Saturday, May 20, 2006

What I'd really like to do is put the greatness of this man in perspective.

The question is not new ... Who is the greatest NBA player of all time? Or, to put it another way, if you could have just one NBA player throughout history, who would it be?

For me, I'd rather have Magic Johnson than any other. Before the Michael Jordan lovers come out of the woodwork, let me try to present my case. Far too many younger folks didn't get to see both play in their prime. Having been an avid fan of the Mighty Lakers in the 80s and seen plenty of Jordan I will try to speak from experience and from statistical evidence, hoping to be as objective as possible.

Let's also give Larry Bird his due. Did it get any better than watching the Lakers vs. Celtics games in the 80s, especially in the NBA finals? It seemed like it was just a formality during that decade that it would be those two teams in the finals with the winner getting bragging rights for the next year.

The 80s Celtics were good and Bird was good (3 NBA championships, 3 NBA MVPs & rookie of the year). However, neither Bird nor his team had the same measure of success as Magic or the Lakers. The rivalry was great and exciting, but though Bird won some battles. Magic won the war.

"Magic is head-and-shoulders above everybody else," Larry Bird once observed in the Chicago Sun-Times. "I've never seen [anybody] as good as him."

The greatest contender for best of all time ... of coure, is Michael Jordan. Jordan won 6 NBA Championships was a 5 time NBA MVP and was an all-star 14 times! That's good. That's REALLY good. Jordan's ability to score seemingly at will and his playoff success, particularly in the finals, incline many to see Jordan as the best of all time.

But what about Magic? Their careers overlapped just a bit, but Jordan was coming into his prime as Magic's career was winding down. Nonetheless, Magic has some skins on the wall.

3 times Magic was the MVP of the NBA. He was a 12 time all-star and was the NBA Finals MVP 3 times.

Magic won 5 championships with the Lakers. Plus, there were additional Finals appearances in '83, '84, '89, and '91. If you're keeping score at home, that's 5-4 in NBA Finals appearances; 6-0 for MJ.

Uh, in my mind, making it to the Finals 9 times is a little something. 6 is good, but 9 is better. Those losses weren't to spare teams either, we're talking Dr. J's Sixers, the 80s Celtics, Detriot's Bad Boys, and Chicago's Bulls (first for Jordan).

Put it this way, it's like a NFL team making it to the Superbowl 9 out of 12 years. 6 out of 8 is very good, but I'd take the 9 out of 12 personally, especially only coming away with one less win. Keep in mind, those were the only 12 full seasons he played. He retired shortly thereafter. His unretirement was only a few months.

So, of the 12 possible trips he could have made to the finals, Magic went 9 times. MJ ... 6 finals trips in 15 chances. So, 9/12 = 75% and 9/15 = 60% making it to the dance. That's all I'm saying.

[Oh and don't give me the "everybody else around Jordan was a bum" spiel. Pippen was a 7-time all star and deemed of one of the 50 best NBA players of all time in '96. Rodman was considered one of the greatest rebounders of all time and Horace Grant was no slouch. Thus, Magic & Bird weren't the only ones surrounded by an acclaimed cast.]

I haven't done the research, but I'm going to go out in a limb and say Magic had/has more playoff victories that Michael.

I know there are other factors to take into consideration other than just statistics. Jordan had the ability to put his team on his back and single-handedly win, or better yet, not lose, a game. Bird was relentless and could hit clutch shots to give his team victories.

Magic also had the intangibles. In my mind, one of the greatest performances of all time was when Magic was a rookie playing in the NBA Finals. As a 20 year old rookie, he stepped up for an injured HOF Kareem and took it to Dr. J & the Sixers while playing center (not his position). He pulled in 15 rebounds. Put up 42 points, got 3 steals, and dished 7 assists. The Mighty Lakers won Game 6 for the Big Fella and Magic was clearly the man. That was just a foreshadowing of things to come.

No disrespect to MJ or Bird, but over his career Magic could (and did) play every position on the floor and dominated while doing so. He could do whatever was necessary for the team to win and was perhaps most widely regarded for his ability to make everyone around him better. Unselfishly playing to the strengths of the members of his team, Magic was the epitome of a team player.

