Magic Johnson or Michael Jordan: Who'd Be Better To Build a Franchise Around?

Marcel SmithSenior Analyst IJanuary 29, 2009


Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan are two of the greatest players of all time.

The majority of NBA fans consider Jordan to be the best ever, with Magic being the best point guard ever.

However, I think Magic is better than Jordan as I would rather start my franchise with him than Jordan.

Here is why I believe Magic is the best player to play the game—even better than Jordan:

First off, Magic is without a doubt the best team player of all time as he was the greatest passer ever. He made his teammates much better as he put the ball exactly where his teammates wanted them. While Jordan was a great offensive player, he never really made his teammates better.

Jordan's best teammates during his run with the Bulls were Scottie Pippen, Horace Grant, B.J. Armstrong, Toni Kukoc, and Dennis Rodman. Pippen's two best seasons came in the two seasons when Jordan retired in the mid-'90s. The year after Jordan retired was when Grant made his only All-Star appearance, as he averaged career highs in both points and rebounds.

Armstrong's two best seasons also occurred in the two seasons that Jordan retired. And while Rodman had very good seasons with Jordan and the Bulls during their second three-peat, he never improved at all by playing with the supposed "greatest player ever."

Finally, Kukoc's best season came in the 1998-99, season which was the season after Jordan's second retirement. So, the perception that Jordan made his teammates better is false, as most of his best teammates played better without him than with him.

On the other hand, Magic resurrected Kareem's career when he arrived, as well as making James Worthy, who was a very good player, into a Hall of Famer. He also made the following players into much better players than they really were—Michael Cooper, Kurt Rambis, A.C. Green, and Jamaal Wilkes.

Next is the fact that Magic dominated the greatest era in basketball history (the '80s), while Jordan dominated arguably the worst era in the '90s. Every year Magic played, he had to go through Larry Bird's Celtics, the Bad Boy Pistons, the Rockets, the 76ers, and the Blazers.

Jordan's best team he faced in the '90s were the Jazz, who had Stockton and Malone—both great players, but not close to the greatness of Bird, Dr. J, Isiah Thomas, or Olajuwon who all had good supporting casts with them.

Magic led the Lakers to the Finals an amazing nine times, winning five of them. However, he easily could've won eight titles, as there were several unfortunate injuries that hurt the Lakers in the Finals.

In the 1983 Finals against the Sixers, Worthy, Nixon, and McAdoo were all injured. In the 1989 Finals against the Pistons, Magic missed three games due to an injured ankle and in the 1991 Finals against the Bulls, both Worthy and Scott were injured. 

So Magic could've easily won eight titles and had a three peat from 1987-89 had it not been for those injuries.

Jordan led the Bulls to the Finals six times, winning all of them. However, the main evidence that while Jordan was great, but wasn't the greatest was that in the season that he entirely didn't play in the 1993-94 season, the Bulls' record was 55-27, a mere two wins less than the previous season even though they had just lost the face of the league and didn't really replace him with another great player.

They advanced to the East Semifinals and lost to the Knicks in seven games, mainly because of a terrible foul call on Pippen in the late seconds of game five that helped the Knicks win the game.

One of the major arguments people say when they are trying to describe how Jordan was better than Magic was that Magic had a much better supporting cast than Jordan ever had.

While there is no doubt that Magic had a better supporting cast (not by a lot however as Jordan fans make it seem like), imagine what the '80s Lakers (the greatest team in the history of basketball) would have been had Magic gotten injured for the season in the first game of the season.

I guarantee you that instead of another 60-win season, they would have struggled to be .500, as Magic was the motor of the team. So while Magic had better teammates, they were much more dependent on him than Jordan's worse teammates were on him.

Another underrated accomplishment of Magic was that he and Bird saved the NBA in the '80s. Today, most NBA fans think Jordan was by far the most important player to the success of the NBA because of the way the media portrays him as the best and greatest in everything.

