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The Steele Drum


June 30, 2010 10:01 PM

What Would Michael (and Magic and Larry) Do?

larry-bird-michael-jordan-and-magic-johnson.jpgOn Wednesday afternoon, less than 12 hours before the official start of the NBA free agency period (better known as "LeBron Or Die''), a spirited debate broke out on Twitter among a handful of longtime NBA writers. The question at hand: Would Magic, Larry and Michael ever have joined forces on one team to tip the scales of the league toward that team, as LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh reportedly are angling to do?

(Another, unrelated question at hand: Hey, Steele Drum, where the hell have you been the last six months? At the bottom of this posting today, and from now on, is a link to my work at FanHouse, where I am a senior writer, meaning that I could be writing on just about anything that comes along. Which can keep one busy. Hope you enjoy it. Digression over.)


A lot of people who know both the NBA today and its history are sure that Magic Johnson and Larry Bird would never, under any circumstances, abandon their ferocious rivalry with each other to team up and turn that fiery competitive spirit against everybody else. And absolutely not in conjunction with Michael Jordan, the only player of their era whose juices ran as hot as theirs. None of them would dream of latching onto another's coattails; instead, it was up to others to latch onto theirs.

At least that's how it has seemed, largely because all we know is what actually happened. We've used that to turn speculation into fact and belief into truth. Yet we ought to be smart enough by now to know what happens when you "assume," and what can happen when you "jump to conclusions.''

lebron-wade-bosh.jpgWhat we know is that Bird, Magic and Michael never stood where LBJ, D-Wade and I-Need-A-Cool-Abbreviation Bosh stand now. Never were they all free agents at the same time, or ever in position at the near-exact same points in their careers to exert the full power of their status on the NBA. God help us and the history of sports on this planet if they ever had been, but it just never happened.

So we're left to ponder: WWMJD? What Would Magic Johnson Do? (Or Michael Jordan. Or Mlarry Jbird.)

One guess: they'd step on their own mothers' graying heads to get to the same team.

The clues are there. For one, they did all play together on the Dream Team in 1992. Of course, they were playing for country, for gold and for the uplift of the sport internationally (and their shoe brands). No way any of those three was going to let the presence of one or the other block him from playing in Barcelona.

Of course, their grand sense of purpose did not include welcoming Isiah Thomas to the fold more on that later). For these purposes, that proves that given the chance to include and exclude, Magic, Larry and Michael included each other.

Once on the team, they still battled for the upper hand behind closed doors. One excellent account of this is in When the Game Was Ours, Magic's and Bird's co-autobiography with Jackie McMullen. Oh, by the way: They wrote a book together! And all over it are examples of how and when they bonded, found common ground and even, yes, enjoyed being teammates. Yet they would've been too wrapped up in the Celtics-Lakers, East-West, city-country, black-white rivalry not to have jumped at the chance to play together on one NBA super-duper team if they could?

As for Michael ...

It's already been forgotten by too many people that significant portions of his career were spent trying to get the proper pieces around him. (Sound like anyone we know?) Jordan needed Scottie Pippen to become one of those pieces, at all costs. When he came out of retirement, he and the Bulls decided that Dennis Rodman needed to be one, their franchise and personal history with him be damned. Because, it's also been forgotten, Rodman was a really, really good player.

As romantic as the notion of those three being the sole leaders and catalysts for their teams is, the reality is that the elite don't shun other elite, not if they're serious about what really matters. These groupings managed to win big without tainting their reputations: Russell and Cousy (or Havlicek, or the multitude of other immortals); Wilt, West and Baylor; Clyde and Pearl, Oscar and Alcindor, Magic and Kareem, Bird and McHale, Tim Duncan and David Robinson.

The better, more relevant question should be: if you're already blessed with an all-timer as a teammate, why would you ever want to be separated? (Mr. Bryant, please reply ASAP.)

So, Jordan warming up to Bird and Magic, in order to lock up a championship or five -- why would that sound so preposterous? Remember, he had already taken over the world by then, but six years into his career Jordan hadn't gotten past the Pistons (and Isiah) yet. Imagine what a summit of this trio that offseason would've been like, if only because, for various reasons, Thomas was the unifying factor.

Just imagining. As so many others are imagining how the LeBron-Wade-Bosh gathering is a slap in the face of those legends, who were just too competitive to team up that way.

The more logical, likely reaction: those three would have been too competitive not to.

You can find me on FanHouse here. You can also find my book on Tommie Smith here and here, and on Dr. Miles McAfee here.

Photos: NBA, NBAE



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