Magic Johnson vs. Larry Bird: Was LA Lakers or Boston Celtics Legend Greater?

Rich FernandesCorrespondent IAugust 26, 2011

Magic Johnson vs. Larry Bird: Was LA Lakers or Boston Celtics Legend Greater?

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    Larry Bird’s Boston Celtics and Magic Johnson’s Showtime Lakers were two dominant dynasties that occupied the same time and space on the NBA’s grandest stage. 

    To think how many more championships they could each have won had the other not been simultaneously dominant is a scary, yet exciting prospect. Surely the Lakers would have had more than five or the Celtics more than three.

    In fact, each of these teams (separately) or both at the same time made it to the NBA Championship series in every single year of the 1980s, including three head-to-head meetings versus each other. 

    And the Lakers won two of those three championships where tensions reached a fever pitch.

    Wouldn’t it be fascinating if we could create a holodeck program borrowed from the science fiction TV series Star Trek to watch a real-life simulation of these two amazing franchises going head to head in different hypothetical situations?

    Larry Bird and Magic Johnson are each multiple-time NBA champions and MVP winners and they each have played with several outstanding players that have been inducted into the NBA Hall of Fame. 

    Some of the greatest of these names include Kevin McHale, Robert Parish and Dennis Johnson for the Celtics, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and James Worthy for the Lakers.

    Magic and Bird are two of the greatest all-time legends amongst dynasties and have become the unofficial measuring stick used by coaches, analysts and fans alike to judge players at their small forward and point guard positions.

    They were also two of the best team players that exhibited a rare ability to make everyone else around them better.

    “Bird’s duels with Magic Johnson were legendary. The two turned the NBA from a minor pro sport in 1980 into the big-time business it is today. The two combined to change a scoring game into a team game.”  (Larry Schwartz, ESPN.)

    Before everybody started comparing King James to his Airness and before there was even a Michael Jordan himself, there were Larry Bird and Magic Johnson—the NBA's two most feared gladiators of the game.

    So with that introduction, we welcome you again to another Bleacher Report debate, as Featured Columnist Ethan S and I face off yet again.

    This time around, it’s the Hick form French Lick and his Boston Celtics versus Magic Johnson and his Los Angeles Lakers.

What Was Magic's Greatest Strength as a Player? (Ethan)

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    When people think of Magic Johnson, many think of his all-around versatility. His 138 career triple-doubles rank second only to Oscar Robertson’s 181. However, when discussing his greatest strength as a player, the one that stands out the most is his playmaking abilities.

    Other players have tallied more career assists, including John Stockton, Jason Kidd and Mark Jackson. Yet, that doesn’t mean their numbers are more impressive as each has played in many more games than Johnson. For instance, Mark Jackson had to play in nearly 400 more games in order to best Magic’s total by about 200.

    As it is, Johnson’s 11.2 career assist average is tops in NBA history (and Stockton is the only other player to average over 10 per game with a 10.5 average). Although Stockton’s averages declined as he played into his mid- to late 30s, Johnson’s numbers were affected negatively by a few factors.

    First of all, for the first four seasons, Johnson shared point guard duties with Norm Nixon. Despite sharing these duties in 1983, Magic led the league in assists that year with a 10.5 average. However, the next season after Nixon left, Magic once again led the league in assists but his average jumped to 13.1. So here we have four seasons where his average could have been a few assists higher had he been LA’s sole point guard.

    Secondly, before Magic retired for the first time due to his HIV announcement, he was averaging an impressive 12.5 assists per game. It is likely he would have kept up impressive numbers (similar to today’s Steve Nash) for at least a few more years.

    Finally, when Magic came back for 32 games in 1996 at the age of 36, he played power forward and shared ball-handling duties with Nick Van Exel. Thus, it was not surprising that his assist average was “only” 6.9 per game.

    These three factors bring down Magic’s assist average similar to how Stockton’s numbers were affected by age.

