Magic Johnson was a great point guard.
Stephen Curry is a great point guard as well.
But which one of them is the greatest point guard of all time?
Well, that’s an ongoing debate. And it was reignited by an online interview that was posted earlier this week in which former NBA All-Star Gilbert Arenas asked Curry point blank if he’s the best ever at his position.
Curry thought for a second or two, then answered: “Yes.”
“Obviously I have to answer it that way but … Magic’s resume is ridiculous,” Curry said. “So the fact that we’re even having that conversation, that’s a place I never thought I’d be in.”
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Johnson was a member of the Showtime Lakers from the 1980s and early 1990s. He played 13 seasons and was a five-time NBA champion, three-time NBA Finals MVP and three-time league MVP. Considered one of the best passers to play the game, Johnson is the NBA’s career leader in assists per game in both the regular season (11.2) and the playoffs (12.3). His 138 regular-season triple-doubles are third-best all time, and his 30 in the playoffs is still the league record.
Curry is part of the Golden State Warriors dynasty of the past decade. Still going after 13 seasons, Curry is a four-time NBA champion, one-time NBA Finals MVP and two-time league MVP. Considered one of the best shooters to play the game, Curry has made more three-pointers than anyone in league history during the regular season (3,390) and playoffs (618).
Here’s how some of their numbers stack up:
ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith gave Curry the edge over Johnson during a discussion of the topic on “First Take.” That prompted NBA legend Michael Jordan, whose career intersected with Johnson’s through much of the 1980s and into the 1990s, to weigh in on the matter.
“I beg to differ on greatest point guard of all time. Magic Johnson is easily the best point guard of all time,” Jordan said in a text Smith read on-air during Wednesday’s show. “Steph Curry is very close, but not in front of Magic. …
“Steph Curry is by far the best shooter of all time. Yes, his movement has created many shots for his teammates … but Magic Johnson invented the triple-double — not true invented, but makes it more noticeable in terms of the impact on the game. It’s a point-guard stat, to be honest. Magic was the best.”
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Smith said Jordan also emphasized Johnson’s five NBA titles.
For more perspective, The Times reached out to a couple of veteran sports writers who know a thing or two about the NBA after decades of covering the league.
Mark Heisler, who covered the Lakers for The Times and other publications from 1990 to 2020, said via text:
“Obviously Earvin and Steph aren’t the same thing, although they’re both labeled ‘point guards.’ Interestingly, although their roles differ, each is considered the best at what they do.
“Steph is easily the best shooter the game has ever seen [let’s give him an A-plus] but only a pretty good playmaker [let’s say A-minus]. Earvin is an A-plus playmaker but only say a C-plus shooter, not an unusual thing in the era before the game began to be all about three-point shooting. …
“So if we must compare, I’d take Magic, the incomparable playmaker, over Steph, the incomparable shooter.”
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Steve Springer covered the Lakers for the Orange County Register from 1979 to 1983 and on and off for The Times from 1983 to 2008. He has also written five books on the Lakers. He said in an email:
“Steph Curry is the greatest shooting point guard of all time. Magic Johnson is the greatest consummate point guard ever, combining shooting, passing and rebounding, a master of the triple-double, along with the ability to bring out the best in all of his teammates.”
OK, so what have we learned?
Basically that some people think Johnson is the best ever and others think Curry is.
And Curry thinks that’s fine.
“It’s fun measuring eras against each other,” he told Arenas. “That’s what basketball, that’s what sports is all about. It’s why people watch. It’s why people get into heated debates about it. I love it.”
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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.