Quantcast
Thursday, February 11th, 2010 at 3:37 pm  |  156 responses

Which MJ was the Greatest?

Not the one you think.

by Vincent Thomas / @vincecathomas

My first vivid sports memory involved the Lakers and they have remained my favorite team, in any sport, for the last 25 years of my life. The Showtime Lakers were my squad, so Magic was my dude. I have never rooted for an athlete with as much passion as I rooted for Magic. It was that young-kid, “nothing else matters,” berserk kinda passion. This makes me a bit biased when it comes to anything that has to do with Magic. But, as you grow up, hopefully you get more rational about hoops and this should especially be the case as a journalist covering basketball. What I’ve always thought was irrational, though, is how people (especially my generation) think there is not a valid argument for any player, other than Michael Jordan, as the “greatest of all-time.” Four men are in that discussion — MJ, Magic, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Bill Russell. In SLAM’s March issue (the one with Brandon Jennings on the cover) I posited my rational, somewhat objective case for one of them. Here it is…

***

Magic Johnson is the greatest basketball player of all time. Wait! Before you scoff and flip to another story—or, even worse, cancel your SLAM subscription—based on an assertion that, I’m sure, some of you view as patently absurd, give me a second to explain.

Michael Jordan is, undeniably, the best basketball player to ever put on a pair of shorts and play organized basketball. No arguments here on that one, OK? But there is a difference between TMichael Jordan & Magic Johnsonhe Best and The Greatest. Did anyone ever play the game at higher and simultaneously more accomplished levels (better) than Jordan? No. Has there ever been a player who had a broader and more active impact on the game’s progression on and off the court (greater) than Jordan? To most of you, definitely not.

But screw you, I think Magic Johnson is the greatest athlete to play organized basketball. His impact, influence and excellence are more varied, broad and dynamic than all of the other greats, Jordan included. At the very least, his career presents an interesting argument.

Let that marinate for a while. We’ll get back to it. But before we do, we need to rewind.

It sounds weird anytime you hear Magic called “Earvin,” doesn’t it? Even though “Magic” is his nickname, it feels like we should put his birth name in quotes, like “Earvin” Magic Johnson. This stems from Fred Stabley Jr, a sportswriter for the Lansing State Journal. As a 15-year-old martian, on his way to leading Everett High School to the first of back-to-back state titles, Magic dropped a 36-16-15 gem that hypnotized Stabley into calling him “Magic.” Years later, during his rookie season in the NBA, Magic was describing what it was like when he got out on the break with the Lakers. When we’re rolling and the break is going,” he said. “I guess it looks like I am performing magic out there.” You ain’t lyin’.

Everything that took place in Magic’s formative life crested in the 1979 NCAA Championship game, when Magic led the Michigan State Spartans to the title game against Larry Bird and his mid-major Indiana State Sycamores. The Spartans won in front of a record-setting television audience. The hype and build-up for that game and the subsequent buzz set the foundation for the Final Four that we know now, the second biggest sporting event in the country after the NFL’s Super Bowl. As Seth Davis’ recent book so aptly coined it, that game was “When March Went Mad.”

Los Angeles was next to go mad. Magic took L.A. by storm. He was perfect for a city like Los Angeles that is defined by Hollywood, which values celebrity above all else.

“When he arrived in L.A., that’s when everything changed,” recalls Pat Riley, the guy who coached Magic to four of his five championships with the Lakers. “He was the flash point. He was a transformative figure in L.A. and remains one to this day. Back then…I mean, the Lakers organization had great players before—Wilt [Chamberlain], Jerry [West], Elgin [Baylor], Kareem [Abdul-Jabbar], but Magic transcended everybody. You could feel it. He was like the Pied Piper. He brought this incredible charisma and unorthodox talent. He changed the NBA and he changed basketball in L.A.”

The current L.A. is an unabashed Lakers town, the only city with multiple pro sports teams where basketball reigns supreme; it’d be this way if they had an NFL team, too. But it wasn’t always like this. Kareem’s Lakers were a boring, early round-exiting snore-fest that a town caffeinated on celebrity wasn’t enthused about. Magic changed that for good. At Magic’s peak, he was probably the celeb of all celebs in a city and state full of celebs. (As Richard Hoffer put it in his 1990 Sports Illustrated profile: “This town is comically blasé about celebrity. There’s just too much of it for people to take it seriously…But, here comes Magic, and Le Dome’s patrons, all true Angelenos, glance up and see six feet nine inches of maximun celebrity ambling their way. There is a time to be blasé (almost always) and a time to be slack-jawed (now!). They give him a standing ovation.”) In fact, after Magic turned the Lakers into “Showtime”—and he took his kilowatt smile and no-look passes to all the Western Conference cities two and three times a year—he altered basketball’s popularity West of the Mississippi, in general. The reason why you always see annoying purple and gold fans cheering the Lakers in their opponent’s arena is because, back in the ‘80s, Magic-induced Laker mania spread across the country. Even if Portland and Seattle already had die-hard fans, Showtime brought in casual fans who morphed into die-hard fans.

Magic’s first, and truly signature pro performance (and maybe the signature performance of his whole career) was the final game of his rookie season, with the Lakers, up 3-2, staring down the Philadelphia 76ers for the 1980 NBA title. One problem. Magic and his Lakers were at the Spectrum in Philly, but Kareem was back in L.A., nursing a gimpy left ankle. The thinking was that the Captain-less Lakers would give it a valiant go in Game 6, inevitably lose and hope that Kareem would be ready for Game 7. Except, we all know what happened. The 20-year-old Magic jumped center against the 7-1 Caldwell Jones and outclassed the Sixers for the rest of the game as the Lakers won their rings.

Kareem summed it up well: “It reminded me of the kind of game Oscar Robertson used to play in college…when he used to do it all. Just one man playing against boys. Except that Earvin was just one boy playing against men.”

His 42-point, 15-rebound, 7-assist, 3-steal performance in that decisive game, as a rookie, playing five positions (Magic called it “C-F-G Rover”), was not only the greatest Playoff performance of all time, but the dawning of a new age in the NBA. To watch someone his size post up, drain jumpers, run the fast break, throw Houdini passes, block shots, bang with the big boys for boards and so thoroughly dominate practically every square inch of the court was modern basketball’s Big Bang. Chris Webber wouldn’t have dreamed of running a break, at his size, before Magic. There would have been no point-forward Scottie Pippen without Magic. Kevin Durant is 6-10 with shooting guard skills. There’s no Kevin Durant without Magic. Before the unimaginative minds of the Cleveland Cavaliers organization turned LeBron into a small forward, he was a new model do-everything-phenom who owed more to Magic Johnson than any other predecessor. And this revolution of pro basketball all started, in earnest, with this game, when Magic’s hyper-versatility was on grand display, dominating the decisive game of a championship series.

That ’80 championship was Magic’s fourth title (including his two state titles in high school and his NCAA Championship) in five years. This wasn’t lost on Paul Westhead, the Lakers coach at the time, who quipped, “Magic thinks every season goes like that—you play some games, win the title and get named MVP.”

What’s interesting about Magic’s pro career, though, is that it started out in “peak-and-valley” mode.

Magic injured his left knee early in his second season and came back about five weeks before the Playoffs were to begin. The Lakers kept rolling during his injury—with Kareem, Jamaal Wilkes and Norm Nixon, it wasn’t like L.A. was a team full of scrubs—but without the buzz. When Magic returned, the cameras started flashing again and it was a huge media story. However, the squad was a bickering mess and got bounced in the first round by Houston.

Aside from all of this, Magic was beginning to feud with Westhead about how the offense should be run. Magic was so used to having the ball in his hands and orchestrating everything that sharing those duties with Nixon (especially while running the fast break) killed him. After a heated exchange early in the ’81-82 season, Magic told reporters he wanted to be traded. Westhead was fired instead. Magic was now a “coach killer.” Magic, perhaps the most beloved of all the NBA greats at the time, was booed at arenas for weeks after this.

