Who Would You Rather Have on Your Team, Bird or Magic?
One of the greatest rivalries in sports ever; the Boston Celtics vs. the Los Angeles Lakers. They had everything: Crazed fans, fights, hatred, last second shots, and everyone going for the one and only NBA championship. It was black vs. white, Boston vs. Los Angeles, and blue collars vs. Hollywood. The part that made the rivalry the greatest though, is the players - especially, Earvin “Magic” Johnson and Larry Bird. They personified the black vs. white and the blue collars vs. Hollywood. It was the stylish Magic Johnson vs. the tough blue collar Larry Bird. One of the biggest questions during this time was about them too. The question was, would you rather have Larry or Magic on your team. Today I will debate which one I would rather draft on my dream team. I will separate each category by scoring, defense, passing, rebounding, and the finale. Feel free to read, comment, and follow me on twitter @CJ_H_12.
Scoring: If you were looking for the scorer in this situation, it would be Larry Bird. Larry scored 24.3 PPG for his career while Magic only scored 19.5 PPG for his career. Larry outscored Magic 9 times while Magic outscored Larry twice in their second season and the 1988-89 season where Larry only played 6 games. Larry may be the winner of this round but Magic is no wimp when it comes to scoring. Magic scored above 20 PPG four times in his career. The lowest PPG, excluding the 1996 season, is 16.8. I’m also sure if the Lakers needed him to score more he would. In this case I have to go with what happened, and in this case the winner is Larry Bird.
Defense: This one is close. Neither one of them was a good one on one defender. The stats show that Magic Johnson is the better defender. For example, Magic Johnson averaged 2 steals a game five years in a row starting his rookie season while Larry only averaged 2 steals twice. Magic also lead the league in steals twice. Bird never lead league in steals or blocks once. The stats don’t tell the whole story though. Larry Bird was number 1 in defensive win shares in 4 seasons while the closest Magic Johnson ever came was seventh one season! (Defensive win shares are based on Dean Oliver’s defensive rating. Defensive rating is a guess of the players points allowed per 100 possessions.) Larry Bird did also get selected to three selections to the All Defensive Second Team. Magic Johnson never got selected to one All Defensive First or Second team! I’m not saying Magic was a bad defender, I’m just saying he didn’t try to become as good of a defender as he could have been. Larry and Jordan on the other hand tried a lot harder and won some defensive awards.
Passing: This one’s obvious. Everyone knows Magic Johnson is the better passer out of the two even though Larry was a very good passer. Magic Johnson lead the league in assists 4 times and averaged above 10 assists per game 9 times. Larry averaged 6.3 assists per game for his career. That’s pretty good compared to other small forwards career APG: Julius Erving: 4.3 Elgin Baylor: 4.3 John Havlicek: 4.8 Scottie Pippen: 5.3 Rick Barry: 4.9. That’s proof that Larry could move the ball around. Scottie surprised me because he played with Michael Jordan. Scottie was usually feeding Michael the ball. Larry still beat him out. Magic Johnson would have lead the league in APG 9 times but Isiah Thomas beat him out in 84-85 and John Stockton beat him out from 88-91. Obviously Magic Johnson was the better passer with his fancy ball tricks. Just don’t forget about Larry in this category.
Rebounding: This one has a definite winner but both are exceptional at this category. Magic Johnson is the greatest rebounding point guard of all time. He averaged 7.2 rebounds a game. The only person who could be a better rebounding point guard is Oscar Robertson. Oscar only averaged above 9 RPG 5 times and then dropped off. Magic stayed consistent. Here is their career RPG: Oscar: 7.5 Magic: 7.2 I don’t think there are many small forwards however that can compare with Larry Bird’s RPG. Larry Bird averaged above 10 RPG 6 times and 9 rebounds 5 times. Elgin Baylor is the only player who is better than Larry: Elgin Baylor RPG: 13.5! Here’s how they fared against each other’s teams: 1984 finals: Bird: 14.0 RPG Magic: 7.7 RPG 1985 finals: Bird: 8.8 RPG Magic: 6.8 1987 finals: Bird: 10.0 Magic: 8.0 As you can see Bird outrebounded Magic each finals they faced each other in. Bird wins in this category but you can’t go wrong with either one.
Finale: In this finale I will split up the smaller categories like this: MPG/Game per Season, shooting efficiency, the clutch factor, leadership, and who knows how to win.