However, Magic and Bird were far more important as they took the NBA, a league that had a severe decline in attendance and popularity into arguably the top sport of the '80s as they each took the best franchises in the league and brought them back into championship contenders.

Magic was also the only player ever who could dominate the game at all five positions as he demonstrated in the greatest performance ever in game six of the 1980 Finals. In Magic's rookie season, he helped lead the Lakers to the Finals and a 3-2 lead over the 76ers.

However, star center Kareem Abdul Jabbar was injured and couldn't play in game six in Philadelphia. So, Magic started at center and led the Lakers to a championship clinching victory with a dominating performance as he scored 42 points, had 15 rebounds, and had seven assists while playing all five positions during the game.

He was also the only non-center who could dominate the game without scoring a single point as stated by the great Julius Erving, who said that Magic was the only player he ever saw who could win the game without making a single basket.

However, even though Magic was the most selfless superstar ever, if he had to he could score 30-plus points to help his team win, but he didn't need to too often.

However, when comparing Magic and Jordan, I think there are two clear advantages for Magic.

The first one is that Magic was a much better teammate than Jordan was. Everyone who played with Magic loved playing with him as he was not just a great player who was unselfish, but he was also a great teammate who encouraged and helped improve his teammates.

Magic was a kind and lovable person, while Jordan was way too competitive, mean, and selfish for teammates to enjoy playing with him until the Bulls had a great team around him and they started winning several championships.

On the other hand, Jordan was one of the biggest jerks ever. He ran Coach Doug Collins out because he didn't like the way he was coaching (he wanted more of a team oriented style of play compared to a Jordan-dominated offense) and he punched two teammates—Steve Kerr and Will Purdue—at practice because he got angry at them.

He also destroyed Kwame Brown's confidence in Washington as he continually made fun of him in public even though he should've been trying to encourage and help him as he was no longer in his prime and Brown was the number one overall pick out of high school and most likely looked up to him.

However, because of the way the media portrays Jordan everyone thinks of him as not just an amazing player, but also a really good guy and teammate even though he was far from one.

The second major advantage that Magic has over Jordan is that Magic could win with a worse supporting cast than Jordan could.

This showed when you look at the difference in success between the two without the best teammate they played with. Without Kareem, Magic was still able to be successful. In the 1989-90 season (first season after Kareem retired), Magic was still able to lead the Lakers to a 63-19 record while losing in the second round.

In the next season, Magic was able to lead the Lakers to a 58-24 record and into the Finals, but they lost to the Bulls, mostly because Scott and Worthy both got injured in the Finals. Overall without Kareem in two seasons, Magic still managed to have a 16-12 record in the playoffs and have a 121-43 record in the regular season and make it to the Finals even though he didn't have a great supporting cast (solid, but not great).

If you put Magic on any team in the league now, they are automatically a playoff team and most of them would be legitimate championship contenders as he would make everyone on the team much better and be a great leader on and off the court. If you put Jordan on any team, they would obviously be better, but he would need a great supporting cast to be successful in the postseason.

On the other hand, Jordan was extremely unsuccessful without Pippen next to him. In the beginning of his career before Pippen came to the Bulls, his teams were a combined 78-86 in the regular season (not counting 1985-86 season when Jordan only played 18 games) and they were a combined 1-9 in the playoffs.

So while many Jordan lovers say he was so great, he won six titles without a great big man, this shows you while he was great, he couldn't win until Pippen became a superstar next to him at both ends of the court and when all of the legendary teams of the '80s were in decline (Lakers, Celtics, Pistons, and 76ers).

Overall, Magic was not just a better teammate than Jordan was, but also the better player as he saved the NBA along with Larry Bird, redefined the point guard position, was the greatest team player ever, had the best performance of all time, dominated the league's best era and was the best player on the league's greatest team ever.

I'll end with a quote from the great coach Larry Brown who said at his Hall of Fame speech "that if kids want to learn how to play basketball, then they should just watch a few tapes of Magic Johnson to see how the game should be played."




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