The silver lining is that the Lakers inserted Riley as coach. Soon, Magic and his teammates made up. That sounds weird, doesn’t it? I mean, this is Magic we’re talking about, a guy up there with Bill Russell as the greatest teammate ever. It took him two years to get there, but from ’82 on, you couldn’t find a better, more influential, more motivational, more inspiring, more caring teammate in the League. Because Kareem was such an introvert and Magic was such a people person, it didn’t take long for him to assume the reins and become (here comes another superlative) one of, if not the, greatest leader in NBA history.

Present-day Lakers general manager and former Magic teammate Mitch Kupchak says his favorite Magic Johnson story is a minor one, but it’s indicative of who Magic was as a teammate.

“On my second or third day in L.A.,” recalls Kupchak, “we were in Palm Springs and had just finished practice. So Magic comes up to me and says, Mitch, why don’t you drive back to L.A. with me? He probably just sensed that I was having a tough time and thought, Hey, I wanna spend some time with Mitch. He asked me how things were going, if there was anything he could do better. And I say, Well, Earvin, I don’t know when you’re going to pass me the ball because, well, you’re not looking at me. He told me, It may not look like I see you, but I see you. So, if you’re open, be ready. And from that point on, I didn’t have any problems.”

Kupchak says that story sticks with him because Magic instinctively sensed that his new teammate was having trouble and took initiative to seek him out and do everything he could to make things better. That’s the kind of guy Magic was. The Lakers won another title that season. Magic averaged 17 points, 11 boards, 9 assists and 3 steals in the Playoffs and won his second Finals MVP.

The 1984 Finals were the first of Magic’s three epic, League-popularity altering battles with Bird for all the chips. Even though Magic averaged 18 and 15 for the seven-game series, he said, “We made five mistakes that cost us the series and I contributed to three of them.” These were mega-costly, potentially career-plummeting bungles in L.A.’s Game 2, 4 and 7 losses: he dribbled the clock down at the end of Game 2 until L.A. couldn’t get a shot off; he threw a pass away at the end of regulation in Game 4 and then missed two crucial free throws; in the huge Game 7, Magic went 5-14 and had 7 turnovers, including getting stripped twice in the final 90 seconds. Imagine this happening to Kobe or LeBron? It was so bad that Kevin McHale took to calling him “Tragic” Johnson the next season.

From that point on, though, Magic’s career arc turned ascendant and transcendent.

He finished second (to Bird) for the ’85 MVP, then went and averaged 18-15-7 on the way to L.A.’s third title in six years. But this title was different — they beat Boston. Vindication. He capped a League MVP with a Finals MVP in ’87, which featured his iconic “junior-junior sky hook” over the outstretched arms of McHale and Robert Parish — AT Boston Garden. The Championship in ’88 made L.A. the first squad to repeat since the Russell/Auerbach Celtics of the ’60s. He was League MVP in ’87, ’89 and ’90. Making All-NBA first teams and starting in the annual All-Star Game was yearly stuff for the greatest and most decorated player of the ’80s. By the time he met Jordan in the 1991 Finals, the NBA had gone from a League that was too black and too coked-up to have their Finals aired on live TV to, at the time, America’s hottest league and a sport encroaching on soccer as the world’s favorite. Magic, as the game’s most popular star, was most responsible.

At the close of the ‘80s, SI featured Magic on a cover with Joe Montana and Wayne Gretzky as “Masters of the ‘80s.” The issue featured a Rick Reilly essay extolling the three gods. In it, Magic dropped this quote: “I don’t want to be a businessman, I want to be the best businessman.” So, while he was still playing, he went out and got Hollywood super-agent Michael Ovitz to help chart a path through what was new terrain for an athlete. “The architecture for the business career that we created,” Ovitz said at the time, “was to put him in a position where he would be doing a lot fewer endorsements but developing a closer relationship in a continuing business. Many athletes have multiple-endorsement deals, but that’s not what we were interested in.”

Magic wasn’t cool with just pitching products. Magic wanted to own stuff. What you have now is Magic Enterprises, which includes Magic’s partnerships with companies like Starbucks and Lowe’s. The man is worth over $700 million. Jordan is the greatest sports pitchman of them all, but it is Magic’s ownership/partnership paradigm that heavily influenced filthy-rich athletes like LeBron and Tiger to try and follow—and the lower-tier guys trying to hustle a few hundred Gs or a couple million into a fortune all indirectly travel this path that Magic forged, too.

Everything was going great for Magic before he had to abruptly retire in ’91 because he had tested positive for HIV. When Magic made his announcement in the fall of ’91, the world stopped. At the time, there was a frightened paranoia that surrounded HIV and AIDS; those who contracted the disease were treated like lepers. Even Magic was ostracized by his peers, some afraid to play against or with him, others questioning his sexuality. Plus, it was viewed as a death sentence. Over the subsequent years, Magic has helped lead a nation that treated the disease as taboo to a relative state of awareness. It wasn’t just watching him hug players before and after winning the MVP at the ’92 All-Star Game, or seeing him still thrive physically in the ’92 Barcelona Olympics, bringing Showtime to the Dream Team. It was watching him continue to live a healthy life.

I met Magic for the first time during the 2009 Finals. I was lucky enough to be in his VIP section at an Orlando lounge and he was gracious enough to engage me. After a brief conversation, I gave him a pound and a hug and not once did I think, “I’m embracing a man with HIV.” No one does. That is what I call social progress.

From the time that Magic played his first game with the Michigan State Spartans in ’77, through his final, post-comeback dribble with the Los Angeles Lakers in ’96, Magic was either solely or significantly responsible for a host of things: bringing the Final Four to the forefront of America’s collective sports conscious with his ’79 NCAA Finals game against Larry Bird’s Indiana State; making America’s largest state and second-largest metropolitan area a Lakers state/city and coaxing the NBA out of a sort of geographic niche through his virtuosity and celebrity; he, along with Bird, were the two major players for the first half of the NBA’s Golden Age; he inspired every future generation of players taller than 6-8 to be versatile ballplayers, which makes him the player most responsible for the modern game we see today; his bout with HIV and his subsequent activist work for AIDS/HIV makes him one of the most socially important celebrities on the American landscape of the past 30 years; he set a model for athletes as businessmen and not just pitchmen.

In my book, that makes him the “greatest” ballplayer ever. Maybe not the “best.” But the “greatest.”

Vincent Thomas is a columnist and feature writer for SLAM, a contributing commentator for ESPN and writes the weekly “From The Floor” column for NBA.com. You can email him your feedback at vincethomas79@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter at @vincecathomas.

  • Add a Comment
  • Share
  • RSS

Tags: , , , , ,

  • http://slamonline.com Brad Long

    And…here…we…go…

  • http://www.slamonline.com Myles Brown

    Ill wait.

  • tavoris

    the comments are gonna get ugly, but it’s always great to be reminded of the people who helped bring the NBA into the modern era.

  • Sparker

    the fat guy? get real

  • JoeMaMa

    I’m with this article. I agree.
    I love Jordan. I love Oscar. I love Russell. I love Wilt. The greats. But Magic made me love the game like no other. His game is majestic. Watching his highlights and old games shows you that he injected flash, sizzle, and JOY into the game. Great article on my favourite player of all time.

  • http://www.slamonline.com Myles Brown

    Theres something people dont mention about Magic the activist that I find particularly disturbing. But that would just make me a hater. For now, Ill just say that he was a fantastic player and while Im not sure I agree, I certainly understand the argument for his being the ‘greatest’ v. ‘the best’. He saved the league, revolutionized his position and won as much as anyone in the modern era. *Not named Jordan.

  • Sparker

    on a more serious note, i think magic was better sooner, and his impact was immediate and (yeah) total on the 2 (!) teams he played. in the end, he was (only just) better than bird, not quite up there with russell, but damn close. mj, however, just kept getting better until there was no else around to compare him to. there still isn’t.

  • Hangtime Hec

    This is why I love basketball, Myth versus Myth. Sometimes you have to question yourself wether these people actually existed.

  • http://theurbangriot.com/ NUPE

    Magic – the greatest? Yep I agree.

  • http://www.stonesthrow.com/madlib Michael NZ

    The heading for this is actually a little deceiving once you read the article. Of course, we’ll get more comments this way.

  • GetEm

    This dudes tweakin

  • tavoris

    Myles-please enlighten me. I think I missed the disturbing part of his legacy.

