Magic Johnson Dishes on Michael Jordan vs. LeBron James GOAT Debate

Scott Polacek@@ScottPolacekFeatured ColumnistMay 20, 2020

The Chicago Bulls’ Michael Jordan, left, exchanges greetings with the Los Angeles Lakers’ Earvin “Magic” Johnson, at halftime at the Great Western Forum in Inglewood, Calif., on Friday, Feb. 2, 1996. (AP Photo/Kevork Djansezian)
Kevork Djansezian/Associated Press

There may be nobody more qualified in the world to weigh in on the Michael Jordan vs. LeBron James debate than Magic Johnson. 

After all, the Los Angeles Lakers legend played against Jordan during the 1980s and 1990s, losing to His Airness and the Chicago Bulls in the 1991 NBA Finals. The Last Dance documentary detailed the friendship and rivalry between the two superstars, and Jordan's desire to be mentioned in the same category as a champion like Johnson and Larry Bird.

On the other hand, Johnson was part of the front office that helped bring James to Los Angeles.

Johnson took something of a middle-of-the-road approach when discussing who the GOAT is during an appearance on Stephen A. Smith's special about The Last Dance, calling James "probably the best" but Jordan "the greatest ever" (conversation starts around three-minute mark).

"First of all, let's not take anything away from LeBron James," Johnson said. "Because LeBron James is a great basketball player, one of the all-time greatest that's ever played the game. LeBron James to me, when you think about all-around basketball players, he's probably the best of all time … but when you want to say 'who's the greatest ever' it's still Michael Jordan."

Johnson also pointed out "LeBron James' chapter is not closed yet. He still has some basketball to play. So maybe he has a chance to catch him later on if he can get some more championships under his belt."

That Johnson, who was known as an all-around player and facilitator himself, highlighted James' all-around skills is notable because LeBron supporters often say he can impact the game in a number of ways beyond scoring at a better rate than Jordan did.

Jordan was more of the pure scorer who averaged an NBA record 30.1 points per game for an entire career.

Air Jordan, of course, also has the championship advantage over James with six to the challenger's three.

Johnson's comments came after ESPN conducted a poll of 600 NBA fans divided evenly between age groups of 18-34 and 35-plus, and 73 percent of them said Jordan is the superior player to James. Even those in the 18-34 group overwhelmingly chose the older player with 66 percent selecting Jordan.

The Hall of Famer also came out on top in every single one of the 17 questions asked about specific skills on the court and impact off it, while 65 percent of respondents chose Jordan as the greatest player of all time.

Only 14 percent chose James.