LeBron James or Magic Johnson: Who Would You Rather Have?

Darrell HorwitzSenior Writer IIJune 18, 2011

MIAMI, FL - JUNE 12:  LeBron James #6 of the Miami Heat looks on against the Dallas Mavericks in Game Six of the 2011 NBA Finals at American Airlines Arena on June 12, 2011 in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Scottie Pippen recently compared LeBron James to Michael Jordan, saying James may be better than Jordan as an all-around NBA player.

While Pippen was incorrect about that, he also compared LeBron to the wrong guy.

Magic Johnson is the player who comes to mind when you watch LeBron play, but the question is, how does his game compare to Magic's?

James is a much better scorer than Magic, but that's because he is a volume shooter who has averaged 633 more shots a season during a comparable stretch of their first eight years (eliminating Johnson's second season shortened due to injury).

Looking at career numbers, James has averaged 27.7 points, 7.0 assists and 7.1 rebounds in the regular season with a shooting percentage of .479 from the field, .744 from the charity stripe and .329 from the three-point line.

In the playoffs, James' career numbers are 28.0 PPG, 8.4 rebounds and 7.0 assists.

He's a seven-time All-Star, two-time MVP and 2003-2004 Rookie of the Year.

LeBron was the first pick in the 2003 NBA Draft, coming out of high school to his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers to resurrect a downtrodden franchise. He came to a team with not much else there and the burden of the whole city resting on his strong shoulders. 

The Cavs improved 18 games his rookie season to finish 35-47, but failed to make the playoffs. While improving to 42-40 the next year, the Cavaliers still watched the playoffs from home.

LeBron's numbers jumped from 20.9 points to 27.2 his second year, along with his 5.9 to 7.2 assists, and his rebounds increased from 5.5 to 7.4.

In just his third year in the league, James became only the fourth player in NBA history to average more than 30 points a game, along with seven rebounds and six assists, leading the Cavs to a 50-32 record and the playoffs. He became one of only three players ever to record a triple-double in their first playoff game, joining Magic in that accomplishment.

On Feb. 19, 2008, James became the third-youngest player to reach 15 triple-doubles, joining Magic and Oscar Robertson. He also had a triple-double in back-to-back games, again matching Johnson, who was the last player to achieve that feat.

By the numbers, you can see the similarities.

Where LeBron has an advantage over Magic is defensively.

James has been First-Team All-NBA  the past three years and has become known for his spectacular blocks, chasing players down from behind.

Both players are about the same size, with LeBron having a weight advantage over Magic. LeBron uses his strength and athleticism to excel on the court, while Magic has a better all-around offensive game and is a better leader.

They're both very good passers and rebounders, but Magic has a distinct edge as an assist man with an average of 11.2 a game, best-ever in the NBA.

Magic was also a better rebounder, especially when you take into account he was a guard, compared to James playing the forward position.

But again, those similarities pop up; both players able to play almost any position on the court.

James led the Cavs to the NBA Finals in 2007, but saw his numbers drop from 27.3 to 22.0 points per game in that series, and the San Antonio Spurs swept them in four straight games.

He experienced a similar failure against Dallas in the Finals this year, finishing with averages of 17.8 points, 6.8 assists and 7.1 rebounds per game, a far cry from his regular-season totals of 26.7 points, 7.5 rebounds and 7 assists per game.

That 8.9 point differential was the biggest drop from regular season to the Finals in league history.

In his last season with Cleveland in 2010, James also disappointed, going 3-for-14 with 15 points in his last home game—Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinals. He performed better in his final game in a Cavs uniform, scoring 27 points with 19 rebounds and 10 assists, but he also had nine turnovers as the Cavs were eliminated from the playoffs by the Boston Celtics.

In the 2009 playoffs, James walked off the court without shaking hands with the Orlando Magic after they upset Cleveland in the Eastern Conference finals. He claimed it's hard to accept losing because he's a winner.

Unfortunately for James, so far that statement is inaccurate.

Magic, on the other hand, has been a winner since he stepped foot on the court with the Lakers.

He averaged 19.5 points in his career, with 11.2 assists and 7.2 rebounds a game. He also shot .520 from the field, .848 from the free-throw line and .303 from the three-point line.

Showing amazing consistency, his playoff averages were 19.5 points, 12.3 assists and 7.7 rebounds.

After going to the Lakers with the first pick in the 1979 NBA Draft, they improved from 47 wins to 60 on the way to an NBA Championship.

It was L.A.'s first title since 1972, and Magic accomplished something one of the greatest players in NBA history could not do in his first four seasons with the Lakers. They failed to even get to the Finals the previous four years after Kareem Abdul-Jabbar came over in a trade.

Magic outdid himself in the playoffs, taking over the center position in Game 6 after Abdul-Jabbar went down with an injury in the previous game and sat out. Magic poured in 42 points, pulled down 15 rebounds and dished out seven assists with three steals to cement the victory while bringing home the Finals MVP trophy.

That was the first of three Finals MVP's for him, along with three regular-season MVP's. Magic was also a 12-time All-Star and nine-time First-Team All-NBA. With Magic on board, the Lakers went to the Finals five times in his first six years, winning three of them.

After losing in the Western Conference finals in the 1986 season, the Lakers made the championship series three straight years, winning back-to-back titles in 1987 and 1988, then losing to the Detroit Pistons in 1989.

He brought "Showtime" to the Lakers, along with excellence on the court.

In all fairness though, Magic had a better supporting cast than LeBron with players like Abdul-Jabbar, James Worthy, Byron Scott and Michael Cooper, as well as Bob McAdoo and Mychal Thompson interspersed through the years.

James was stuck in Cleveland with Mo Williams and Antawn Jamison as his so-called "stars," along with the likes of Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Drew Gooden, Larry Hughes and Anderson Varejao.

Controversy reared its ugly head with both players. Magic felt the wrath of fans, including his own, when he was blamed for coach Paul Westhead being dismissed in favor of Pat Riley.

He also shocked basketball fans when he came out in November after the Lakers lost to the Chicago Bulls in the 1991 Finals earlier in the year and announced his retirement because he had contracted the HIV virus.

James' move to Miami shook the basketball world when he announced his "Decision" on ESPN and turned adoring fans against him as he became perhaps the biggest villain in basketball. He also didn't help his cause after Miami lost to the Dallas Mavericks in the playoffs with his comments after the series was over.

So the question comes back to, which player would you rather have on your team?

For the answer, I think we need to go back to the comment LeBron made after losing to Orlando in 2009 saying he was "a winner."

In 12 seasons in the league—not counting his comeback in 1995—Magic won five titles and appeared in the championship series nine times, while LeBron has yet to win a title in eight years and is 0-for-2 in the NBA Finals.

Who would you rather have?