MPG/GPS: Larry averaged more MPG 9 times compared to Magic who only averaged more than Larry 3 times (Note: I did not count Larry’s 6 game season). Larry also led the league in MPG twice while Magic never did. Larry also played more games than Magic 6 times in their careers. Magic played more games than Larry 4 times. Larry gets the advantage on this.
Shooting Efficiency: Magic clearly shoots better from the field: Magic career FG% average: .520 and Larry’s: .496.Magic however took the ball to the basket more while Larry shot the ball more. Larry also averaged 6 more field goal attempts for their career. The next comparison in shooting efficiency is 3 point percentage. Larry clearly wins in this. Larry averaged above 40% 6 times while Magic cracked above 30% only 4 times. Larry also won the 3 point contest 3 years in a row. 3 pointers are important to a team so they can spread the floor. When they spread the floor drivers can drive and big men can post up. The last comparison in shooting efficiency is free throws. This one goes to Larry Bird again. Larry led the league in free throw percentage 4 times while Magic led the league only once. Larry’s career free throw percentage is also better: Larry: 88.6% Magic: 84.8%. Larry is now beating Magic in advantages 5-1.
Clutch Factor: This one has no winner. They were both ice when it hit the fourth quarter. Magic showed us in the 1987 finals with the junior sky hook. Larry showed us in the 1987 Eastern Conference Finals with the steal and pass to DJ. The final score is 5-1. Although Larry is the winner, you cannot go wrong with either one when it comes to picking. Larry and Magic knew how to score the ball, they were both average defenders, they were both great passers and teammates, they were both great rebounders, and they were both great ironmen and clutch. In this case I have to go with what I have shown though. Larry is the more all around better player.
Leadership: Both were the leaders of their team’s. Larry lead by example and sometimes pushed his teammates to play better. After the 1984 NBA Finals game 3 (Los Angeles blew out the Lakers), Larry Bird said, ''We played like sissies, “I can't believe a team like this would let LA come out and push us around like they did. I think everybody knows what we did wrong. It's not like we have to go out and beat them up. But still, you get inside position on a rebound, you just can't let somebody go over your back and take it away. I did it a couple times today and a lot of other guys did it. They got all the rebounds and were off and running. We’ve just got to play more physical. We've just got to move the ball a little better. We've just got to be a little more intense. The first two games were very intense. We played hard. Today, I don't think we played hard.”
Guess what happened in Game 4 and 5. The Celtics beat the Lakers 129-125 in game 4 and then 121-103 in game 5. Now let’s talk about Magic’s leadership. Magic lead his team to a championship in 1980 (rookie season) by playing center, forward, and guard. In game 6, he scored 42 points, 15 rebounds, and 7 assists. Now tell me that’s not leading a team to victory. Let’s fast forward to the 1987. Kareem Abdul Jabbar is old and can’t score nearly as much. Guess who the Lakers call to fill the scoring roll, Earvin Magic Johnson. If you look at Magic Johnson’s 1986 and 1987 PPG averages, you see Magic averaged 5-6 more points per game in 1987 than 1986. He filled the scoring roll and led the Lakers to championship. The most important thing Magic ever did was when he came to the Lakers in 1980. Kareem was sluggish. He was great, but sluggish. Jamaal Wilkes was very good, but was also sluggish. The Lakers needed positive attitudes and someone who is always upbeat. Magic Johnson filled the role perfectly and led the Lakers to the championship in his first season. I believe Magic gave the Lakers more of a leadership role than Larry did. They were both great leaders, but I believe Magic did more.
Who knows how to win? Magic won 5 championships and Larry won 3 championships. They both know how to win. You can’t judge the 5 championships and 3 championships in this category and go by that. Magic had Kareem (possibly greatest player of all time), Worthy (Perfect role with Magic), Cooper (possibly the greatest SG defender of all time), Jamaal Wilkes (One of the greatest scorers of all time), and Pat Riley (Possibly the greatest coach of all time). Larry had DJ (Great defender), Ainge (good talent), McHale (One of the greatest power forwards ever), Parish (Very good center), and K.C. Jones (very good coach) as coach. If I could choose one or the other, I would choose Magic’s teammates. They just had more talent in my opinion. That’s why I believe neither of them knew how to win more than the other.
Winner: Larry the Legend Bird