Even though Chicago Bulls’ Michael Jordan has been given the unofficial nickname of the “Greatest Of All Time”, questions about the validity of his unofficial title were raised after a US journalist, Jason Whitlock, suggested that Los Angeles Lakers’ Magic Johnson was the only player that could have rivaled him.
The NBA documentary about the famous 1992 “Dream Team” also supported Whitlock’s suggestion. Besides showing never-before-seen footage of Team USA’s scrimmages, the documentary also featured expert analysis of the training games. It was the first instance that it had been suggested that Jordan may not have been the “Greatest Of All Time” and had expert analysis to back it up.
When Johnson initially retired in 1991, he was easily the better of the two players. At the time, Jordan had won one championship, while Johnson had already won five. After Johnson’s retirement, Jordon won five more championships which led him to surpass Johnson in both championships won as well as best player titles. Still, some people argue that if Johnson hadn’t retired, he would have kept winning and Jordan would have been unable to surpass him.
First, the logical thing to do would be to compare the two players strictly based on their statistics:
Johnson vs Jordan General Stats
Just going off the general statistics for Johnson and Jordan, they are fairly close for most categories, however, Jordan comes ahead slightly in most categories. Jordan leads in NBA championships, seasons played, All-Star games, season MVP, finals MVP, scoring leader, steals leader, and rookie of the year. Johnson only leads in assists leader. They are tied for playoffs played.
Since Jordan leads in the vast majority of categories in this chart, he would seem like the clear-cut winner. Still, the difference between the two players isn’t very big, and it should be noted that Jordan did play for two more years than Johnson. Also, keep in mind that Johnson did have the highest assists leader statistic.
Regular Season Stats
These regular season statistics are only based off games played during the regular season, not the playoffs. Johnson leads in average rebounds per game, average assists per game, total assists, field goal percentage, and free throw percentage. Jordan leads in average points per game, average steals per game, total points, total rebounds, total steals, total blocks, total games, and 3-point percentage.
The totals statistics are where it becomes important that Jordan played for two more years than Johnson. In a lot of the categories, Jordan’s stats are nearly double Johnson’s. The fact that he played longer my be part of why the difference in statistics is so dramatic. But even with the two-year advantage of Jordan, Johnson still dominated him when it came to average assists per game and total assists.
These playoffs statistics are only based off games played during the playoffs, not the regular season. Johnson leads in average rebounds per game, average assists per game, total rebounds, total assists, total games, field goal percentage, and free throw percentage. Jordan leads in average points per game, average steals per game, average blocks per game, total points, total steals, total blocks, and 3-point percentage.
The stats for the playoffs was pretty similar to the ones for the regular season. Since Johnson and Jordan played the exact number of playoffs, the playoff statistics are more accurate of each players’ ability because they aren’t skewed by the fact that Jordan played two years longer than Johnson.
Just going off of the statistics, it’s clear that Johnson and Jordan were both very strong players. Still, Jordan had the advantage when it comes to most of the statistics categories, so you would think that he would be the clear winner, right?
A lot of people argue that the statistics don’t give all of the details of each players’ career. Both players were on different teams with different teammates and their places on the teams were very different.
Michael Jordan wanted to be the “star” of his team. His competitiveness was legendary and so was his aggression on the court. Many would also argue that his team was very underrated. Since Jordan was the “star”, many people forgot about his supporting cast, which was very strong. Horace Grant was almost able to average a double-double multiple times. Bill Cartwright was an all-star before he even joined the Bulls. Dennis Rodman was the NBA’s best rebounder and had won two NBA Defensive Player Of The Year awards. Other players were also key to the Bulls’ success. With a strong team backing him up, it would come as no surprise that Jordan was able to score so high and become a “star”.
Magic Johnson had a very different approach to playing. Instead of being the aggressive “star” of the team, he focused more on assisting the other players. He crushed other players in average assists per game and total assists in regular games as well as the play-offs. It’s easy to see that in Johnson regular season and play-off stats against Jordan. It’s also important to note that in the book When The Game Was Ours, Johnson stated that he could have easily averaged thirty points per game if he wanted to, but he preferred to pass the ball to his teammates. This statement doesn’t appear to be that unbelievable, either.
Johnson was known to “bring up” the rest of his team, rather than steal the spotlight. In all honesty, his team was also a little overrated. While he had heavy hitters such as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, you have to look at the actual era in which Johnson played. Kareem wasn’t at his peak at the time and the only other all-star players were Jamaal Wilkes, Norm Nixon, and James Worthy. The West was definitely weaker than the East at the time, so it wasn’t as hard for these players to make the West’s All-Star team anyways. Many also argue that, while there was definitely talent on the team, Johnson’s support on the court “made” these players. Their scoring averages were also noticeably lower when Johnson wasn’t in the lineup.
While Michael Jordan was given the unofficial title of the “Greatest Of All Time,” deeper analysis shows that Magic Johnson was another strong contender for the title, and may actually be the one that deserves it. Beyond comparing just surface value stats, analyzing each player’s skills as well as the skills of the rest of the team paints a slightly different picture of the two players, and personally making me lean towards Magic Johnson as the better overall player.