Last week ESPN shared three glorious episodes on “30 for 30” about the history of the rivalry between the Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers. For a sports fan that grew up in the mid-80s and early 90s, there was no better time to be an NBA fan.
Episode one starts going over the history of these two teams in the 1960s when Jerry West and Elgin Baylor could not beat Bob Cousy, John Havlicek and Bill Russell. However, what everyone really wanted to see was the Magic-Bird rivalry that changed the sport forever and made the NBA a must see prime time event.
Watching this seasons NBA Finals (the first ever where teams faced each other for the third straight season), I was taken back to the great rivalry of the Lakers and Celtics. Watching Steph Curry, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson take on LeBron James, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving, it reminds me of the matchups back then. McHale vs Worthy, Bird vs Magic, Scott vs DJ…hall of famers everywhere you looked. The other thing that really made me think is where LeBron James fits in the conversation of G.O.A.T.
For the longest time I believed in the trinity of Bird, Magic and Jordan being the greatest to ever play. While its hard to ignore players like Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, it’s so hard to compare big men to forwards and guards. As we moved on to the millennium, guys like Kobe, Shaq and Tim Duncan joined the conversation as well. Oscar Robertson, Jerry West and Elgin Baylor are other players that always get overlooked in the conversation of G.O.A.T. However, when LeBron came upon the scene in 2003, he was the most serious threat to breaking that trinity.
My point in starting this conversation is not to write an in-depth article comparing stats, graphics and titles, but to just simply state what I think makes Magic the first player I would take in drafting a team. While I think others have more talent and are better scorers, defenders and physically dominating, I can’t get past the intangibles Magic brings. While others have much better stats, you will never find someone who helped teammates attain the stats they did.
Kareem won a title without Magic when he was with another of the greatest players of all-time, Oscar Robertson. However, his career had hit a standstill when Magic joined the Lakers in 1979. Other players like James Worthy, Byron Scott and Jamaal Wilkes all were dramatically better with Magic (it could be argued that Wilkes and Worthy would not be HOF without him).
NBA Career With and Without Magic Johnson – PPG & FG Pct.
W/O 10.9 .444
With 16.3 .500
W/O 16.5 .468
With 20.2 . 526
W/O 14.4 .435
With 18.6 .546
My reason for taking Magic first in any draft and why I believe he is the G.O.A.T. is because 1) he can play any position 2) he makes everyone on the team better 3) he can score consistently when he needs to 4) his drive to win inspires everyone around him.
I know this is not a popular opinion and others will challenge me all day. While I certainly can’t argue against players like Jordan, LeBron or Kobe being the best, I know why I would take Magic over anyone else when building a team and to me that makes him the G.O.A.T.
Below is the team I would draft if I had one game to win against anyone. I would give them Jordan and ask if I could pick first. My second pick after they take Jordan would be Larry Bird. This is how I would build the rest of my team. Please send me your thoughts of what your team would look like (considering drafting against another person).
My Team (Draft Order)
- Magic Johnson
- Larry Bird
- Bill Russell
- Tim Duncan
- Kobe Bryant
- Hakeem Olajuwon
- Jerry West
- Julius Erving
- Scottie Pippen
- Jason Kidd
- Dennis Rodman
- Reggie Miller
This team gives me everything I would need to consistently win. If I wanted to play a slow down game, I could put in Hakeem and Duncan and pound the post. If I wanted a team of shooters, I could put in West, Kobe, Bird, Miller and Magic. If I wanted a pressing team that could get out and run I would put in Kidd, Magic, Rodman, Pippen and Dr. J.
While I know that many will disagree with this, having the conversation is always fun.