    But numbers aside, if you saw Johnson in action, you would think that he had eyes in the back of his head. True, at 6’9” he could easily see over defenders to get clean passes off. However, he was able to thread the needle with the ball to perfection and create shots that didn’t appear to be there, and this even surprised the intended receivers at times.

    And of course, no one was ever better at dishing no-look passes than Magic Johnson. It was one of his signature plays on the fast-break offense known as Showtime.

What Was Bird's Greatest Strength as a Player? (Rich)

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    Larry Bird brought greatness to the game of basketball and the NBA. He wasn’t just a good individual player who compiled amazing stats, but a team player and the strongest link in the Boston Celtics' tough-as-nails chain.

    Bird wasn’t the most athletically gifted athlete that graced the NBA hardwood—not even close—and he most certainly didn’t have the explosively exciting and vertical game of Michael Jordan, Dominique Wilkins or Julius Erving.

    But he was, without question, one of the most effective and lethal assassins the game has ever seen.

    And his basketball IQ approached genius levels.

    Larry Legend had the same focus and determination to win as the other two legends of the game (Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson) and whose names are frequently mentioned with his own. 

    It was Bird’s focus and determination to win that was his greatest strength and everything else fell into place.

    He was a fundamentally sound player who excelled in all facets of the game, including team defense, and he had a lethal jump shot that put him in the conversation as the greatest clutch player ever.

    For his career, Bird averaged a double-double with an absolutely solid 24.3 points, 6.3 assists and 10 rebounds per game. He also was selected to the All-Star Game in 12 of his 13 seasons in the league.

    As a rookie, Bird had an immediate impact on the Celtics by helping the team improve their previous season’s record by winning 32 more games and finishing at 61-21. He ended up winning the Rookie of the Year in the 1979-80 season.

    He was so dominant that he finished second in MVP voting three times before winning it three successive times himself.

    But what is more intriguing is how close Bird comes to Michael Jordan when doing a statistical comparison. 

    And it’s that comparison that makes a solid case for Larry Legend as the GOAT and which is analyzed further on in this debate.

What Was Bird's Greatest Weakness as a Player? (Ethan)

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    Like Magic Johnson, Larry Bird was an exceptionally well-rounded NBA player. However, like every player, Bird had his weaknesses.

    The most substantial one that stands out is Bird’s defensive abilities. For the most part, Bird was an adequate defender and to his credit, he did earn three selections to the All-Defensive Second Team. However, Bird was known more for his defensive instincts and team defensive skills than individual abilities to stop players one on one.

    At just the right moments, Bird would step in to intercept a pass. Sometimes he would let players blow by him only to block the shot while trailing the play.

    But one never thought of Bird as a tough individual defender, unlike players like Scottie Pippen, Michael Cooper, Joe Dumars and Michael Jordan during his day (or even past decade equivalents like Gary Payton, Kobe Bryant, Jason Kidd and Bruce Bowen).

    Although Magic Johnson never got selected to the All-Defensive team (he was also known more for his team defensive abilities rather than one-on-one skills), at least Johnson led the league in steals for two seasons.

    Again, this is not to say that Bird was a horrible defender, but only that this part of his game lagged behind the other facets.

What Was Magic's Greatest Weakness as a Player? (Rich)

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    Magic Johnson was a superb specimen who utilized his tremendous physical and mental gifts to become one of the best basketball players ever.

    And his length (6'9") was unmatched for a point guard.

    Magic had the ability to do everything well and was especially gifted in making his teammates better as the best facilitator in the history of the game.

    He also shared the same killer instinct of other top five players including Larry Bird and Michael Jordan. Magic could definitely score, but scoring was a secondary role to playing the vital team facilitator—a responsibility that seems lost on many point guards today including Rose and Westbrook.

    Perhaps Magic’s only weakness was his defense—a facet of his game that was average at best and most definitely not elite. 

    It’s not that Magic couldn’t have been an elite defender and won several All-NBA Defensive team awards like his buddies, Larry and Michael. It’s that he never took his defensive game seriously enough to become an elite defender.

    In fact, Johnson did lead the league in steals two years in a row.