  • http://www.yahoo.com Logues

    this was a really good article, along with the slamadamonth about wade. that was pure genious.

  • http://slamonline.com Allenp

    Magic that activist?
    The same cat pushing rental furniture and predatory debit cards?
    The same cat leading the fight for gentrification and low paying jobs?
    Magic was nice, no doubt. I always Mike was a better scorer, equal rebounder and a much better defender.

  • http://slamonline.com Allenp

    Ah, sorry, didn’t read the article first to notice the distinction between best and greatest. I apologize.
    Ok, cool argument. Purely subjective, but cool.

  • http://www.slamonline.com Myles Brown

    Thank you. Theres still that other thing I wonder if I should mention (It doesnt require much thought, however no one seems to be willing to speak on it), but theres also another side to Magic the businessman.

  • http://myspace.com/brandnew Bryan

    Magic was a better rebounder imo. Better passer , better rebounder but not close as a scorer or defender. But 6 chips to 5 isn’t really that big of a difference. Especially since it was the 80′s in a much less watered down nba. But that’s an arguement for a different day.

  • KHALID SALAAM

    I agree with Vince’s assessment about Magic making everyone Laker fans. Though i was a hardcore Sixers fan i rooted for the Lakers whenever they played the Pistons, Celtics or Bulls. To this day I still like the lakers and they have been my “2nd team” for years. Lots of that was due to Shaq and now Kobe but Magic, Cap and Worthy were all parts of my initial connection. I didn’t attend games back in the 80′s so I never saw Magic play live but i have met him a couple of times. The first time was here in NY, in Harlem actually. I was interviewing him for a bball reality show that he was putting out (do u guys remember that? i think it was only on 1 season) and thought he was as engaging in person as he was on tv. Jordan was a better basketball player (defensively he was way above magic. also a better athlete and just as smart) but Magic was better at everything else (well, not as a talk show host but nobody is perfect LOL)

  • Yesse

    Well Magic has alot thing’s better than MJ, but not the overrall. Magic is alot more nice and not arrogant these days. Back in the day he was better at rebounding or passing.

  • http://www.michaelcho.com M Cho

    I think it’s great to have a discussion about who was the greatest without someone bringing Kobe or Lebron into the mix. Lets hope it stays like this.

  • NJ4Life

    Magic was also forced to retire in his prime.

  • http://www.slamonline.com Myles Brown

    For what its worth, his 1982 line might be the most impressive one of the modern era. 18.6PPG 9.6 RPG, 9.5 RPG and a league leading 2.7 SPG. Yeah, Money and Bron scored more, but it would be as hard for them to average that extra 2 boards and assists per game as it would for Magic to score ten more points.

  • letsmotor

    @M Cho: Smartest thing I’ve seen on here in a long time.

  • http://www.twitter.com/Th3_R3al_Chris Th3_R3al_Chris

    Myles: Jordan’s 88-89 averages of 32.5, 8, and 8 with almost 3 steals a game is better.

  • http://www.slamonline.com Myles Brown

    30, 8 and 8 is always nice. But the closer to a triple double average, the more I’m impressed. Especially for a point guard. He missed it by fractions.

  • http://www.nike.com/nikeos/p/nikebasketball/en_US/signature/moves?player=kobe_bryant&move=3 Jackie Moon

    Magic threw the craziest passes. I have no idea how he did it. Now I’m thinking that I’ve only seen highlights. Now I have to check how many turnovers he had. Maybe he threw a lot of crazy passes, and a lot of them got thrown away. But those ones that went through, I haven’t seen anyone throw as many “howdidhedothat?” passes as many times as Magic.

  • E. Powers

    I stopped reading when he said “But screw you,”

  • http://myspace.com/weezyleezy337 GametimeWeezy

    This was a great article…really letting people know about The Magic Man. Magic had that court vision and it was the illest thing to see him running the point at 6’9″…he had all the intangibles. Definatley one of a kind as a player and a person. Much Respect. EA Sports Bulls Vs. Blazers back in ’92 didnt have him on the Lakers squad because he didnt play that year…instead they had Sedale Threat staring next to Byron Scott, n that used to be like wtf. But he WAS on the West Allstar squad and was mad fast…it was just unfair. If anyone was to say Magic is the greatest ever, definately can’y deny it. NBA Superstars video (greatest bball video ever made) back in ’89 started off with him doin his thing to Janet Jackson’s song “Control”…epic.

  • John

    Magic was and is the greatest basketball player EVER.

    Nobody could do what he did. There were better scorers but there is more to the game than that.

    Greatest player.

  • http://chrisyeh.blogspot.com Chris Yeh

    Myles,

    Are you referring to the way Magic went out of the way to emphasize that he wasn’t a homosexual?

  • JoeMaMa

    gametime, those old NBA videos are hilarious. high shorts, pastel colours and cheap graphics in the background, and the occasional Branford Marsalis saxophone solo.

  • http://slamonline.com tealish

    Lol @ Myles… I’ll take 32.5/8/8/2.9stl/DEFENSE over 18.6PPG 9.6 RPG, 9.5 RPG, 2.7 SPG anyday!

  • bakers’ dozen

    People seem to forget that magic played 5 positions…MJ played 3. Now is that saying MJ could’nt play the other two? No it’s not. Magic was never over played by anybody at any positoin. Put MJ against a true center and he’d get killed in the paint. Magic played against Moses Malone and did quite well. Love em both, but seeing both of them play live, I”d give the overall edge to Magic. MJ could score and defend better, but the bottom line is that Magic did more to engage his teammates than MJ did. MJ’s team relied on him more, and they had different styles and needs for their teams. My vote for overall best ever goes to…………………………………………………………………………………….DANNY AINGE!

  • argentina

    cut it out man, MICHAEL JORDAN IS THE G.O.A.T. Period

  • http://myspace.com/weezyleezy337 GametimeWeezy

    I heard them Lakers back then used to have Boom Boom Room in the old Forum…just for that fact alone attests to Magic is the greatness!

  • http://slamonline.com Dave

    Allenp had the best on comment on here, but mine was the greatest.

  • don

    magic who?

  • Hugo

    In my opinion mj is the greatest ever cuz of his stats and accomplishments, furthermore i believe that kobe bryant has an offensive skillset which is just as good if not better than mikes, however magic probably did have more of an impact thank mj as he came in when the interest in the game was dwindling

  • Hugo

    *than

  • http://www.realcavsfans.com Anton

    LeBron is better than both of these scrubs.

  • http://www.kb24.com The Seed

    Jordan is clearly the greater basketball player, no discussion to me. He came along when bball needed someone to transcend it and it worked. He stayed quiet, never expressing himself and the rings are what made him. Because think about it, if Reggie Miller won 5 rings or Barkley got 5 rings, we would think of them differently. The MVP’s are good, but the rings separate the real Kings. MJod has edge over MJoh. Also you said If it wasn’t for Magic their would be no Kevin Durant, Chris Webber, Scottie Pippen or Lebron James, OK, then if it wasn’t for David Thompson it would be no Micheal Jordan then. Stretching a little to me.

  • http://www.kb24.com The Seed

    ALso the real question I have had with people is who would you rather take LARRY BIRD or MAGIC JOHNSON. Jordan is by himself and only one player can challenge him with 4 more rings. The funny thing is most people said they would take Larry Bird over Magic Johnson. Sorry Magic fan’s.

  • The Simple Truth

    Dude,

    Magic has AIDS.

    Get real.

  • http://myspace.com/weezyleezy337 GametimeWeezy

    MJ had to beat the best to become the best. And that he did. Magic and Bird were the best…but they couldnt hold MJ.

  • RedRum

    Everyone who says they would take Bird of over Magic is an idiot. Also, can we please stop it? Jordan was the GOAT, because he played both sides of the court, and was so dominant. I have said it before, and got heat for it but I believe it. After the two MJs, maybe Duncan is the third best of all time? Think about it… After Jordan, probably the best two-way player ever to play the game, 4 rings, three Finals MVP, 2(?… not sure.. ) League MPVs, and all that playing in teams with no real second superstar. Beat Ewing, beat shaq and kobe, beat Lebron, beat the pistons, beat Dirk and Mavs, beat Nash and Suns, could easily had 2-3 more rings if it was not for injuries, the .4 shot and Manu’s silly foul on Dirk.

