Ranking the 50 greatest NBA players of all time

The Last Dance, Michael Jordan, LeBron James (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
The Last Dance, Michael Jordan, LeBron James (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images) /
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Photo by Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images /

5. Magic Johnson

  • Resume: 13 seasons, 5 NBA championships, 3 NBA Finals MVP Awards, 3 regular season MVP Awards, 10-time All-NBA selection, 12-time NBA All-Star, 2-time NBA All-Star Game MVP, 4-time NBA leader in assists, 2-time NBA leader in steals, NBA’s fifth all-time assists leader, member of the Dream Team, Hall-of-Famer
  • Stats: 19.5 PPG, 11.2 APG, 7.2 RPG, 1.9 SPG, .520/303/.848 shooting splits, 24.1 career PER, 155.8 win shares

You’d have never guessed the shocking revelation that was coming given Magic Johnson’s vibrant personality both before AND after he made the announcement that rocked the NBA back in 1991. This guy is HIV Positive? The guy with the dazzling smile and bubbling laugh whose enthusiasm was as infectious as his game was? While it may seem irrelevant to his basketball career, the way Magic’s lived his life perfectly reflects his on-court accomplishments: marvelously larger than life.

The Showtime Lakers are one of the most memorable teams of all time, a phenomenon that swept the entire city of Los Angeles up with it, and Magic was the magician that made that show worth watching. His court vision kept him one step ahead of the defense and even his own teammates, which allowed him to throw precision passes with just the right amount of flash to get the fans on their feet.

It wasn’t just that Magic’s passes were always perfectly on target, but what really stands out is the way he used deception to get his teammates the easiest looks possible. Behind-the-back passes, no-look passes, passes between defender’s legs — it was all at Magic’s disposal. He helped make the NBA the superstar league it is today, battling the likes of Dr. J, Larry Legend, Moses Malone, Isiah Thomas and MJ in the Finals. In fact, Magic guided those Lakers to nine Finals appearances in an 11-year span.

Bird may have been more astonishing at his peak, but Magic’s sustained success and five titles give him the edge here. He wasted no time establishing himself as the savior of a league that needed one, winning Finals MVP honors as a rookie after he played center for the injured Kareem in the decisive Game 6, logging 42 points, 15 rebounds, seven assists and three steals. AS A ROOKIE, HE DID THAT. IN THE NBA FINALS.

Magic peaked statistically in his first MVP season in 1986-87, when he slapped up a 24-12-6 stat line. That year, his game-winning baby skyhook in Game 4 of the NBA Finals gave the Lakers a one-point victory on the road, helping Los Angeles turn the momentum of the series and ultimately triumph in six games. It was just one of dozens of clutch plays for a guy who carried the Lakers even after Kareem and Worthy began to decline.

Magic Johnson is the greatest Los Angeles Laker of all time and he embodies the spirit of the organization. He was one of the most versatile and breathtaking players in NBA history for his unpredictability, his selfless play, his ability to get the best out of his teammates and simply put, how damn entertaining he was. Isiah Thomas may have been the best pure point guard, but Magic Johnson is the unanimously chosen “best point guard” to ever play professional basketball.