Culture of Hoops

5 Reasons Why LeBron Can’t Match Up to Magic Johnson

Image courtesy of Keith Allison/Flickr.

Image courtesy of Keith Allison/Flickr.

Before I get into this story, let me preface this by saying that I am not a LeBron James fan. I’ve come to find out that when you speak in anyway about LeBron, fans and detractors will swarm you like a beehive asking you whether or not you are a fan of the man they proudly call King James.

Depending how you answer that will decide your fate for the next few hours. Your notifications will go off non-stop from people opposing your supposed side. Armed with Google facts and hatred for the rival side, these guys go off just hearing the name LeBron James.

What really will get a good conversation going will be the ever popular, LeBron James vs Michael Jordan conversation. Since LeBron James was 15-years-old, it’s been predicted that he would one day usurp Michael Jordan as the greatest basketball player to ever play the game.

James has been scrutinized ever since he’s stepped into the league. Every accomplishment was met with the whispers of, “but Michael Jordan would have…”  This season, he’s come even closer to moving past the arguments. This playoff series alone shows not just his total dominance over the game of basketball, but a unique skill set that we might never see again. If he’s not the best ever yet, he will be by the time he’s done. Just get used to it.

What we have to do is stop comparing him to player he can’t compare to. Not because he can’t match up with Mike. I think statistically, they’re not all that far off. I just think that they positions they played and what they meant to their respective teams were so different that a head to head comparison is really impossible.

When thinking about a player who would really resemble what LeBron does and brings to his team every night, there’s only one player I think you can really compare him to.

Like LeBron, when Magic Johnson came into the league, he was already a star. Prior to his arrival, the NBA was on the outs with fans after numerous drug controversies began to take more of the headlines than the games themselves.

The lanky point guard from Lansing Michigan would go on to lead the Michigan State Spartans to the national title in 1979, taking his talents to the National Basketball Association the next year.

Drafted No. 1 overall by the Los Angeles Lakers, Magic came into a league that needed a star. Magic’s 100-watt smile was just what the doctor ordered. He took the league by storm after being drafted.

His 1980 Rookie of the Year season would end with Magic taking over for the legendary Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and going head-to-head with the Philadelphia 76ers in what would become one of the most memorable games in NBA history.

The 6’9 forward/guard/center would go on to change the way the game was played. There wasn’t anything he couldn’t do better than almost everyone else in the game. He could dish like a point. Post up like a big. He was a walking triple-double, achieving 30 total triple-doubles overall. By the end of his career, Magic won four championships and collected three MVP awards.

If I read you his career statline and didn’t mention his name, you might think I was describing another player.

Yeah, his numbers are very similar to the player that everyone loves to hate. While it might be more popular to compare him to the man many consider the best player to ever play the game, in everything from overall ability to career accomplishments, his best comparison will always be Magic Johnson.

  1. Tale of the tape

When you measure the two side by side, they almost mirror each other. Both stand close to each other in height with Magic winning slightly with a 6’9-6’8 margin. Where Magic wins in height, LeBron wins in weight, outweighing the legend 290-220.

Bron wins the tale of tape thanks to his overall athleticism. Magic might be able to see all over the floor thanks to his superb court-vision, LeBron blows him away athletically. Watching James play is like watching a professional tight end play the 3-spot. He can move with small guards and big forwards without missing a step. Even Magic would concede that he couldn’t win this category.

  1. Trophy case

Most basketball fans only want to talk one thing when comparing legends vs future legends, what did they win.

What was won doesn’t always just count games. Everything from scoring titles to All-star berths add up when defending your favorite players. When it comes to adding up hardware, Magic takes this one as easy as LeBron won the tale of the tape.

When it comes to All-star games played (Magic 11, LeBron 12) and season MVP awards, (LeBron four, Magic three), LeBron has the lead. The conversation ends when you begin talking rings – Magic’s five championship rings dwarf LeBron’s total of 2.

  1. Stat line

When we line the two up and look at how they filled up the box scores, things really begin to even out.

Bron’s career scoring average of 24 points beats Magic’s 19 point totals. The two rebounded close to the same clip (Magic 7.2, LeBron 7.1). Magic shows why he was valuable to the Lakers in the assists. Magic averaged over 11 assists per game over his career. He would boost that to an average of 12 assists per game in the playoffs.

While LeBron can deliver a dime with the best of them, he’s never had to carry the load at point that Magic did.

  1. Signature moments

This is another category where Magic wins big. While playing alongside the likes of Kareem-Abdul Jabbar and James Worthy, Magic was able to carve out some great games and even better moments.

When thinking about one moment that stands-out as that career moment, it would have to be the 1980 NBA Finals. The Lakers were taking on the 76ers. In a Game 6 that could win the series, the Lakers lost key big man Jabbar. As a quick fix, coach Pat Riley would insert Magic in the center spot. Magic would use his height and court-vision to terrorize the Philadelphia frontcourt for 42 points, 15 rebounds, and 7 assists. He went onto to become the first rookie to win the Finals MVP award.


He would lead the Lakers to the win and a title that year. It was that moment that fans knew they were seeing a different type or player.

  1. Overall influence

At the end of the day, which player had the biggest impact on the game? Who forced the game to change their rules? Who made coaches change defensive schemes? Who left the biggest mark on the game when they left?

Right now, Magic has to win that one, for now. From when he came into the league until his retirement, Magic was an anomaly. Never before had we seen a player with his size play with such ease. He forced teams to adjust how the played defense. He made it possible for players like Walt Williams to be taken seriously as a big guard.

LeBron has another 5-6 seasons maybe where he can make more of an impact on the game of basketball. He can add a few more championships and help some younger players like Kyrie Irving reach another level.

But for right now, Magic would win this category as well.

While it may be sexier to compare LeBron James to Michael Jordan, a far better comparison has always been Magic Johnson. From style or play to stature, King James and the Magician seem like a father and son combo.

So, sorry to burst the bubble of LeBron haters across the world. Your LeBron vs Jordan isn’t a fair comparison, especially when we have his carbon-copy sitting next to him. There is good news is though. You can rest easy knowing that he most likely will not win his third championship this season. He also isn’t better than Magic Johnson.

Tip your hat to that folks.

Head to head statistics came courtesy of Land of Basketball.

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