NBA legend Magic Johnson is uniquely qualified to weigh in on the seemingly endless debate about who is a better basketball player between Michael Jordan and LeBron James. Johnson battled against Jordan in the NBA for the better part of a decade, and squared off against him in the 1991 NBA Finals. He also played with Jordan on Team USA’s “Dream Team” in 1992. Then, as an executive, Johnson helped the Lakers land James in free agency in 2018.
During a recent appearance on ESPN, Johnson had some high praise for James, as he said that the Lakers forward was probably the best “all-around” player of all time. However, Johnson said that when it comes to the greatest player ever, he’s still going with Jordan.
“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. An all-around basketball player. But when you want to say ‘who’s the greatest ever’ it’s still Michael Jordan.”
While Johnson currently has Jordan ranked ahead of James on his own all-time list, he did leave the door open for James to potentially pass Jordan down the road, as James is still in the midst of his playing days.
“LeBron James’ chapter is not closed yet,” Johnson added. “He still has some basketball to play, so maybe he has a chance to catch [Jordan] later on if he can get some more championships under his belt. But at the end of the day, they’re both great and they play they game the right way. They made their teammates better, they won championships, and thank god for LeBron because right now that’s what we’re watching. It’s his time. It’s his era, and he’s dominating his era.”
Due to his combination of size and court vision, James has often been compared with Johnson, so it’s not surprising that Johnson is a big fan of LeBron’s game. And while it is certainly interesting to consider how James and Jordan would have fared against each other as rivals, it’s also equally as interesting to think how they might have fit together on the same squad. LeBron himself has pondered their fit together, and he thinks that he would have been an ideal teammate for Jordan due to his natural skill set — a pass-first forward with excellent court vision and supreme athleticism.
“Me personally, the way I play the game — team first — I feel like my best assets work perfectly with Mike,” James said in a video released Monday on Uninterrupted’s YouTube channel. “Mike is an assassin. When it comes to playing the game of basketball, scoring the way he scored the ball, [then] my ability to pass, my ability to read the game plays and plays and plays in advance.
“I saw the things [Scottie Pippen] was able to do with Mike. I just think it would’ve been a whole ‘nother level,” James added. “Pip was one of my favorite players. … It would’ve been a whole nother level with me being a point forward, with me being that point forward alongside of him during those Chicago runs.”
In pointing out that James is still in the midst of his career — and still playing at an elite level — Johnson made a valid point. Any comparison between James and Jordan won’t be complete — or fair — until James has hung up his signature Nike’s. Before that happens, James could shift the entire conversation by hanging some more banners in Staples Center.