Los Angeles Lakers legend Magic Johnson has seen a lot of great basketball in his day. Johnson had a on-court rivalry with Larry Bird, played against Julius Erving, Michael Jordan and Moses Malone and was instrumental to bringing LeBron James to the Lakers. If anyone is qualified to finally settle the GOAT debate, it’s definitely Johnson.
After watching “The Last Dance,” Johnson made his ruling. We’re not sure it cleared anything up.
While appearing on ESPN, Johnson said LeBron James is probably the best all-around basketball player of all-time, but Michael Jordan is the GOAT.
(Relevant comments begin at 3:10)
Here’s Johnson’s full answer:
“First of all, let’s not take anything away from LeBron James. Because LeBron James is a great basketball player, on of the all-time greatest that’s ever played the game. LeBron James, to me, when you think about all-around basketball player, he probably is the best of all-time. Right? An all-around basketball player. But when you want to say who’s the greatest ever, it’s still Michael Jordan.”
Johnson, 60, finished by saying James is still an active player and could catch Jordan before James is done playing. Johnson specifically mentioned championships. James has three. Jordan has six. It’s definitely possible James, 35, catches Jordan, but James’ Lakers would have to be incredibly fortunate over the next couple seasons.
Magic Johnson’s GOAT answer doesn’t clear things up
While Johnson definitively said Jordan is the GOAT, the line about James being the best all-around player is confusing. If you were starting a basketball franchise tomorrow and could have any player in their prime, taking the best all-around player ever would be a viable strategy. It might even be the right move.
If you’re a fan of Major League Baseball, consider Juan Soto vs. Ronald Acuña Jr. Both are tremendous young players. While Soto has been the better hitter, Acuña is the better all-around player. He can play a more premium defensive position. If you were starting a baseball team tomorrow, you would probably lean Acuña. He’s more valuable all around the field.
That’s a hyper-specific example, but it illustrates how easy it is to poke holes in Johnson’s argument. If Johnson didn’t add that qualifier about James being the best all-around player, this wouldn’t be a question.
Ultimately, it’s not worth it to dissect Johnson’s answer this much. The debate between James and Jordan is so close that you can poke holes in every argument. That’s what makes it such a compelling debate.
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