    His nemesis and friend off the court, Larry Bird, was a much better shooter and defender than Magic ever was. In addition, Bird bested Magic quite convincingly in almost every single major statistical category with the exception of assists.

    Bird also made it to the NBA Defensive Second Team three times, while Magic did not make even a single defensive team. 

    Magic was great, but Bird was greater.

What Flaw Does Larry Bird Have That Affects His Legend? (Ethan)

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    Besides his lack of dominance on the defensive end of the court, a personal issue takes center stage for Larry Bird in answering this question.

    From 1975 to 1976, Bird was married to Janet Condra. After they divorced, Janet gave birth to a daughter in 1977 named Corrie. It appears that Corrie Bird was conceived during a period of reconciliation after the separation. Although she has been proven to be Larry’s daughter, he has basically refused to acknowledge her throughout much of her life.

    According to the Worcester Telegram, Corrie wrote her father six times wanting to join him in celebrating a tribute to Bird at the Boston Garden, but he never acknowledged her. A similar incident occurred when Bird was inducted into the NBA Hall of Fame.

    It is horrible to basically refuse to acknowledge your own child. He may not have wanted Corrie as a daughter, but that doesn’t change the facts of the situation.

    While this doesn’t affect how Bird performed on the court, it does change the way many view him. This is similar to how people view Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and Tiger Woods after they were caught cheating on their wives.

    Yet, Corrie only has one father and nothing she does will ever get Larry to treat her like a beloved child—truly a despicable situation.

What Flaw Did Magic Johnson Have That Affects His Legend? (Rich)

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    There was a time when Earvin Magic Johnson was too comfortable with his own life and with himself as an individual. He was extremely successful financially as a shining star in the NBA and is considered to be one of the greatest NBA players as the best point guard the league has ever seen.

    Magic became fully cognizant of the fact that anything he wanted, he could get with ease and it didn’t matter if it broke the generally accepted and sometimes hypocritical rules of society.

    Unfortunately for him, it included a boatload of women ready and willing to have sex with him without real commitments or even introductory conversations attached, except the promising potential of an indefinite compromise to his health and his well-being.

    It’s the same old story we hear more frequently about very powerful men. Shocking scandals made up of athletes and politicians that believe they’re entitled to all kinds of rewards. This includes putting themselves in sexual situations that they know are frowned upon by the rest of society, as long as all the dirty business is kept behind closed doors.

    Most of us can remember exactly what we were doing in the moments we heard the breaking news about Bill Clinton, Tiger Woods and of course, Magic Johnson.

    But with Magic there was a breaking story that was a prelude to the actual atomic bomb headline.

    The writing was on the wall and we shouldn’t have been so surprised when Johnson announced in November 1991 that he had tested positive for HIV and would retire from basketball. It was later learned that he had contracted the disease after having unprotected sex with an unknown woman. Magic also said that he had unprotected sex with many women during his time as a pro basketball player.

    For NBA fans, it was an unfortunate circumstance, especially since Magic was still very effective as a basketball player after a decade with the Lakers. Magic tried to come back on a limited basis, but the negative perception of him and his condition by NBA players (including Karl Malone) ensured that it was short-lived. 

    Magic attempted a comeback in 1996, but only played 32 games before he retired.

    In the end, despite his amazing career and despite the positive role model he has become as an HIV activist and despite the fact that he has not let the stigma of HIV slow him down as a successful entrepreneur—the first thing we think about when we see Magic Johnson is that he was that player who contracted HIV.

    But you cannot deny that Magic has now become one hell of a model citizen.

1986 Celtics vs. 1987 Lakers: Who Wins a Seven-Game Series? (Ethan)

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    The 1986 Boston Celtics and 1987 Los Angeles Lakers are two of the best NBA teams in the league’s history.

    The Celtics had Larry Bird as their centerpiece and posted a record of 67-15, including an NBA record 40 wins at home. In the playoffs, the team went 15-3 en route to winning the championship.