  • Lebron is greater than Kobe

    does anyone else wanna emphasize the fact that magic had more offensive weapons to throw passes to? and another thing no offense to the author but if he represents slams opinionin this then it contradicts wat they said onthe hof tribute to mj which is “paying respect to the G.O.A.T” somethin along those lines lol

  • Jon

    MJ. Or are you retarded?

  • letsmotor

    @Myles Brown: The closer to a triple double, the more you’re impressed? So you’d give up almost 14 points for the sake of 1.5 rebounds and 1.5 assists? I mean, those are both, very, very impressive stat lines, but really?

  • bakers’ dozen

    LeBron isn’t even close to either Jordan or Magic yet. He’ll probably end up there, but in an all-time draft he’s top 10…not #1. #1 would clearly go to Jordan or Magic. Probably Jordan. Jordan 1 on 1 vs LeBron would be good to watch, but in his prime, Jordan was impossible to guard. He had more tools than LeBron does at this point in time.

  • http://hibachi20.blogspot.com/ BETCATS

    This is just a bunch of word play; greatest, most dominate, best. What i got out of this was that Micheal Jordan is the #1 basketball player of all time, but Magic was your favorite and did things that no other player could ever do for you or anyone else. I understand that, but lets just call things what they are Micheal Jordan is the greatest of all time.

  • Earl

    ^EXACTLY^

  • http://slamonline.com dmonz

    Magic was Great on and off the court, his personality was awesome.. Jordan was fierce on and off the court , his personality was often described as suffocating if not arrogant.. If you get a chance to talk to Magic you’ll find out Magic’s true greatness. His attitude makes him better.. if not Greater than MJ, his peers adore him, MJ scares them off,Magic makes his team mates better coz of his unselfish plays, MJ makes his teamates better coz they know they’ll hear it from him if they don’t do right. .. Greatness is not measured by titles and MVPs .. but the by the influence and memories you left behind

  • http://slamonline.com Ben Osborne

    It saddens me that some people didn’t read this until it appeared here. Looked even better in last issue. All good, though. Thanks for the piece, Vince. I don’t agree, but I enjoyed reading your case…

  • http://www.slamonline.com Myles Brown

    Im just sayin that scoring is practically a solitary endeavor. You shoot the ball and it either goes in or it doesnt. Assists are entirely dependent upon teammates and you have to compete with teammates for rebounds. Based on that, I think it just as hard -if not more so- for Jordan to average two more assists and rebounds as it is for Magic to average ten more points. Its not a matter of giving up anything. Im not saying who is the better player, just that I find a more robust stat line more impressive. Especially for a point guard. For the record, I still think Money was better.

  • http://www.twitter.com/vincecathomas Vince

    To all those that think Jordan is the greatest: I disagree, but I feel you. That’s the point of this piece. There are four men that, if someone says they’re they greatest and you think differently — and you’re a sane adult — you gotta say “I disagree, but I feel you.” Kareem, Russ, MJ and Magic — they all have legitimate cases. It’s just true.

  • Hoodsnake

    Nice piece on Magic. Jordan was better though.

  • The D Train

    Gametime @ 6:36 – that NBA Superstars video WAS/IS the greatest video ever. Magic tossin’ dimes to Janet. Air Jordan dunkin’ on fools to Berlin’s epic “Take My Breath Away,” Bird chuckin’ up trey’s to The Coug’s “Small Town,” and my favorite, The Chuck Wagon throwin’ down gorilla-style jams to Scandal’s “The Warrior.” Seriously, could you have a more dated video with the (terribly) awesome songs mixed with the too-short and too-tight shorts. That video was/is seriously the apex of awesomeness.

  • http://fdjsklf.com Jukai

    Hey Vince, that was one of my favorite articles I’ve ever read in SLAM, so kudos to you… but lemme ask you something:
    You don’t feel that Wilt Chamberlain falls into the category as an ‘argument’ for best ever?
    Is there a five-championship minimum to be in this category? (that wasn’t a sarcastic statement, I’d understand if you keep Wilt out for only having two rings)

  • http://fdjsklf.com Jukai

    As for my opinion on all this… I still think Jordan is the best.
    But people like RedRum, again in my opinion, are the scum of the earth.
    I have mentioned before that I believe there is an argument for Magic and ONLY Magic to be better than Jordan (sorry… Russell was vastly overrated cause of the team he had, dude was only an above average offensive player… Kareem was legendary but only won with the best and second best PGs of all time) and I get scoffed at. “How DARE you suggest that anyone is better than Jordan? -JUST DROP-”
    Why can’t we bring up this opinion? Jordan was NOT head over heels above everyone else. ESPN decided this before anyone else did. To think there is not even a argument for any of these other greats, like Magic, Kareem, Chamberlain, Bird, Oscar, Kobe, Russell… it’s maddening. And the people who usually tell people ‘STOP TRYING, MJ IS G.O.A.T.’ are usually the people who bring up their opinion every twenty seconds.
    Kthxbye.

  • http://www.addictedtobeauty.ca/ Kevin

    great article.. don’t agree when it comes to defining “greatness” in a basketball player, but you bring up a lot of interesting points.. and you’re probably right that Magic revolutionized the game just as much as MJ did.. that said, there’s only one MJ when it comes to basketball.

  • MikeC.

    G.O.A.T. = J.R. Rider.

  • Teddy-the-Bear

    Wilt Chamberlain definitely has to be in running for the best player ever. Its not like he didn’t win at ALL, okay. He won 2 rings. Many good players have won nothing, but they are still considered to be great players. But when its Wilt Chamberlain, suddenly people are acting like he was on a losing team all his life.
    Wilt Chamberlain is the best scorer and rebounder the league has ever seen. He was an athletic beast, but if he wasn’t skilled he wouldn’t have been able to average 50 points PER GAME for an ENTIRE SEASON. Its easy to step back and say “but he was taller than everyone else he played against!” but so was SHAWN BRADLEY, and so was MANUTE BOL.
    You can transcend stats and league records by playing in a primitive era, and be considered a lesser player than the modern greats (though I disagree), but you CANNOT be considered a lesser player if you absolutely SHATTER THE NBA RECORDS the way Wilt Chamberlain did. He didn’t just transcend statistics, he demolished them. No other player has come close to performing statistically the way Wilt Chamberlain did. Stats can be misleading, bent, twisted, skewed, whatever, but NOT when they are THAT incredible. You don’t score 100 points in a game by luck. You don’t grab 25 rebounds a game by luck. You don’t amass 78 TRIPLE DOUBLES by fluke–that’s more than a lot of the greatest guards have gotten.
    Wilt Chamberlain just might be the best basketball player in the history of the game. Whether you elect to admit it or not. Like he said, people don’t like to root for Goliath.

  • MikeC.

    If the NBA allowed human/wolf hybrids, the werewolf from Teenwolf would have easily surpassed Jordan’s 6 titles. The celebrity lifestyle would have taken him down before he beat Russel’s total, but I think the wolf would have stacked up 8 rings before a massive drug/stripper addiction brought him down.

  • Teddy-the-Bear

    Oh, did I mention the fact that Chamberlain, in the 1966-1967 season, averaged 7.8 assists? Do you guys realize how crazy that is for a big man to do that? 24 ppg, 24 rpg, and 7.8 assists.
    Guess what, the next season he averaged 8.6 assists per game. A CENTER, still scoring 24 ppg and grabbing 24 boards per game, averaging 8.6 assists per game. That is incredible. Combining his skills in scoring, passing, and rebounding, Wilt is probably the best all-around player to ever play the game.

  • garrett

    MJ is on another planet compared to Magic and everyone else… end of story

  • Teddy-the-Bear

    So again, great piece Vince, but that you left Wilt Chamberlain out of the “best players ever” category is pretty surprising.

  • http://none The Philosopher

    The things Magic did with the ball has never been seen before him or since. He’s a HOF at all positions. He was a help defender. We see a Michael every other year, we don’t see a Magic. Besides, Michael didn’t win anything until Magic got old and was by himself in the Finals. 6’9″. He was and still is before his time. And he was by himself in the Finals that year.

