The platitudes for Kobe Bryant became non-stop both moments before and after he would cap his 20-year NBA career with a 60-point performance. With all the compliments he heard that night, nothing stood out more than what Magic Johnson said.
As he stood at center court, Johnson called Bryant “the greatest to the wear the purple and gold” before gushing about a few accomplishments. Johnson pointed out Bryant’s five NBA championships. Johnson touted Bryant’s third-place standing on the league’s all-time scoring list. Johnson highlighted Bryant’s endless ability to play through injuries.
It turns out Johnson did not just say those things in the heat of the moment. Johnson reported having the same sentiment during a recent appearance on ABC’s ‘Jimmy Kimmel Live.’ Johnson maintained that stance even when Kimmel brought up Johnson’s own five NBA rings with the Lakers.
“He did it his way with dominating the scoring and really putting the team on his back,” Johnson said. “I did it my way with my leadership and try to make sure that I put our team in a position to win. At the end of the day, who cares, where it’s him or I? He has represented this city and the Lakers organization as well as anybody could.”
That then led Kimmel to wonder if Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to take offense. After all, Abdul-Jabbar also won five NBA championships with the Lakers. He remains the league’s top scorer. Plenty consider Abdbul-Jabbar the game’s best center.
“Kareem is the greatest athlete that Los Angeles has ever seen,” said Johnson, pointing out his former teammate also won three NCAA championships with UCLA. “Nobody can claim they won more championships in Los Angeles than Kareem.”
Yet, Kimmel wondered if Johnson gave Bryant top-billing since he spent his entire career with the Lakers. Abdul-Jabbar also played six NBA seasons with the Milwaukee Bucks, where he won one of his six NBA championships.
“Exactly,” Johnson said.
Johnson said those words both with confidence and without any hint of regret that Abdul-Jabbar might take offense to the ranking. If only Johnson could report feeling the same way about once talking trash with Michael Jordan.
Johnson maintained he resisted the urge to do that anytime they faced off during their NBA careers, most notably in the 1991 Finals when the Bulls defeated the Lakers in five games. Yet, Johnson had different sentiments when practicing with the 1992 Dream Team where the team’s Eastern Conference players often scrimmaged against the Western Conference players.
Then, Johnson thought “I’m really going to rattle his chain.”
“If you don’t turn into Air Jordan, we’re going to blow you out today,'” Johnson recalled saying before realizing Jordan would soon rattle his own chain. “His eyes got big. Usually his tongue is out here and now it’s way out. They broke the huddle and he hit a three. He’s looking at me. He came down again and hit another 3.”
On and on it went, leaving Johnson to regret ever giving Jordan more of a reason to quench his competitive juices.
“Michael Jordan is so incredible,” Johnson said. “There will never be another one like that.”
Johnson would say the same thing about Bryant.
“Kobe and I have mutual respect for each other. It’s all about winning, and both of us were about that. Our will to win was high,” said Johnson, before lamenting the Lakers finishing last season with the worst record in franchise history. “Now we see these Lakers, and both of us can’t stand that.”