Sunday, May 23, 2004

Magic vs Kareem

    I don't think that Magic sucked, or anything. I just think that without Kareem, he'd have about 5 less assists a game, a .410 shooting percentage, and maybe one ring. Hell, if he got no rings, a Jason Kidd comparison wouldn't be that far off...and keep in mind that Kidd doesn't have 3-9 inches on whoever he is trying to shoot over.

    Kareem would have been retired in/before 1985 without Magic playing alongside him. I remember John Havlicek saying "I'd have never retired if I knew I could have played with HIM", meaning Larry Bird. I bet Kareem would have said the same thing.

    Let's not overrate Showtime. Magic ran some pretty breaks, but so did Portland and the Clippers. The Lakers real magic was bringing the ball down and passing it to 3(sort of) 20 points a game guys. Worthy, impossibly quick at 6'9". Wilkes, with that screwy set shot. Nixon, who could throw it in when he had to. Scott, who may or may not have scored 20ppg on a team with less skyhooking Muslim giants. Put me on that court with Kareem and Worthy, and I'd have 10 assists a game...and I ain't that tall.

    One thing I forgot to mention in my analysis of Magic's shooting was that the Lakers were rarely in position to need 3 pointers, and I'm sure that half of Magic's 3 point attempts were full court heaves as the half ran out. Still, before the Lakers got Rambis(McHale's clothesline of him was the best visual expression of the difference between Eastern and Western Conference play I ever saw), you just KNEW where the double team on Kareem was going to come from. Magic's learning to cut to the hoop when said double arrived probably won them a title.

    Simply put, I believe the Lakers entire offense was built around Kareem, and the Showtime fast breaking was the benefit of pressing guards and forwards who knew there was a 7 foot 3 roadblock standing in the lane. Once Worthy came along, Magic was option #3 at best- a testament to the Laker's remarkable offensive abilities rather than a dig on the Magic man. Still, in a game predicated on outscoring the other team, the best scorer is the straw that stirs the drink.

    Kareem had won nothing with the Lakers before Magic came to town (and eventually they got Worthy, on a pick acquired for Don Ford, believe it or not- after that, the league actually refused to let Cleveland trade for a few years, I think). Would Kareem have won nothing if the Lakers had traded a useless white guy for some other top-notch guard- especially with Jerry West making the deals? Mark Price leading Showtime? Would Magic have turned the Cleveland Cavaliers into a dynasty? Good questions.

    Magic won nothing after Kareem left. Magic's Finals MVP trophies were more of a testament to his media appeal than his superiority to Kareem. While Kareem only won one title without Magic, he did win a title- with a supporting cast(an aging Oscar Robertson and a bunch of 8th men) far less stellar than Magic's 1990/1991 teams. Magic can not make the same claim- a fact I'm sure he's aware of.

    Was Magic average? Of course not. Would he be considered an all-time great had he not played with Kareem? Probably/definitely. Would he have won 5 titles? No. Take away Magic, add in a servicable point guard and, say, a healthy Bernard King- I think Kareem would have took another title or two- including one over the Muslim giant-less, Magic Johnson-led Cleveland Cavaliers.

    Again, I could be off on this call. Most people tell me I am. I was a kid during Magic's time, and maybe I was seeing those games wrong- but I can still put forth a damn good argument, though. I can only hope that things go well enough here that I can be arguing about who was the real force behind the Celtic's dynasty in the 2000s.

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