  • letsmotor

    I see what you’re saying about Wilt (especially the assist stats, those are really impressive), but it’s just so hard to compare him to players outside his era (guess that’s always true to some extent). I mean, most players just weren’t as big as him then, and defenses weren’t nearly as complex. You’re talking about a 7-1 athletic guy being guarded 1-on-1 in the post. I mean, he sure knew how to capitalize on the advantages he had, and assist stats show he had a high basketball IQ, but I say if you put him in today’s game, he looks a lot like Shaq in his prime with better passing ability.

    And you’re right about Magic being alone in the finals in 91, but he was only 32.

  • ENDS

    Magic Played with a passion that surpased Jeffries’ We always here how Michael had the biggest love for the Game. WRONG I have yet to see a person smile, love and enjoy the game of Basketball more than Earvin “Magic” Johnson. The Problem is after Magic SAVED the Game we loved and we started paying attention to it, he was forced out early 91. MJ got to reap the rewards of the game that had just been passed on to him by the greats in the age of revolutionary telecomunication. Every Sunday without fail NBC had the bulls Showcasing. So none of these 18 year old remember the 80 they just see youtube videos of this big point gaurd making slick passes and think thats all he was a good great passer. I completely agree with this article, and im glad it was writen cause if you say anything against his airness you usaully get lynced around here.

  • ENDS

    Its the popular way of viewing things. MJ is the greatest he can do no wrong in anything he does. Look at the shoes, a lot of the Air Jordans are ugly as hell, but the young mind set remembers their big brother talking about this mythical basketball-god and his participation in the G.Movie.o.a.t. (cough cough) Space Jam, even though they themselves never saw him play. And those are the first to say some stupid ish like “theres no one in MJ’s league, just stop it”. is Mike the GOAT,quite possibly, im not saying he wasnt a bad man. But dont act like there was never and will never be anybody as great because I think the Magic topic is closer than you rookies will ever know. Magic made his teamates better, people wanted to play and be around earvin, whereas that for a fact was not Michael’s case. He was more loathed than u young cats can remember.

  • http://www.nba.com/playerfile/sean_marks/index.html Michael NZ

    @Teddy-the-Bear: you might be interested in Bill SImmons’ book. He’s got A LOT of thoughts on the Wilt vs Russell thing.

  • http://www.nba.com/playerfile/sean_marks/index.html Michael NZ

    *Simmons.

  • ENDS

    And another thing I never remember ANYBODY saying I want to be like Larry. Nothing against him, but lets be Real they always say Magic and Larry saved the NBA but no one (that I knew anyways) wanted to be Bird, they wanted to run the break and flash like Magic. They just Wanted Bird and the Celts to be there to make victory even more sweeter. To sum it up, the same way y’all say there will never be a player like Michael J Jordan, I think you (those who actually saw him Play) will agree, there will never be another human being and ball player like “Earvin” Magic Johnson.

  • Teddy-the-Bear

    Thanks Michael.

  • Teddy-the-Bear

    I’ll have to check that out.

  • Hubert

    I want to be like Larry Bird. Seriously. No athleticism, just pure heart and effort. A lot easier (so to speak) to emulate than MJ or Magic.

  • Justin

    I think people are really underrating how good of a passer MJ was actually. Of course Magic was going to get more assists because he dominated the ball more (by that I mean bringing the ball up, leading the break and fascillitating the offense. Until Game 5 of their Finals matchup, Jordan was actually leading Magic in assists through the series. But, Jordan had Pippen to help in that category and who did Magic have? You can watch a lot of videos on YouTube to illustrate Jordan’s passing ability and he threw the no-look with the best of them. The bottom line is Michael was the greatest and it’s not even close. Even Magic in his autobiography admits it. Magic may have made the Lakers everyone’s favourite team in the US but Jordan made the Bulls everyone’s favourite team in the WORLD. Please end this ridiculous argument

  • Sturm Drang

    I like Magic quite a bit, but… This is pure denial. Sure, Magic was more versatile, but get real.

    For a large chunk that saw the NBA grow beyond itself, the NBA *was* Michael Jordan. Millions of people who are not hoops fans only watched the NBA because of Michael Jordan. People who don’t even like *sports* watched Michael Jordan.

    Is that not greatness? Jordan transcended the sport itself. I think he’s an arrogant asshole who got a hell of a lot of favorable calls, but there is no disputing that no other player in modern NBA history has so greatly impacted the game. He was not just a good basketball player, he was a cultural phenomenon.

    It gets more extreme when you go to other countries. Today, there’s major globalization of the NBA, but that started with MJ. In countries where only fanatics watched the NBA, droves started watching because of MJ. There are millions of people who can’t name a picture of any NBA player OTHER than Michael Jordan.

    You just can’t say that about any other NBA player.

  • http://fdjsklf.com Jukai

    letsmotor: This I hear a lot, and it’s a troubling misconception. Wilt Chamberlain, throughout the majority of his career until his knee injuries, saw double to triple teams whenever he got the ball. There are a lot of youtube highlights that show Wilt being guarded one-on-one, so I guess that’s where this strange misconception got going… but it is so factually incorrect. The Boston Celtics had this entire scheme built around containing him, where they had Russell fronting Wilt, then another playing going to Wilt’s side to try and smack away the ball, and then ANOTHER guy whose sole purpose was to cut off Wilt’s passing lanes. How could you claim he only saw 1-on-1 attacks?
    He was also guarded fiercely. Many Boston celtics players were told to practically bunch him. Tomjonovich said he’d kick off Chamberlain’s back to get rebounds until Chamberlain threw him to the ground. Chamberlain once showed BITE MARKS after a college game, and was practically thinking of skipping the NBA (a reason he chose the Harlem Globe Trotters).
    Now this was Chamberlain talking out of his ass, but I do remember a Chamberlain quote… when asked if he could score 50 in today’s game (this was an interview in the late 80s)… Chamberlain said he could average 70. The league had so many talented players, that he said triple teaming him would be impossible and he’d wreck anyone one-on-one. I didn’t exactly believe him, but his logic certainly can’t be brushed aside.

  • http://fdjsklf.com Jukai

    Sturm Drang: I think you missed the argument. The question is, did Michael Jordan bring about ESPN and the globalization of basketball, or did ESPN and the globalization of basketball bring out Michael Jordan? If Magic came out later, would he have been as big as Michael Jordan?
    That’s the question. I’m not giving any answers. That’s just the question.
    In my mind, the best goes Jordan, Magic, Chamberlain, Jabbar, Bird, Russell, Hakeem, Oscar, Duncan, Bryant.
    The greatest? Read this article and decide yourself.

  • Rusty

    How stupid! Michael ain’t the “BOAT”! He’s the GOAT!!!!!

  • Jerome

    Jordan is the greatest to me. Sturm Drang has the ultimate argument. I used to play Bball here in Europe some 20 years ago and all i heard about my classmates was Jordan this, Jordan that, even from non-basketball, non-sport (at all) knowing people. Jordan made NBA and basketball famous all over the world outside of the sport boundaries. But i’d definitely would have liked to ball like Larry Legend.

  • Justin

    Jukai: It wasn’t just ESPN. Nike did an amazing advertising campaign with the wildly popular Mars Blackmon series, Gatorade with the Be Like Mike commercials. Converse really screwed it up because the year before the first Air Jordans, Magic went to Converse and said “How about a Magic Johnson shoe?” They told him that nobody would buy a shoe with just one player’s name on it. Ooooops! When they finally did come out with the Jordan and Bird Converse’s it was too late. Nike really put everything they had into one guy and it worked BIG TIME!
    Now, as far as Wilt and this supposed triple teaming he received, maybe from Boston he did but it doesn’t matter. All these little shrimps around him don’t matter. I’m 6’3″ and if I’ve got a bunch of 5’9″ guys around me, I’m going to keep my arms up and shoot over them. He was just so much bigger and stronger than everybody. I’m not saying he wasn’t great and shouldn’t be in the discussion but he had a major physical advantage. You know damn well that put in that same enviornment Shaq would have done as much damage.

  • Lazarus

    ive always thought magic was better than jordan. kareem too.

