In the 1980s, Magic Johnson tore down the conventional wisdom of how a 6’9” talent should play. Magic’s pass-first mindset and Hollywood flair couldn’t be shackled to a back-to-the-basket forward. When he took off in transition, the court was his movie set, his classroom, his orchestra.
Magic set the stage for an NBA that is now filled with “positionless” stars.
Nowadays, general managers and scouts scrounge the globe for lengthy versatility. They ask about prospects with questions in which Magic checked “yes” for each box.
Will his court vision jump off the screen? Yes.
Does he have a high basketball IQ? Yes.
Can he control the floor? The tempo? Yes.
Is he someone who loves the game? Yes.
If needed, are we talking about a lead scorer? Yes.
Outside of accolades, Magic left an imprint on the sport. You can see his game in 2021-22’s best of the best. When today’s fans stand up, not only to cheer, but in awe of what they witnessed, it’s a little piece of Magic too. Let’s take a look at a handful of the NBA’s superstars with Magic-like qualities.
This is the easiest comparison, right? Before joining the league, LeBron James could already see the court better than most professionals. As a budding superstar, he morphed into whatever player the Cavaliers needed on any given possession. Sure, he can fly a bit higher than Magic. Like this reverse jam Moment from Run It Back 2005-06.
But, like Magic, LeBron moves players like chess pieces. He’s one of the top court leaders the game has ever seen. Now, he even gets to shine in the same way Magic did. Under the bright lights of Los Angeles.
This is the “we’ve never seen this before” part.
Magic wasn’t supposed to flourish at point guard. Giannis wasn’t supposed to handle the ball with his freakish strides. Regardless, it happened. Both Magic and Giannis are masters of deception. On the break, Magic preferred the “no-look” and Giannis fancies the Euro step – each style of play keeps defenders guessing. Picking poison is the only option.
Giannis in the open floor is a terror to opponents. Want proof? Check out this From the Top Moment that would make Magic proud.
If social media existed when Magic was in his prime, he would’ve flooded the timeline. His highlights would’ve popped up on devices all over the world. He’d probably be trending as a fashion icon. The basketball community would be enamored with Metaverse Magic.
Right now, LaMelo Ball has a similar effect. His dimes are Magic-esque. Through two seasons, LaMelo has already broken the Internet with his passing ability.
You name it? He’s dished it.
One-handed from 3-quarters court.
Transition bounce passes.
A little English. Look aways.
Underhand. Over the head. Behind the back.
Between the legs for an alley-oop. Between the other team’s legs.
The list goes on, but let’s stop here. Clearly, LaMelo took lessons from Magic. They both have an affinity for sharing.
The essence of Magic can be summed up in one line:
“This man has a smile that lights up a television screen from here to Bangor, Maine.”
That smile made Magic, Magic. It was his passion, showmanship and respect for the game – and its fans – that placed him in unparalleled territory. It wasn’t enough to punish with his playmaking. No, he had to beam while doing so. A determined force, but an entertainer too.
Sounds eerily similar to the Mavericks’ Luka Dončić.
There’s a reason he’s called “Luka Magic.” He’s a wizard and a one-man offense all in one. Luka can carve up defensive schemes with his footwork. If there’s an open teammate on the perimeter or at the rim, odds are Luka will find him. Here’s a Moment from Cool Cats for reference.
If anyone exudes the kind of confidence and showmanship Magic did, it’s the Slovenian wunderkind.
Oh, and that Luka smile is on full display in the 2022 Playoffs. He’s made certain of it.
Wouldn’t be right to exclude a Spartan from this list. As a second round draft pick, Draymond was first recognized in NBA circles as a “tweener” selection. His profile didn’t fit into any one box.
Flash forward to the 2021-22 season, and it’s hard to fathom how Draymond fell as far as he did. He’s a pillar of the Warriors Dynasty. A member of arguably the greatest team ever. An Olympic gold medalist. A champion. Draymond’s even in the ever-elusive 5x5 Club (players with 5+ points, rebounds, assists, steals, and blocks in a game).
Magic & Draymond. Same alma mater. Same ability to do it all.
Ask any player in the league, and more likely than not, they’ll reveal how difficult it is to record a triple-double. Even one. It takes heart, unselfishness, aggressiveness, instinct, scoring and endless other attributes. Magic had his fair share of the stat.
On top of the NBA’s career triple-double leaderboard:
- Russell Westbrook (194 … and counting)
That’s just a bit more than Magic’s 138 mark.
Westbrook wasn’t blessed with Magic’s stature, but he battles every time on the court. His hustle is undeniable. He plays with a fire that’s led him to the NBA’s 75th Anniversary Team.
He’s earned being in the same conversation as a great like Magic, and for triple-doubles, he’s oftentimes all the conversation is about.
Jokić literally achieved something no other NBA player has. Not Steph. Not LeBron. Not Magic. No one.
He’s the first to ever score more than 2,000 points, collect more than 1,000 rebounds and dish more than 500 assists in a season. Jokić invented the category.
When he pushes the ball down the court or surveys the defense from the top of the key, you can sense the Magic creativity in him. It’s safe to assume Jokić is the largest “point forward” to date.
His Moments are unsuspecting, but just as glamorous as the Laker great’s memorable highlights.
You can’t get out in transition without snatching a long rebound, catching an outlet pass, or picking pockets. Those are the keys. That being so, Chris Paul must be a defense-to-offense locksmith. He sniffs out fastbreak opportunities before opposing teams know what hit them.
Steals are Paul’s defensive specialty. He may not be at the summit of the NBA’s all-time steals list, but he led the league in steals 6 times in his career. Magic accomplished that feat twice. Always in control, Paul’s an elite passer. Can’t forget to mention that. He has the 3rd-most career assists in NBA history.
Unlike some of the stars in this grouping, CP3 is a true point guard. He personifies point guard. He’s what many call “The Point God.” Magic may be a headliner on the Mount Rushmore of point guards, but Paul’s not far behind.
Your chance at the very first Magic Moments that influenced today’s modern era of basketball are coming on June 7 in The Anthology: Magic Johnson.
See you there, and if you don't have an NBA Top Shot account yet, there's no better time to start your collection of officially licensed NBA and WNBA highlights.