PHOENIX -- I walked up to each one of them and asked the question.
If you could be any other player here who would it be?
It was a question I'd asked 12 years ago to Dream Team III: Reggie Miller, Charles Barkley, Penny Hardaway, Gary Payton, Shaq.
Their answers lent insight into which players they respected, whose game they feared. Back then Scottie Pippen's name came up the most. Five out of the 12 players on that team wanted to be, even if for one game, Jordan's Green Hornet. When asked, "Why Pip?" it was Miller who explained it best: "Because Pippen can score only five points and still dominate a basketball game."
Over this All-Star Weekend I whispered the same question into the ears of the New Kings On The Block. I wanted to see if things had changed: Did the best ballplayers in the world admire someone on a level the rest of us haven't recognized? Is LeBron, to the guys who have to play against him, really the Chosen One?
It was an experiment, 12 years in the making. The results? An introspective read into the psyche of an NBA player. Data psychological. An informal case study.
Tim Duncan: "That's a tough one. Probably LeBron. I just want to know what it feels like to be a 6-8, 260-pound guy that can just fly. That would be great, that would be fun."
Dwyane Wade: "I'd trade places with LeBron. I wanna be 6-8, 265 pounds and play like I'm 6-4. And I want to go back to being 24 years old!"
Kevin Garnett: Man, I'm good with me. I good with me. I hear about all these other problems these other players have and I'll take my little problems and run with them. That's if you want to call them problems. I respect everyone's ability here, I respect everybody on how they got here, I respect everyone whose team is successful and how they got to this point. Every All-Star here is well deserving, but being someone else? Naw. Other than wanting to fit in a regular shower or something, other than that, I'm cool."
David West: "Probably Yao. I see how much in demand he is in terms of representing not only himself and his family but also an entire nation. And I know it's probably a little more difficult, but he's still able to move at his own pace. He handles it."
Joe Johnson: "Yao. I want to see what Yao's life is like. The reason why is, he came in from China, man, billions of people. I could only imagine the type of press and the type of things he must go through as a player. I don't know, I would want to see what that's like. It seems amazing."
Jameer Nelson: "Dwight Howard. Most votes ever."
Chris Paul: "Shaq. He demands the most attention out of anybody. I don't care who it is, LeBron, Kobe, it doesn't matter. Shaq's been doing this forever."
"You'd want to be Shaq for a day or forever?" I asked him.
"Just for a day," CP3 said back. "I like my life."
Amare Stoudemire: "I'd trade places with Shaq. Man, he's a 15-time All-Star and he's my teammate. Plus, if I traded places with him I'd be closer to me (loud laugh)."
Shaquille O'Neal: "Nate Robinson." (Shaq's answer came before Saturday night's dunk contest).
"Nate Robinson?" I asked, shocked.
"Yeah. I've been big all of my life, dominating, and I'd just like to know what it feels like to be that size and be able to throw it down like that."
"But you were that size at 10 years old," I said.
(Laughing) "You're right."
Mo Williams: "A combination of both Kobe and LeBron. They are both dominating players and they dominate the game in different ways. LeBron does it athletically, Kobe does it skillfully. I think the combination of those two would be the best player ever. Better than Mike [Jordan]."
Tony Parker: "MJ."
"That's it?" I say to him. "But he's done. I'm talking about only players that are here."
Still. "Jordan. That's my idol, the best ever."
"No LeBron, Kobe, Yao ...?"
Still. "MJ. No one else. MJ, baby."
Pau Gasol: "Michael Jordan. That's the only player I would ever like to be."
Ray Allen: "I like myself. I really love who I am."
"That sounds Ray," I said to him.
Devin Harris: "LeBron," he said without even thinking. When asked why: "Billionaire status! They say he's going to be the first billion-dollar athlete."
Brandon Roy: "Shaq. When he's in a room people just flock to him. Just watching him walk around, everybody wants to be around him. The way he carries himself, the way he plays. I'd just want to be him for like a day."
Then came Chauncey Billups' classic and unexpected answer: "A.I. So I can get my Detroit No. 1 [jersey] back."
Allen Iverson couldn't choose one. And he thought on it for a while. "All of 'em," he said. "For me it's too hard to pick one." When I told him that a lot of the players picked Yao, his response was so Iverson: "Man, I wouldn't want to be that damn tall. You can't even look cool in your clothes."
Kobe Bryant (paraphrasing): "Just me, man. I'm cool with just being me. Nobody else."
For LeBron, it took more than a minute to answer. He needed a day to think. Then, when he did settle on one player, it explained more about his total understanding and appreciation of the game. Read deep into his answer and you'll find many answers on why he is who he is and why he is who he's going to be.
"KG," LeBron said. "The game, the personality, everything. Plus, he has a ring. If I could be one other player, it would be KG."
Scoop Jackson is a columnist for ESPN.com.