matchup nightmare in the entire league.

James, the transcendant reimagining of a forward who at 35 years old continues to evolve and introduce new wrinkles to what's already arguably the most versatile skillset in league history.

MORE: Running diary of Zion's rookie season

They'll meet twice in one week and many times after, but this first meeting will always stand still in time as a message in a bottle moment, a first-of-its-kind clash sure to usher in memories of a fresh-faced James from 17 years ago and conjure up fantasies about where Williamson's journey will ultimately lead.

But while the circumstances of the eras in which they entered makes this a largely unprecedented matchup in terms of build-up and coverage, we have been down this road before. Here's a look back at a few of the NBA's notable first matchups between rookie sensations and established superstars.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar vs. Wilt Chamberlain

Date: October 24, 1969

Game result: Los Angeles Lakers 123, Milwaukee Bucks 112

Stat lines: Abdul-Jabbar - 23 PTS, 20 REBS in 48 MINS; Chamberlain - 25 PTS, 25 REBS in 47 MINS

The first matchup between two of the best centers in NBA history saw both of them finish with monster double-doubles. Both Abdul-Jabbar and Chamberlain played nearly the whole game but the Lakers, the reigning Conference champions came out on top.

In 17 regular-season contests between the two greats, Chamberlain holds the edge with a 9-8 record. However, in the Playoffs, Abdul-Jabbar holds the slim 6-5 edge.

Michael Jordan vs. Julius Erving

Date: November 17, 1984

Game result: Philadelphia 76ers 109, Chicago Bulls 100

Stat lines: Jordan - 16 PTS, 7 ASTS, 5 REBS, 5 STLS, 2 BLKS; Erving - 26 PTS, 8 REBS, 4 ASTS, 2 BLKS

Rookie Michael Jordan put all his skills on display, stuffing the stat sheet against the East giants. For the 76ers, Erving chipped in with a very handy 26 with Moses Malone dropping a game-high 39.

Shaquille O'Neal vs. Hakeem Olajuwon

Date: November 25, 1992

Game result: O rlando Magic 107, Houston Rockets 94

Stat lines: O'Neal - 12 PTS, 13 REBS, 3 BLKS, 2 ASTS; Olajuwon - 22 PTS, 13 REBS, 5 BLKS, 3 ASTS

Behind Dennis Scott's game-high 28, the Magic rode to victory but rookie Shaquille O'Neal did contribute with a handy double-double. On the other hand, Olajuwon scored a team-high 22 but didn't receive a lot of help.

For their career, O'Neal holds the edge in the regular season with a 17-11 record in 28 games played whereas, in the postseason, Olajuwon held the 5-3 advantage including a 4-0 sweep in the 1995 NBA Finals.

Tim Duncan vs. Karl Malone

Date: November 8, 1997

Game result: San Antonio Spurs 87, Utah Jazz 80

Stat lines: Duncan - 8 PTS, 13 REBS, 4 BLKS; Malone - 26 PTS, 7 REBS

Tim Duncan quietly contributed across the board as the San Antonio Spurs beat the reigning Conference Champions behind David Robinson's game-high 28. On the other hand, Malone finished 26 in a low-scoring battle.

Kobe Bryant vs. Michael Jordan

Date: December 17, 1996

Game result: Chicago Bulls 129, Los Angeles Lakers 123

Stat lines: Bryant - 5 PTS, 1 REB, 1 BLK in 10 MINS; Jordan - 30 PTS, 9 REBS, 3 ASTS

Coming off the bench, Bryant didn't see a lot of court time to make an impact on the game while Jordan, along with Scottie Pippen, played a key role in ensuring a win for the reigning NBA Champions.

MORE: Kobe's legacy calls to Appreciate Greatness

Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan never faced each other in the playoffs but the former does hold a 5-3 advantage in eight regular-season contests between the two great shooting guards.

LeBron James vs. Kobe Bryant

Date: January 12, 2004

Game result: Los Angeles Lakers 89, Cleveland Cavaliers 79

Stat lines: James - 16 PTS, 7 ASTS, 5 REBS; Bryant - 10 PTS, 5 REBS, 2 ASTS

In their first face-to-face matchup, Bryant only played 17 mins and contributed across the board. Without him, a deep Lakers squad won as LeBron James was having a rough game with six turnovers and a 6-20 shooting night.

LeBron James and Kobe Bryant never met in the postseason but the latter holds a commanding 16-6 edge in their 22 regular-season clashes.

Luka Doncic vs. LeBron James

Date: October 31, 2018

Game result: L os Angeles Lakers 114, Dallas Mavericks 113

Stat lines: Doncic - 14 PTS, 7 ASTS, 5 REBS; James - 29 PTS, 6 ASTS, 5 REBS, 3 STLS

In his game against his idol, rookie Luka Doncic played a handy role in the Mavericks nearly pulling off an upset but James and the young Lakers held on for the narrow victory.

MORE: Don't take LeBron vs Luka for granted

Through two seasons, James holds a 5-1 edge in the six times both these tall playmakers have faced-off against each other.

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