    The Lakers team had Magic Johnson as its focal point, sported a record of 65-17 and also went 15-3 in the playoffs along the way to winning a title.

    So which team would win in a seven-game series?

    In order to assess the winner, each position will be broken down since most often an NBA series is won by matchups that are exploited. Secondly, to give neither team the home-court advantage, assume the series would be played on a neutral court.

    Center: Robert Parish vs. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

    The battles between Robert Parish and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in the playoffs are legendary in NBA history. In his prime, Kareem would have destroyed Parish in this matchup, but we are talking about 1987 Kareem, who was 40 years old. 

    Nevertheless, Kareem still had his clutch sky hook shot that was still very accurate, and unblockable. Parish had a high-arching jumper that was also difficult to block, but ultimately Kareem’s extra veteran tricks would get the better of Parish.

    Advantage: Lakers

    Power Forward: Kevin McHale vs. A.C. Green 

    While A.C. Green was a good role player for the Lakers, there was little he could do to slow down Kevin McHale, one of the best power forwards of all time. Against Green, McHale would be almost unstoppable from the low post.

    Advantage: Celtics


    Small Forward: Larry Bird vs. James Worthy

    In most matchups, James Worthy would win in a battle of small forwards. But we’re talking about Larry Bird—one of the top legends in the NBA and my pick for the best small forward of all time. Although Bird would struggle to slow down Worthy, Larry would still find a way to get his numbers—which were drastically superior to Worthy’s. There’s no question that Bird would have more of an impact in the series.

    Advantage: Celtics


    Shooting Guard: Danny Ainge vs. Byron Scott

    With both Danny Ainge and Byron Scott, one has two great shooters and players who were instrumental to their team’s success. While Ainge was known for his blue-collar work ethic, Scott was all about finesse and efficiency. In fact, Scott was just as essential to Showtime’s success as James Worthy was. As the superior scorer and shooter, Scott would win this matchup. 

    Advantage: Lakers


    Point Guard: Dennis Johnson vs. Magic Johnson

    The Battle of the Johnsons! The late Dennis Johnson was perhaps quite underrated in his day. Although he never got the same attention as Magic, Dennis was a superb defender and a decent scorer. His playmaking and ball-handling skills were important factors that led to the Celtics’ success. But in the end, there’s little chance he would win a matchup with the greatest point guard of all time. 

    Advantage: Lakers


    Bench: Bill Walton, Scott Wedman and Jerry Sichting vs. Michael Cooper, Kurt Rambis and Mychal Thompson

    These two benches would actually both make some major contributions to help their teams' chances.

    Bill Walton in 1986 was the Sixth Man of the Year Award winner. At 7.6 points per game and 6.8 rebounds per game, his averages did not reflect his true impact on the game. Walton provided an extra big man for the Celtics who was good at just about every facet of the game. The only issue with Walton is that his knees were creaky and he had major injuries throughout his career. Even in 1986, Walton only played about 19 minutes per game.

    While Walton could help the Celtics in the middle, Scott Wedman and Jerry Sichting could help back up the forward and guard positions respectively. Wedman still was an efficient scorer and Sichting could add run the point to back up Johnson.

    The Lakers bench would be led by Defensive Player of the Year Michael Cooper and along with James Worthy, Cooper usually did a decent job guarding Bird. In addition, he also did a decent job in running the point guard backing up Magic Johnson.

    Kurt Rambis was an energy guy off the bench whose impact went far beyond his stats, similar to Walton’s case. Rambis’ forte was defense and rebounding.

    Mychal Thompson was another valuable frontcourt addition. In the 1987 finals against Boston, he did a masterful job defending Kevin McHale, holding him to about six points per game fewer than his regular-season average. While slowing McHale down, Thompson also added about 10 to 12 points off the bench.

    Advantage: Lakers


    Final Analysis

    In reviewing the position-by-position analysis, the Lakers hold the advantage in four out of six areas. The Lakers backcourt of Scott and Johnson would hold a strong advantage over the Celtics. While Boston would hold the advantage at forward, Thompson and Cooper would help L.A. to slow down the Celtics. Finally, expect Abdul-Jabbar to get the better of Parish, as he usually did when they faced each other in the playoffs. 

