5-Time NBA Champion Reveals When Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and Magic Johnson Became Truly Great

Published 04/14/2021, 8:30 AM EDT


Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Magic Johnson – three names that are on almost all NBA fans’ Mount Rushmore. The three faces of the NBA changed the way the game was played and helped boost the popularity of the league. From Magic’s beginning all the way to the end of Kobe’s career, these three players pushed the popularity of the NBA.

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But when did these players become truly great?

Mike, Kobe, and Magic – Good players but not yet great

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Former five-time NBA champion Michael Cooper was a guest on Gilbert Arenas’ podcast. He noted that Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan, and Magic Johnson were always good players. They were some of the best highlight makers in the NBA.

Jordan, with his iconic tongue taunt when driving to the basket, changed the way he was viewed. Cooper believes that Jordan, Kobe, and Magic Johnson were eye-candy, helping to boost the popularity of the league.

LOS ANGELES, CA Spring, 1991 –– Los Angeles Lakers Magic Johnson, right, is guarded by Michael Jordan of the Chicago Bulls in the 1991 NBA Finals in Los Angeles. (Photo by Al Seib/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

“One thing I always say about the great ones – Kobe Bryant, Magic (Johnson), Michael Jordan – those players were good. Michael was exciting, he was eye-candy, going to the basket with his tongue hanging out, the same thing with Kobe.” 

Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, and Magic Johnson become great

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However, when did these players become truly great? According to Cooper, it was when their athleticism started to waiver. As their bodies got older, their basketball minds got sharper. Michael Jordan began using his post-up to his advantage. Kobe Bryant started looking for easier shots rather than forcing the ball in. And Magic Johnson began using the mini sky-hook to get his points.

“But when did they become that legendary player? It’s when they lost a little bit of athleticism, and Michael Jordan started posting your a** up. Kobe started backing you down to get them easy shots. Magic started shooting the junior skyhook. That’s when a player evolves and truly becomes who they are.”

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All three players found great success in the latter stages of their careers. Jordan famously won his first NBA championship in 1991, 8 seasons into his NBA career. Kobe found success early on but had to wait almost 10 years between his third and fourth NBA championship. Magic Johnson became one of the best veterans in the game and helped mentor Michael Jordan too.

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Aaditya Krishnamurthy

1160 articles

Aaditya Krishnamurthy is an NBA & NFL journalist for EssentiallySports, before which he worked at BusinessWorld magazine. He has been a fan of Basketball for over 10 years now, since Shaquille O’Neal was a Phoenix Suns player. During his time at Symbiosis School for Liberal Arts, he started a sports magazine for the college called the Overtime Tribune and hosted the Overtime Tribune Podcast until he graduated.

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