Jay C. Brandriet
After writing about Larry Bird last Sunday, it seemed natural to tackle this next subject.
Earvin “Magic” Johnson from the Los Angeles Lakers versus Larry Bird of the Boston Celtics.
It’s one of the best debate topics in sports.
You can’t tell one of their stories without the other.
In describing how equal of players they were I’ve often said to David Schultz, “they are the same guy.”
THEY WERE THE SAME WHERE IT MATTERED MOST
They were more than leaders. They led the NBA into modern relevance.
They were more than competitors. They pushed each other to basketball immortality.
Larry and Magic were mental masters of the sport, and being clutch came with that.
The way these two could see and feel the game, ties their auras together.
They played the same amount of time, and both left the court earlier than what seemed fair.
THEY WERE ALSO DIFFERENT
They were different races, who competed from far away places.
Larry’s game was a little grittier,
Magic’s was a little prettier.
One was a trash talking artist.
The other smiled while carving folks to pieces.
The fierceness of the rivalry, became a lifetime of love and respect.
YOU COULD DEBATE THIS ALL DAY
Bird was Rookie of the Year.
At age 20, Magic went 42/15/7 in a close out game in the NBA Finals.
Many think Johnson was the best passer ever.
Larry isn’t far behind.
Bird was a better scorer.
Earvin has the highest assist per game average in the regular season, playoffs, and Finals history. He still found time to drop 19.5 points a night, shooting 52 percent from the floor.
Magic had better handles.
Bird was so crafty.
Larry was a better defender and rebounder.
Johnson led the league in steals twice and averaged 7.2 rebounds, at point guard.
This Boston dude was a triple-double machine.
The L.A. guy was the Oscar or Westbrook of his day.
Magic won more.
He also did this with a deeper variety of stud teammates.
Not that Larry Legend lacked quality help.
The Celtic was the better shooter.
The Laker used the fast break to become the face of “showtime.”
Bird was a better free throw shooter.
Earvin hit 90 percent from the line, over his last 3 seasons.
What about Larry’s three point contest glory?
How about Magic coming directly out of retirement to win an All-Star game MVP?
We could keep going.
THE REGULAR SEASON ACCOMPLISHMENTS ARE CLOSE
Whether we are talking MVP’s, All-NBA selections, All-Star games, stats, or being league leaders in different categories? It’s too close to fuss over.
THE MOST POWERFUL PART OF MAGIC’S RESUME OVER BIRD
5 rings to 3.
Finals appearances, 9 to 5.
Finals MVP’s, 3 to 2.
Beating Larry and his squads 2 to 1 in the NBA Finals (and for an NCAA title).
In 18 regular season head to head matchups? Magic wins 11 to 7.
No player in NBA history has a higher winning percentage (reg season and playoffs) than Johnson.
WHO WAS BETTER, MAGIC OR BIRD?
It’s difficult to separate them.
I can understand the argument for Larry. His dominant peak likely hit a higher ceiling.
When two players are on the exact same level, but one clearly got over in the category of winning?
On the all time greatest list, Magic should be ranked a bit higher.
Jay C. Brandriet