    Overall, the series would be highly entertaining and some games would be close throughout. But in the end, the Lakers would win in six games.

    Winner: Lakers

1986 Celtics vs. 1987 Lakers: Who Wins a Seven-Game Series? (Rich)

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    The 1986 Celtics and the 1987 Lakers teams boasted the best collection of players the NBA has ever seen and both teams won NBA championships.

    The 1986 Celtics won an impressive 67 games including a 40-1 home record, while the 1987 L.A. Lakers won 65 games. 

    Both teams boasted an astounding assembly of their own Big Three. The Lakers had Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and James Worthy. The Celtics had Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish.

    So who would win a seven-game series between the 1986 Celtics and the 1987 Lakers powerhouse teams?

    Certainly, home-court advantage would give a huge lift to either team.

    Three obvious points were that the Celtics had superior length, shooting and defensive skills. And we can't forget that Bird was an absolute Laker slayer and the worst of a long line of enemies that faced L.A.

    And if Jason Voorheese of Friday the 13th fame had an identical twin brother, you could bet your house that it was Kevin McHale, a freakishly effective power forward capable of giving Kareem Abdul-Jabbar the worst migraines possible.

    "Back in the day, guarding Kevin McHale in the low post was correctly referred to as being in The Torture Chamber. This was primarily due to McHale's towering height (6'11"), precise footwork, and pinpoint shooting ability. It also helped that McHale was assembled at the Freaky Body Parts Depot.

    He had the arms of a 15-foot man, and they either didn't have any joints, or the joints swiveled in every conceivable direction. Seriously, his arms would twist and bend in ways that no human limb ever should. It's a little creepy. Okay, a lot creepy." (Courtesy of

    It’s interesting to note that both Magic Johnson (1987) and Larry Bird (1986) won both the regular-season MVP award as well as the finals MVP award.

    In an earlier article, Ethan S and I debated a similar hypothetical scenario that included the 1996 Chicago Bulls vs. the 1987 Lakers. In that article, I argued that the Bulls would beat the Lakers because of their superior defense. 

    In fact, the common theme is that defense wins championships and for that exact same reason, I pick Bird’s 1986 Celtics to win over Johnson’s 1987 Lakers.

    First of all, Boston had two defensive stalwarts in 1986 that included Kevin McHale (All-Defensive First Team) and the pesky Dennis Johnson (All-Defensive Second Team). Compare this to only one defensive stalwart on the 1987 Lakers (Michael Cooper) who also won Defensive Player of the Year, but was not a starter.

    Simply speaking, the Celtics would have won the battle of the boards and their top six rebounders in those playoffs included Bird (9.3 RPG), Parish (8.8 RPG) and McHale (8.6 RPG). Also, Dennis Johnson, Danny Ainge and Bill Walton combined for a further 15 rebounds per game. That would put the Celtics rebounding at over 41.7 rebounds per game in those playoffs.

    In contrast, the top six Lakers rebounders in the 1987 playoffs included A.C. Green (7.9 RPG) Magic (7.7 RPG), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (6.8 RPG), James Worthy (5.6 RPG), Mychal Thompson (4.9 RPG) and Kurt Rambis (3.9 RPG). That gives the Lakers squad a rebound count of 36.8 rebounds per game.

    So the Celtics get at least five more rebounds than the Lakers from their major contributors to win the battle of the boards.

    But perhaps the most telling stats include both offensive and defensive ratings where the 1986 Celtics finished third in the league in offensive rating compared to the 1987 Lakers who finished first. 

    However, the Celtics finished first in defensive rating compared to the Lakers who finished seventh.

    This would be a slugfest to the bitter end in a series that most people only wish could have happened in reality.

    Both teams were excellent defenders, but the Celtics were better and had the superior D.