  • therighttoremainsalient

    i have a problem with trying to differentiate between a GREATEST and a BEST.

  • http://fdjsklf.com Jukai

    Justin: Shaq, the dude who whines at the littlest of contact, and whose biggest offensive ability was to get the entire other team in foul trouble? You think if he played in an era where very little fouls were called, he’d do better?
    The only thing Shaq has over Wilt is strength, and to what degree is extremely questionable. Wilt was TWICE as fast (he was a track star), could leap well beyond what Shaq was capable of (he would dunk on twelve foot rims with ease at halftime shows in Kansas) and had the ability to pass out of triple teams, which meant teams had to be more selective of their triple teamings.
    Shaq would have obliterated the comp back in those days the same way he obliterated competition in these days. But no way would he reach Wilt’s numbers. Gilmore, Bellamy, and Thurmond enjoyed all the physical advantages that Chamberlain did and didn’t dominate in any type of way that Wilt did.
    Hell, dude was keeping pace with a 23-year-old Kareem at 33. That should tell you something.

  • http://fdjsklf.com Jukai

    I mean, saying you could score 50 points a game at 6’3 playing an L filled with mostly 5’9 people is questionable in itself…

  • http://fdjsklf.com Jukai

    I mean, when did the NBA suddenly get ‘valid’
    Was it the 70s? The 80s? the 90s? When did the playing level in the league suddenly cap?

  • letsmotor

    Fair enough, Jukai. I stand corrected about the double team stuff. But I feel like you still have to account for the height thing.

    By the way, I reeeeeally like your list of the greatest players ever. People need to understand that there’s a handful of players far more worthy than Kobe or Lebron of challenging Michael for his number 1 spot.

  • http://fdjsklf.com Jukai

    Everyone always forgets Oscar Robertson. People always badmouth him and say “oh, he could never average a triple double in this day and age..”
    But do you have any idea how many assists he’d get in today’s game, where statisticians credit assists far more liberally? He’d be getting 14-15 a game… he’d likely outdo even the great Stockton.

  • JoeMaMa

    Wilt was also a dominating volleyball player, and I think he won the high jump in college and could bench press 500 lbs. Wilt might be the ultimate athlete. You just can’t argue with his insane stats. I’ve been on here before giving it up for Wilt; the man changed the rules of the game. YOU CANNOT COMPARE PLAYERS FROM DIFFERENT ERAS. You can only compare levels of domination. And no one dominated like Wilt.

  • http://fdjsklf.com Jukai

    and don’t think I don’t dismiss a lot of what Chamberlain did due to his height. With the three second rule, dude couldn’t come close to averaging 22 rebounds… and with the greater average height in the league, dude couldn’t get close to averaging 50 either.
    But no one in the 60s got close to matching Wilt Chamberlain– think about that. The second closest was Rick Barry’s 35.6 points per game, which was a ludicrous feet even at the time… and it still was almost 15 points less a GAME! And Chamberlain was doing it at a 50% clip when most people were shooting around 45%! Imagine that!
    So yeah, Chamberlain wouldn’t obliterate the record books if he played in Mike’s day. But I bet he woulda beat Mike for the scoring title every year like clockwork.

  • http://www.behindtheb.blogspot.com Sam Raphael Chadwick

    @ Ben Osborne I read the article in the Magazine and loved it, im a Bulls fan but I really dont know who to say is the best player of all time. Probably Jordan he’s probably the only reason i living in England actually know about basketball, however maybe Magic played a role in making MJ into the best player.

  • http://Www.lkz.ch/basket Darksaber

    Nice way to re-run the article in the print issue. When i started playing ball ‘in ’88, MJ wasn’t the Nba player du jour. Since coverage in Europe was scarce, i devoured anything League related, one source was a french mag called “5 majeurs” (hoopheads recognize) and Magic & the Lakerd were covered at length in there. Knicks, Lakers, Celtics, Blazers and a sprinkling of Bulls or Pistons were always in that Magazine. But Lakers dominated. For a while not much changed, until MJ started making deeper runs into the playoffs only to be beat down by Daly’s Pistons. It wasn’t until TV coverage picked up that i became an Nba addict, and for me the Showtime Lakers played the most attractive Ball at 1st. Worthy, Byron, Coop were great but your eye always lingered on Earvin. So flashy, big smiles, joy when plays were completed, just fantastic to watch. My friends and i tried throwing no look passes even before being able to handle the ball properly. I could spin dribble around a defender better than i could finish with my strong hand. He influenced a ton of players back then, but then in 90/91 things started to change. The Jordan cat was playing unlike anything we’d ever seen, suddenly all my friends were running up & down stairs trying to increase their Vert. The goal: hangtime like MJ. When the finals rolled around, we met up to watch at our buddy’s house…@ 3 am… And even though there were a few tentative Laker fans there, by Game 2 (the exact moment was the hand switcheroo) most of us were firmly in Bulls territory. That was the beginning of a b-ball explosion where i grew up, getting your hands on AJ’s, Bulls Jersey’s, Allstar game livecasts, Bulls videos became a sport all of its own. For my money’s worth (and i’ve spent a lot over the years to satisfy this craving, Magic made me aware of the sport but Mike git me hooked. He was the most
    enigmatic and spectacular player on the court. G.O.A.T.

  • tavoris

    thanks Myles & Allenp-if I took my TV off of NBATV I’d probably see those ads

  • knikknucker

    Im in my forties and lemme say the wilt talk is for real.
    Dude did all that and banged 25000 babes. From all over the world. (Makes u look at gramma kinda funny huh?)
    MJ is considered the GOAT cause David Stern is a marketing genius.
    I watched Magics career and Jordans. Magic was more fun to watch tho I may be biased Im a knicks fan so I hate Jordan. Im Just sayin.

  • Justin

    Jukai: If Shaq played in an era where he knew very little fouls were called, he’d bull his way to the basket even more. Actually, they couldn’t even finish any games because he’d tear down all the backboards. Yes, nobody in the 60′s came close to matching Wilt and that is our point. Nobody in the 60′s had the height, physical strength, and athleticism at his height that Wilt had. This is not a knock on him. A guy like that BETTER be shooting 50% from the field. MJ, by the way, for his career was also a 50% shooter and I’m willing to bet there weren’t a whole lot of 2 guards that could make that claim. Especially with the amount of shots he took. The thing that made Michael so great is the way he didn’t just elevate his game but his entire team. You take away Magic from those Laker teams and you add a decent point guard and they’re still going to win over 50 games. Jason Kidd gets that team the same amount of wins because they had a whole bunch of great players. Jordan had Scottie and…uhhh…well, in the first three-peat I think their next leading scorer was Horace Grant. In the second three-peat it was Toni Kukoc and he was the sixth man. This is one of the MANY reasons MJ is the greatest, the best, the ultimate of all time

  • http://myspace.com/brandnew Bryan

    I’m surprised Bird isn’t in the discussion. His 29.9 10 and 7 with ridiculous percentages is kind of an outrageous stat line no? And that was fairly routine.

  • http://Www.lkz.ch/basket Darksaber

    Hmm, not sure if Wilt’s banging of so many women qualifies him as GOAT. More like Greatest living Disease Petri-Dish of all time.

  • Ronald

    Whilst Magic made all nba fans into Laker fans, Jordan made the whole world basketball fans.

  • Ronald

    And Jordan was the sole *pardon the pun* that there are so many “Sneakerheads” out there. And I beg to differ that it was Magic’s enterprise that influenced people like Lebron to take over both the basketball and business world. I see that more due to Jordan Brand than Magic.

  • http://Www.lkz.ch/basket Darksaber

    Ronald is very efficient in stating his opinions. And i agre.

  • T-Money

    Bird is overrated IMO. hall of famer for sure but he shouldnt be compared to magic and mj. i’ve watched plenty of his greatest games and… meh.

  • http://myspace.com/brandnew Bryan

    Wow.

  • Ronald

    @T-Money: If Wilt and Shaq’s achievements are viewed as a by product of their size and height then you need to take into account what Bird did with the fact that he did not remotely have as much athelticism as Jordan/Magic had. He did way more with much less.