Numbers don't tell the whole story for any of these three. But, I rely heavily on numbers in making my case because more often than not those support MJ as the best of all time rely heavily on 6 rings, and there's good reason to look there. However, Bill Russell of the Celtics had more, but those who watched the game know these three were truly special and head and shoulders above the rest.

Having any of the 3 on your team would be a blessing, but if I could have only one, I'd want Earvin "Magic" Johnson.

All 3 were great and it was great seeing them on the NBA Dream Team together as they won the Gold for the USA in the '92 Olympics. These three remain, Bird, MJ & Magic, but the greatest of these in Magic.

If you were starting a team and could have any one NBA player in his prime on your team, who would you take?


At 22 May, 2006 11:43, Blogger James said...

"There's Michael Jordan and then there is the rest of us."
- Magic Johnson

At 22 May, 2006 11:45, Blogger GUNNY said...

Good point, James.

I had neglected to highlight Magic Johnson's profound humility.

At 22 May, 2006 11:53, Blogger GUNNY said...

Incidentally, I thought about a related idea. My all time team. If I could have any NBA players, how would I construct my team.

G - Magic Johnson
G - Michael Jordan
F - James Worthy (Magic needs someone to run the break)
F - Larry Bird
C - Shaq

I think these guys would work well together and complement each other, with the added bonus that they could all score at will.

Can anyone top THAT list?!

At 22 May, 2006 13:33, Blogger James said...

Believe it or not, I just KNEW you would respond with something along the "humility" line. Good on you. ;)

"Can anyone top THAT list?!"
Good list, no doubt. I would take Bill Russell for my C, though. He's much more likely to win a championship, and much less likely to be injured. Or even (much to the delight of Lakers fans) Lew Alcindor. Also, I'd put Julius Erving at G instead of Magic, and put Magic at F instead of Worthy. After all, Magic is versatile!

You should come up with a five-man bench.

At 22 May, 2006 16:26, Blogger James said...

BTW, I know that Dr. J. was a small forward, but I'd rather put him at G and have Magic at F.

At 23 May, 2006 08:26, Blogger James said...

I spent too way too much time pondering yesterday afternoon over the Magic Johnson slooge. Few thoughts: 1) I would put him back at G and put Dr. J. at F (even though Magic is 2" taller). Magic is the all-time best passer / assist guy. 2) Best all-around / versatile player of all-time: I'd agree with you that it's Magic. He could play ANY position, and do it well.

THE best of ALL-TIME?!? I'll take Jordan's 6 rings over Johnson's 5. 9 appearances, yes. BUT, what if Jordan had been drafted by a team that already had talent in place (like the Lakers when they drafted Magic)? Jordan was surrounded by scrubs at first. It was after they got him a supporting cast that the Bulls started to get lift-off.

What if Jordan hadn't retired after the first three-peat? Would the Bulls have had two more shows at the Finals? Possibly.

Jordan has the all-time highest scoring average. Higher than even Chamberlain, and would have been higher if he hadn't had those two years in WAS.

When it comes down to the final analysis, I think you're correct....
You'd want Magic, MJ and Bird all on your team. ;)

At 31 December, 2007 14:26, Blogger GUNNY said...

Some interesting slooge:
Michael Jordan - NOT the best ever!!!

He takes whatever your criterion is (championships, scoring, awards, etc.) and shows that Jordan is inferior to others.

For example, Bill Russell had as many NBA Championships as Jordan AND Magic Johnson COMBINED.

He argues that Jordan was merely the most popular and hyped of his generation.

I have to agree. Who else was there for his media competition?

At 02 May, 2009 01:31, Blogger GUNNY said...

One more piece of trivia ... How did they fare against a common and worthy opponent?

Michael Jordan against Bird's Celtics in the playoffs:
0 Wins, 6 Losses

Magic Johson against Bird's Celtics in the playoffs:
11 Wins, 8 Losses

"The first thing I would do every morning was look at the box scores to see what Magic did. I didn't care about anything else."
--Larry Bird on his greatest rival, Magic Johnson.


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