    Winner: Boston Celtics

What is Magic's Case for GOAT? (Ethan)

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    First of all, let it be known that I think very highly of Larry Bird. After all, he is the greatest small forward in NBA history and is the best player to ever wear a Boston Celtics uniform. Being the greatest player from arguably the NBA’s greatest franchise is no small accomplishment.

    Yet, the case for Magic Johnson as the greatest NBA player of all time is more compelling.

    First, Magic Johnson should be regarded as the greatest point guard in NBA history. Similar to Bird, Johnson also had an incredible all-around game and extremely high basketball IQ.

    Along with being perhaps the best playmaker in NBA history, Johnson ranks as one of the best scoring and rebounding point guards of all time. Unlike Bird, Johnson led the league in steals, and he did it twice. Some people knock Johnson on him being just a good but not great defender. However, Johnson’s triple-double tally of 138 dwarfs that of Bird and even Michael Jordan (28), ranking second only to Oscar Robertson. Unlike Robertson, though, Johnson was a consistent winner who won more championships than Bird and Robertson combined.

    Magic was a proven clutch player who posted perhaps the most impressive playoff game in NBA history as a rookie in the 1980 finals. Johnson’s ability to make players around him better makes him the ultimate centerpiece for any NBA dynasty.

    While Michael Jordan was a better scorer than Johnson, he was not as good of a rebounder or playmaker as Magic.

    Some people promote Jordan and Bill Russell as the greatest because of all the championships they won. While their totals are more impressive than Johnson, there are few that doubt that Jordan’s Bulls would have a tough time getting six rings in six seasons in the more competitive 1980s or that Russell’s Celtics would struggle to win as often today. Getting five championships in the 1980s is just as impressive as the runs of the 1960s Celtics and 1990s Bulls, if not more impressive.

    Some people claim Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the greatest player of all time (after all, he is the game’s leading scorer). As incredible as Kareem was, few would hold him as highly regarded today if Magic did not team up with him. Without Magic, Kareem would not have won his last five championships or his second finals MVP. He also likely would have retired years earlier and may not have achieved the scoring record.

    Regarding comparisons to Bird, the next section of this debate describes why Johnson trumps Bird in GOAT conversations. 

    Finally (as was displayed in that 1980s finals masterpiece), Johnson may be the only player in NBA history who could not just play all five court positions, but could dominate them all.

    Not even Michael Jordan could do that.

What is Bird's Case for GOAT? (Rich)

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    The general consensus among NBA fans and analysts alike is that Michael Jordan is the greatest player of all time and second place is a matter of opinion, but both Larry Bird and Magic Johnson are right in the mix of that argument.

    Ethan S has generously provided the following impressive information about Larry Bird from a previous article:

    "Bird is the only player in NBA history to have career averages of at least 20 PPG, 10 RPG and 5 APG. His versatility has been matched by few in NBA history, currently ranking fifth in triple-doubles with 59. He was the first player to make the 50-40-90 club and he did it twice (making at least 50 percent of his field goals, 40 percent of his three-point attempts and 90 percent of his free throws). 

    Last and perhaps most impressive was how Bird would often tell his opponents how he was going to beat them (even the exact position where he would make a game-winning shot) and then go on to follow through exactly like he planned."

    The question that begs to be asked is: What standards and methods are utilized to compile the GOAT list in the first place? 

    Bird was a much better team player than Jordan and had the stats as well as a clutch game that were almost as shiny. In fact, in many cases, Bird’s stats were even better. 

    Basketball is a team sport and a definite case can be made for the ultimate teammate, Larry Legend, as the GOAT when taking his leadership into consideration. 

    In many ways Bird was exactly like Mike. 

    They both won multiple championships and MVPs and are the greatest players at their respective positions of all time. Their demigod status and success was a result of a vital and unbridled commonality that reflected sheer determination, focus and a will to consistently improve their games to be the best basketball players on the world’s grandest stage.

    And for all intents and purposes, they were the two best basketball players on the planet.

    In many other ways, however, Larry Legend was not like Mike at all. 

