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Role Reversal: Magic Plays for Celtics, Bird for the Lakers

19 Feb 1988:  Guard Larry Bird of the Boston Celtics shoots the ball as Magic Johnson of the Los Angeles Lakers shoots the ball during a game at the Great Western Forum in Inglewood, California.   Mandatory Credit: Rick Stewart  /Allsport
Rick Stewart/Getty Images
Tom FishelContributor IDecember 8, 2016

Two of the greatest players in NBA history are Earvin "Magic" Johnson and Larry Bird. They also played for the most storied franchises in the NBA, the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics.

Their styles could not have been more different. Bird was a shy guy who wanted to avoid attention, while Magic loved the attention. Even their styles on the court differed—Bird was an nonathletic man who looked more like a farmer than a basketball player. Magic, however, was extremely athletic as a 6'9" point guard, and his flashy play style helped the Lakers become the Showtime Lakers.

The scenario of Magic going to the Celtics and Bird to the Lakers is extremely unrealistic since they were drafted in different years, but it was fun to think about regardless.

If Bird was drafted by the Lakers, they would have had one of the best inside-outside combos with him and Kareem. But with Bird locking up the combo forward position, it is unlikely that the Lakers would have drafted James Worthy, who played the same position. Sadly, that means that there probably wouldn't have been a Showtime Lakers team without the Magic and Worthy.

In that draft year they would have probably taken a point guard to replace Norm Nixon. The best point guard out of that draft was Fat Lever, a triple double threat on any night, just like Magic. Another point guard taken in this draft was Sleepy Floyd. They could have also taken a point forward, Paul Pressey. Or they could have taken the forward route and taken either Worthy or Dominique Wilkins and moved Bird to the power forward. There were many routes the Lakers could have taken, but I would see them taking Fat Lever.

Undated: James Worthy of the Los Angeles Lakers blocks Larry Bird of the Boston Celtics.  Mandatory Credit: Rick Stewart  /Allsport
Rick Stewart/Getty Images

With this draft pick the Lakers are looking at a starting five of Fat Lever, Jamaal Wilkes, Larry Bird, Kurt Rambis and Kareem. The bench would be led by Bob McAdoo and Norm Nixon.

If they would have taken Worthy or Wilkins, the lineup would have looked like this: Norm Nixon, Jamaal Wilkes, Wilkins/Worthy, Bird and Kareem.

Either way, that is a pretty intimidating lineup that could win championships. Bird also peaked during the mid '80s, so judging by the Lakers championships with Magic, I would say Bird's Lakers would have won championships in 1980, 1982, possibly 1984, 1985 and maybe in 1986. By 1988, Bird had peaked, he was still a dominant player, but his injuries were starting to hurt his play.

As for Magic and the Celtics, Magic may not have played point guard his rookie year, he may have played a point forward role kind of like Bird did in his time with the Celtics. In 1980, Magic and Bird's rookie year, the point guard spot for the Celtics was manned by Nate Archibald and Gerald Henderson.

As Archibald left, the Celtics could have had a big decision to make—to move Magic to the point or keep him as a forward. Assuming the Celtics still steal Robert Parish and Kevin McHale,  the Celtics would have major holes at point guard or shooting guard, depending on what position Magic plays. The Celtics still could have traded for Dennis Johnson and put him at point guard.

LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 06:  A statue of Los Angeles Lakers' legend Magic Johnson is shown outside of Staples Center before Game Two of the 2010 NBA Finals between the Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers on June 6, 2010 in Los Angeles, California. NO
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

The Celtics wouldn't have changed much as a team by the players, but they would have changed by the championships they won. I say the Celtics would have won in 1981, possibly 1984, possibly 1986, 1987 and 1988. While Bird peaked in the mid '80s, Magic peaked during the late '80s. Depending on how the Celtics aged they could have been a dominant team in late 1980s.

Historically, not much would have changed. We may miss the Showtime Lakers, Magic's famous start at center and all of the other great moments, but other moments would have occurred. The rivalry still would have been great. Magic and Bird would still be known as some of the best players ever, and they also would have changed the game the same way.

One thing is for sure though; Bird and Magic would be looked at completely different. We could have seen the Showtime Celtics. The Lakers would be a slow-paced team led by Bird and Kareem. Magic might have had a position change and played the same role that Bird did. The team fits would have been unusual as well.

Thank you readers for bearing through this long and confusing article.

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