  • T-Money

    ”He did way more with much less” so? That’s like saying Shaq scored 30 a game with horrendous free throw shooting. Athleticism is part of the game and there are no ”bonus” points for getting good numbers while being a stiff.

  • http://myspace.com/brandnew Bryan

    He shouldn’t get extra points for being a stiff but a)he wasn’t a stiff you fool, and b) he shouldn’t get penalized for lack of athleticism. Kedrick Brown is a ridiculous athlete and nothing else is he better than Bird? 24 points 10 boards and 7 assists and are numbers people wish they could sniff athlete or not. Those numbers are up there with Magic’s 19 11 and 7 and Jordans 30 6 and 6. Plus 3 rings, 3 mvps? F*ck outta here.

  • Ronald

    It isn’t the same thing as Shaq’s inability to shoot free throws. One is innate and one is a learned skill.

    I’m not saying that he be awarded extra points for being less athletic. But it should be taken into account seeing how you commented that you “watched” Bird’s greatest games and found them to be “meh” which I can only conclude to being a knock on his style and lack of basketball aesthetic that Jordan/Magic had. As Bryan pointed out Bird has similar achievements yet you call him overrated because you find his games to be “meh.” So unless you can properly articulate your reasoning for thinking Bird was overrated then I can only assume that you just didn’t appreciate the way his game “looked.”

  • http://www.twitter.com/Th3_R3al_Chris Th3_R3al_Chris

    Since we’re discussing Centers now, I will make the statement once again that Shaq is the greatest Center of all time and second to Mike.

  • Klop

    JORDAN.

  • JoeMaMa

    Sigh. Again, for the cheap seats: players from different generations can’t be compared. The game evolved, players built on one another with moves, physical exercise, even scientific/psychological advances that helped them nutritionally or mentally. You can only compare a player to the guys who played against him. “Shaq would’ve killed back then….Jordan would’ve averaged 60…” But you can only really KNOW that Jordan averaged 32/8/8 one season, and had 37ppg in another. Oscar averaged a triple double over five seasons. Wilt averaged 50 over in a season, along with 20+ boards. Now compare the numbers against the other best players of the same period. Who dominated more than any other? I think Wilt. Russell WON too many titles. Jordan cut out hearts and won 6. Magic made us LOVE the game, and won 5.

  • http://fdjsklf.com Jukai

    Justin: When Jordan retired, that crappy Bulls team got to the eastern conference finals. So, yeah, maybe, just maybe, that team was pretty good without Jordan.
    I also still don’t get your point with Chamberlain. Exactly how many points do you think Shaq would score back in the day? I say somewhere between 37-42. Chamberlain was faster, more mobile, could jump higher, pass out of double teams better, and had superior range. These are all aspects that probably helped him get 50 freakin’ points a game. I just don’t think Shaq had that in him. Regardless of his physical superiority, he would be trapped and people are going to be slapping the ball from his hands, and fouls were far less likely back in that day.
    Shaq broke a backboard with a dunk. Chamberlain broke someone’s FOOT with a dunk. Just think about that for a second.

  • http://fdjsklf.com Jukai

    And Bird is only overrated if you put him directly against Jordan or Magic… but the dude’s still in the top-5 best ballers of all time. The dude was slow, he was NOT stiff. Dude’s court vision was unreal, his ability to score was ridiculous, his rebounding was downright dirty… I mean, have you checked out this guy’s stat line some years?
    This guy would average between 27-29 points every year, get you TEN rebounds (so much for lack of athleticism?), throw 6-8 assists every game, grab 1.5-2 steals a game, add a block for good measure, all while doing it on 50/40/90
    That’s unreal. That’s like Lebron’s stats with Nash’s shooting.
    How can you say Bird was overrated?
    I mean, throw out all the stats… dude was a great rebounder, deadly in the post, fantastic shooter, underrated slasher (people just imagine Larry Bird shooting jumpers all day… dude took it to the whole so many times!), amazing passer (those no-look touch passes were as nice as some of Magic’s best!) and still played some damn good help defense. If you have to point out he was an average-at-best defender, then you’re reaching.

  • http://fdjsklf.com Jukai

    And I used dude way too much in that breakdown.

  • Teddy-the-Bear

    Oh my gosh. Please STOP talking about the height thing. Do you know how tall Manute Bol was? Do you? He was 7 freaking 8. Shawn Bradley was 7’6. You know why they didn’t play as well as Yao Ming is playing now? Because they lacked the SKILLS.
    Wilt was a great player because he used his size coupled with his athleticism, basketball IQ, and SKILLS.
    Don’t give me that height bull. Maybe in Mikan’s day, but for Wilt there were PLENTY of other great centers to play against. Russell, Unseld, Reed, these aren’t freaking midgets, nor are they freaking scrubs. They are hall-of-famers.
    Also, Wilt blocked Kareem’s sky hook… Twice (if I’m not mistaken). Get out of here with that height argument. He had HOPS.

  • http://fdjsklf.com Jukai

    Teddy: Kareem claimed they were goaltends that weren’t called, haha

  • http://fdjsklf.com Jukai

    Teddy: Unseld was a midget at the center position though, dude was only 6’6-6’7… but yeah, yer 100% right.
    Also, I believe Kareem claimed that Wilt’s block on Kareem’s skyhooks were goaltends that weren’t called, haha

  • http://myspace.com/brandnew Bryan

    Thank you Jukai for saying everything I didn’t have time to say.

  • http://elchinas.wordpress.com El Chinas

    Vince never said it his judgement is objective, and he did clarify that the piece is about the ‘greatest’, not the ‘best’. You may or may not agree with him, but it is a well-written article. Give props where it should be due.

  • http://shinefluid@aol.com chris

    EVERYONE HAS THEIR BIAS OPINION OR WHO THEY ADMIRED THE MOST BUT……..LETS BE REAL!!! YOUPUT MIKE ON THE COURT WITH ANYBODY AND HE WILL DOMINATE THEM!! JUST BE HONEST

  • T-Money

    Bird is Dirk with a mean streak and great court vision. That’s very, very good. But that can’t touch MJ or Magic. 3 rings with those stacked Boston team is good but not ouf this world. / Jukai: ”Chamberlain was faster, more mobile, could jump higher” BS.

  • Teddy-the-Bear

    Lol yeah Jukai, makes sense Cap would do that. I saw a video of one of the games, and Wilt’s block was a little suspect. Still, if they didn’t call it, its still a block on the stat sheet.

  • Teddy-the-Bear

    T-Money, what’s so BS about that? Chamberlain was a track star and an Olympic-caliber high jumper. Can you picture Shaq doing high jump? Can you picture Shaq running the hurdles? Can you?

  • T-Money

    Teddy: Not at 37 but 25, yes. Shaq was an amazing leaper when he entered the league and could run like the wind.

  • Tom

    Great article Vince. To me i break it down like this, Jordan is the greatest individual player ever. Magic is the greatest team basketball player ever. I don’t think there is another player ever, who brought the best out of his teammates like Magic. I mean its not just in the assist numbers, he got those players the ball in positions where they could be the most successful. If they were both rookies, i’d pick magic over MJ even though MJ is the better individual player. Its easier to build a championship team around Magic.

  • Teddy-the-Bear

    Yes, T-Money you’re right about that. Shaq was athletic in his Orlando days, BUT, even then he wasn’t at Wilt’s level. Shaq was just stronger.
    However, we all know Shaq soon abandoned what athleticism and skills he had when he went to LA, and his best post-move was the offensive foul.

  • str8 from samoa

    ima say allen iverson is the greatest… hahaha

  • http://slamonline.com nbk

    Wilt never played with anyone of similar athletic ability outside of Russel. Kareem was not an athletic big, he was skilled. Wilt would not have dominated like that in todays NBA. The centers he played against of similar size were NOT athletic or strong. And he Athletic ones were not BIG or Strong enough. wilt was naturally big strong and athletic>>> Comparable to say a David Robinson of the early to mid 90′s. In todays NBA EVERY player uses the Weight Room, Wilt for how dominate he was, is still an over exaggerated talent when being compared to todays big men

  • http://myspace.com/weezyleezy337 GametimeWeezy

    @ d train…NBA Superstars is da ish back in the day. Id pay anything to find another copy somewhere. Barkleys was def the best. Dr. J’s was ill too. At least theres always youtube.