    He didn’t have his own private dressing room for home games separating him from teammates and which made you question the importance he placed on team camaraderie. He didn’t punch a teammate in the face or relentlessly goad them in practice. He also most certainly did not have teammates who felt enough animosity towards him that they wanted to leave town. 

    As the team leaders, Jordan ruled the roost with fear and some analysts believe he was a bad teammate, while Bird encouraged healthy synergy and chemistry amongst his teammates.  

    The head-to-head comparisons of these two legends are surprisingly close and certainly no one is closer to Air Jordan than the Hick from French Lick.

    In fact, the only career stats that are not close include points per game (Jordan 30.1, Bird 24) and rebounds per game (Jordan 6.2 vs. Bird 10).

    But the rest of their career stats are ridiculously close: assists per game (Jordan 5.3 vs. Bird 6.3); field-goal percentage (Jordan 49.7 percent vs. Bird 49.6 percent); free-throw percentage (Jordan 83.5 percent vs. Bird 88.6 percent); three-point percentage (Jordan 32.7 percent vs. Bird 37.6 percent); steals (Jordan 2.3 vs. Bird 1.7) and blocks (Jordan 0.8 vs. Bird 0.8).

    But Jordan wins out in the end with more NBA championships (six to three), season MVP awards (five to three) and finals MVP awards (six to two).

    Not to mention that His Airness was a far superior man-on-man defender.

    Many people put Magic Johnson ahead of Larry Bird on the GOAT list, but the above argument confirms that Bird is the closest thing to being the GOAT and deserves second place on that prestigious ranking.

Which Legend Is Better and Where Do Magic and Bird Rank All-Time? (Ethan)

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    As in our debate of Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson, one cannot go wrong with either Magic or Bird as both belong in the top five players of all time. However, Magic ranks slightly higher than Bird for a few reasons.

    While Bird was the better shooter, Magic was the better playmaker so those advantages are a wash.

    Yet, both players were known for their versatility but in that area, Johnson proved to be better with his commanding lead in triple-doubles. Adding together the statistics of rebounding and assist averages yields 18.4 for Johnson but only 16.3 for Bird.

    Another reason why Magic deserves to be ranked higher is winning. Despite how Johnson won nearly double the championships that Bird did or earned an extra finals MVP Award, Magic came out ahead more often than not when faced head to head with Bird. During their careers, the Lakers and Celtics played in the finals three times and the Lakers won twice.

    For these reasons, Magic Johnson holds a higher perch compared to Larry Bird among the legends on the NBA hierarchy.

Which Legend Is Better and Where Do Magic and Bird Rank All-Time? (Rich)

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    Larry Bird and Magic Johnson played in a time when the terms "alpha dog" and "my team" were meaningless and had no place. Instead the importance of camaraderie in a "one for all and all for one" team vision with the ultimate goal of winning is what made Bird’s Celtics and Magic’s Lakers so great.

    And these two legends may well be the best team players in NBA history.

    It’s widely accepted that Michael Jordan is the GOAT and that both Bird and Magic rank high on that list. In a previous slide, I stated Bird’s case as the closest thing to Jordan with the final analysis that Bird should rank second behind MJ.

    The convincing argument is that Bird was much more versatile than Jordan and had very similar stats over his career. But in the end, it was Jordan’s defensive and scoring dominance over Bird that ensures his place as the GOAT.

    Magic Johnson, on the other hand, was also extremely versatile. But his career stats (with the exception of assists) don’t compare with the overall stats of both Jordan and Bird.

    However, a big reason for that is because he played the underrated point guard position and concentrated more on being a superb facilitator first.

    Without Magic, it’s unlikely that the Lakers would have had such a tremendous dynasty, but the same can also be said about Bird.

    Without Magic, it’s unlikely that Kareem Abdul-Jabbar would be considered amongst the top five players of all time, because Magic single-handedly extended his career.

    And both players pushed the envelopes of their fellow teammate’s potentials and made them exceedingly better.

    It’s a close call between these two great players as to who is second on the GOAT list, but my pick is Larry Bird.

    And as a result, he was the better legend.

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