Magic Johnson Singles Out Five NBA Players Who Would Have Been Stars During the Michael Jordan Era

Comparing players from different eras may be an ultimately tedious and futile exercise but continues to be a major topic of conversation for analysts and fans alike.

The Last Dance reignited the discussion over whom between Michael Jordan and LeBron James deserves to be considered the greatest basketball player of all time. ESPN's 10-part documentary chronicling Jordan's final season with the Chicago Bulls was a timely reminder for younger generations of MJ's greatness, but it also fuelled the debate over whether Jordan would be as dominant if he played in the present-day NBA.

Similarly, how would the modern stars have coped in the league three decades ago? While both questions will remain unanswered for obvious reasons, Magic Johnson believes five current superstars would have shone just as brightly during the era he and Jordan played in.

"We start with LeBron [James] then Kevin Durant, no question," Magic told Stephen A. Smith on Tuesday, during an appearance on After the Dance, an hour-long ESPN SportsCenter special analyzing the biggest takeaways from The Last Dance.

"That guy [Durant] can score in any era. I think Steph Curry could still shoot [in a different era] the way he's shooting right now and then I would take Anthony Davis and the Greek Freak [Giannis Antetokounmpo].

"Those guys could definitely play in the era that I was in."

LeBron, Curry, Durant, Davis and Antetokounmpo are arguably the biggest stars of the present-day NBA.

James has defined the league for over 15 years, winning three NBA titles and four MVP crowns and earlier this week said he would have relished the prospect to play either with or against Jordan, who he has repeatedly identified as his idol.

"Me personally, the way I play the game—team first—I feel like my best assets work perfectly with Mike," he said on Monday, in a video released on Uninterrupted's YouTube channel.

"Mike is an assassin. When it comes to playing the game of basketball, scoring the way he scored the ball, [then] my ability to pass, my ability to read the game and plays in advance."

The first overall pick of the 2012 NBA Draft, Davis was singled out by James as the man he needed alongside him to end the Los Angeles Lakers' decade-long title drought.

Up until the novel coronavirus pandemic shut down the NBA season in March, James had been proven right as he and Davis had established the Lakers as firm favorites for the title.

When and if the season ever resumes, it wouldn't be surprising to see Davis and LeBron cross paths with Antetokounmpo in the NBA Finals. The Milwaukee Bucks star was named MVP last season and looks primed to be the face of the league for the next decade.

Curry and Durant, meanwhile, won two titles with the Golden State Warriors—the former also won a ring before Durant's arrival in the Bay Area—and epitomized the offensive explosion that has defined the NBA over the 10 years.

Teams scored an average of 111.4 points per game this season, compared with 99.6 a decade ago. During Jordan's final season with the Bulls, the average was as low as 95.6 points per game.

That does not mean modern stars would have found it easy to dominate during the Jordan and Magic era. In the seven seasons between Jordan's arrival in the league in 1984 and Magic's first retirement in 1991, the pace of scoring was not too dissimilar from what it is today and never dipped below an average of 106.3 points per game.

What has changed, however, is the way games are refereed to as the NBA has drastically clamped down on contacts to protect the attacking players.

While it's impossible to know exactly how the quintet singled out by Magic would have fared in the 1980s and 1990s, it's hard to imagine their immense talent would have not shone through.

Anthony Davis, LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers
Anthony Davis #3 of the Los Angeles Lakers and LeBron James #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers talk during the game against the New Orleans Pelicans at Smoothie King Center on November 27, 2019 in New Orleans, Louisiana. Chris Graythen/Getty