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The Magic-Steph Debate Might Not Exist Had the Lakers Heeded the Advice of the NBA Legend in 1979

Published 11/13/2023, 2:37 PM EST

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With the new NBA season in full swing, Stephen Curry is showing everyone why he should be called the greatest point guard of all time. He single-handedly changed the game in the modern NBA with his three-point shot and is already a four-time NBA champion, going for his 5th!

However, Magic Johnson is the other NBA legend, who fans believe could be the greatest point guard of all time. Had the Lakers heeded the advice of an NBA legend in 1979, this ongoing Magic-Steph debate may never have even existed.

Advice of the NBA Legend in 1979

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In 1979, Magic Johnson visited the Los Angeles Lakers’ office to consider whether he should continue playing college basketball at Michigan University or make the leap to professional basketball (NBA).

The Lakers ended up winning the infamous ‘coin toss’ deal between the Chicago Bulls and the Lakers for the 1st pick of the 1979 NBA draft. However, Jack Kent Cooke (the then-owner of the Lakers) was against the idea of getting the 6’9 point guard to the Lakers. He was more interested in the high-scoring guard from the University of Arkansas, Sidney Moncrief.

In the book “Showtime: Magic, Kareem, Riley and the Los Angeles Lakers Dynasty of the 1980s” by Jeff Perlman, it was mentioned that Cooke formed this opinion because of NBA legend, Jerry West.

The author talks about the decision to pick Moncrief over Johnson in the book. Perlman says, “That was the advice presented to him by Jerry West, who wasn’t fully convinced a 6-foot-9 point guard would function in the fast-paced NBA.”

However, Cooke eventually decided to take a chance on Magic Johnson. This decision was solely based on the fact that his off-court personality was good for the business. Magic became the highest-ever paid rookie athlete with a whopping $500,000 per year.

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The ongoing Magic-Steph Debate

Both Magic Johnson and Stephen Curry have impacted the game of basketball in their own ways. Magic Johnson shattered the false assumptions that point guards need to be smaller and faster. Even big basketball players can play the game at a fast pace provided they have the required ‘ball-handling skills’. Magic Johnson also contributed majorly to the growth of the NBA in the 1970s and 1980s. The NBA, from a business perspective, was on ‘thin ice’ in the 1950s and 1960s. 

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Crippled by poor TV ratings, player indifference, and a dwindling fan base, the NBA organization was struggling to stay afloat back in the 1950s and 1960s. However, all of this completely flipped the opposite way once the Magic Johnson-led “Showtime Lakers” started playing in the 1980s. This gave the NBA the much-required financial boost it needed to expand into the multi-billion dollar empire it is today.

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As mentioned earlier, Stephen Curry revolutionized the game of basketball in the modern NBA. In today’s NBA, teams make sure to shoot and convert the ‘three-ball’ as much as they can.

Due to this, today’s league has become extremely offense-oriented and much faster-paced than it had ever been. This also broke the stereotype that only tall players can play in the NBA. Even a 6’3 point guard like Stephen Curry can dominate the league with his shooting, dribbling, and playmaking skills.

Both Stephen Curry and Magic Johnson are highly decorated NBA players with many team and individual achievements. To compare these players, one has to take into account a number of things: the era, their impact on the game, their play styles, and their achievements. This is why the Magic-Steph debate will go on for a very long time.

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What are your thoughts on Jerry West’s advice to Jack Kent Cooke to not pick Magic Johnson? Comment below!

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Written by:

Akhil Chakravarthy

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I come from a family of tennis lovers. However, I fell in love with the game of basketball at the age of 9 when my Physical Education teacher made my entire class play a game of basketball. Since then, I have been an ardent basketball fan who was obsessed with Kobe Bryant.
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Edited by:

Caroline Joseph