    @ t-money and teddy-the-bear…yo u guys could debate that FOREVER! Wilt was WAAYYYYYY ahead of his time. Its like putting Randy Moss back in the ’70′s wit the oldskool Cowboys or something. Just not fair at all. Thats an ill debate. Greatest centers of all time is a debate all in itself. Russ, Wilt, Shaq, Kareem…u can make a case for all of them! effin love it!

  • http://fdjsklf.com Jukai

    T-Money You can call BS all you want, you’re just going to be wrong here. Wilt maxed out at well over six feet in the high jump…Do you realize how insane that is for a guy who is seven feet? And of course, high jump isn’t just about vert, it’s a lot about mobility of the body too.. something that Chamberlain ALSO had over Shaq. I mean, there’s video evidence of all of this. You can’t really deny it.

  • http://fdjsklf.com Jukai

    Wilt Chamberlain was an avid track and field athlete: as a youth, he high jumped 6 feet, 6 inches, ran the 440 yards in 49.0 seconds and the 880 yards in 1:58.3, put the shot 53 feet, 4 inches, and broad jumped 22 feet.
    Oh, and he RAN LIKE THIS:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Paex9-VxPbA

  • http://fdjsklf.com Jukai

    Your Bird comment, to me, was similarly misguided. There was nothing Dirk could do that Larry Bird couldn’t do better, literally. It had nothing to do with a mean streak and court vision. Man, T-Money, you got some opinions…

  • Lazarus

    michael jordan is not even the out right best. he’s just portrayed by the media like a god, like no one could EVER be like mike. so people just buy into that c*@p and just say mike is the best with no argument, with out even watching him play a game.

  • Lazarus

    Also if you want to use your method of the greatest you have to put Dikembe Mutombo up their in the top 5.

  • Exile

    Crazy… Hopping down the league’s history.
    1. G.O.A.T = Still has to be Mike.
    2. Centers? = I know popular vote is with Wilt (and I can’t disrespect that) but Russel WON. If leadership was quantified into that equation the same way we seem to bring it in as an x-factor for Mike… Russel has to get that same benefit.

  • rob

    Vince I know exactly what you mean. I’ve had discussed thousands of times about the difference between “the best and the greatest”. My love for basketball started in 1988 watching Magic and the Lakers, and Johnson is the reason why I became a Laker fan, he was and still is my favorite Laker player. I like Kobe a lot, I do think he’s the best player in the history of the Lakers, but Magic is the greatest. I do think, however, that Jordan is the best and the greatest player ever. I love the fact that there are people like you who don’t think he’s the greatest, I like the diversity, it makes life fun.You really don’t like Michael do you??? Great article as usual.

  • CDef28

    How does Larry Bird get short-changed on his impact to the game? He, along with Magic, raised the games importance. I’m positive that with just Magic alone that this could have been accomplished.

  • http://none The Philosopher

    Bird was ahead of is time too. A genius on the court as well. That whole era was the golden age of NBA basketball. To get back to Magic, this man made A.C. Green an all star. A.C. Green. And he brought a personality out of Kareem. And, who in the history of NBA basketball can literally control the flow of a game from beginning to end better than Earvin Johnson?

  • Henry Berger

    JORDAN!!!!!!!!!!!

  • tmay

    this is disrespectful to the game of basketball. James Naismith just turned over in his grave.

  • http://ijustwantmynametolookbig.com Chukaz

    ppl lets get real. to be the gratest means u accomplished the most, to be the best means u had the most skill. jordan’s da greatest, kobe’s da best. simple as that. jordan 2nd behind kobe on bestness, kobe 2nd behind jordan on greatness. magic’s neither the greatest or da best but rather the most influential, maybe. bron n durant didn’t become what they r because they wanted to be like magic, but rather because they wanted to be like mike

  • http://fdjsklf.com Jukai

    Chukaz: Are you saying Kobe is better than Jordan…?

  • Sturm Drang

    Jukai, I did read the article. And I AM answering the question. Jordan MADE the NBA in the 90s. Magic would not have been as big. When Jordan left during the baseball retirement, tons of people that watched in other countries just plain stopped watching. Today, the NBA spends way more money on marketing and globalization etc, than ever before and neither Lebron nor Kobe are a part of the world’s cultural consciousness the way Jordan was. I don’t even like him, but DUDE. I know SO many people who don’t know what Lebron or Kobe look like, who have never sat through an entire NBA broadcast and don’t know the rules of basketball… but they know Michael Jordan’s face and watched his games in the 90s. I agree that in terms of pure ability and skill, Wilt was the ultimate beast of all time… If he’d been playing today, he’s so much larger than life I could see him taking Jordan’s place in the 90s. But not Magic Johnson. Sorry, nope. It goes back to the whole ‘transcending the sport’ thing… those people I grew up with who don’t watch sports? Magic was not big without Larry Bird to oppose him – they went together, and that was a big part of their significance in basketball history. But he would not have carried the 90s alone.

  • http://slamonline.com Jonah

    I got to go with jordan because he could do it all shoot the ball,handle the ball,dunk the ball,block the ball and he was just an all around player

  • Sigurður Einar (Iceland).

    This is just a joke.
    Magic the greatest but not the best.
    I say he is the best player of all time and he is the greatest player of all time.
    Basketball is a team sport. I think some where in the 90s people forgot that.
    Magic is the best team mate and team player you got. He makes avg player look great and let players like AC Green have a allstar game(i love AC Green and is a big fan but he is not a Allstar).
    Would Jordon win Magic in 1 against 1 yebb i think so, but basketball is 5 against 5 and i they would have the same team mates, Magic would get his to play better and they would win the game.
    MAGIC MVP

  • El Chinas.

    Whether you think Bird is on the same level as MJ and Magic, there is no doubt that he his basketball instincts and shot are just as awesome. He was always in the right place even though his highlights looked like they happened in slowmo, and the way he scored just looked so effortless. If he was not hampered by recurring injuries after ’88, he might have had one or two more chips. Definitely completed the holy trinity of the late 80′s with MJ and Magic. Check this video out:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rto2_oYVs0I&feature=related

  • houston

    hey guys, stop the debate. Its Magic who said it best: “There’s michael jordan and there’s the rest of us”. nuff said!

  • houston

    MJ never had a dominant center as teammate during his playing years and yet he won 6 rings while Magic had kareem and they only won 5. See the difference?

  • Ronald

    @Siguour
    You make no sense. You say Magic is the greatest but not the best, but then you say he is the best and greatest. And who gives a shit if its a team game. Basketball is about winning and Jordan won 6. And it’s not like Magic rode Luc Longley to his rings.

  • Steve M

    I completely agree with this article. And have been telling people for years – Magic Johnson is the greatest basketball player of all-time. If not for some real circumstantial stuff that happened not involving him he’d have 7 rings – not to mention the stuff that did like HIV. He’s also just a better person than Michael Jordan.

  • cory

    please jordan was not better than magic or bird or big 0 i know this hahaha im 50 years old jordan had swag and thats what people go on like kobe same swag as jodan but no there not the best nonono

  • cory

    please jordan was not better than magic or bird or big 0 i know this hahaha im 50 years old jordan had swag and thats what people go on like kobe same swag as jodan but no there not the best nonono

  • cory

    please jordan was not better than magic or bird or big 0 i know this hahaha im 50 years old jordan had swag and thats what people go on like kobe same swag as jodan but no there not the best nonono

  • mark

    clearly a personal love article! load of crap, Jordan is the greatest and best, end of story!

  • Maya Laku

    Houston i agree but MJ had Scottie Pippen,Dennis Rodman,2 HOFers at best,and had a good supporting cast.

  • Carl Monroy

    finally we can have a discussion about someone who deserves the same breath as Michael Jordan… The Magic Man, 1 of the greatest ever, he & Bird passed the torch to Michael when they left. to be the best, you have to beat the best…That never happened with Michael tho, Michael left on top(despite his comeback with the Wizards which was fun to watch him battle todays best)… & that torch was up for grabs, Duncan & Shaq embraced the moment when he left. & both won their share of rings when the power of the league shifted west…

Advertisement