The game can only take place in everyone’s imagination. But it’s a game the participants wished they could play to prove their on-court supremacy and place in NBA history.
On one side of the court stand the Showtime Lakers, which featured a dazzling point guard (Magic Johnson), a center with a distinguishable sky hook (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) and a versatile forward (James Worthy). On the other side of the court stand the Golden State Warriors, which have a backcourt that seemingly never misses a shot (Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson), a newly acquired star player (Kevin Durant) and a feisty defender (Draymond Green). Both teams have too many players in their supporting cast to count.
All of those ingredients have the makings of what believe would be a competitive seven-game NBA Finals series. Well, not everyone thinks that way.
“We would probably sweep them,” Johnson said on Monday at an American Express-sponsored event at the Conga Room in L.A. Live. They’re too small.”
Several in the audience laughed and cheered. Heat president and former Lakers coach Pat Riley then interjected, “Try putting somebody on Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.”
That somebody would be Warriors center Zaza Pachulia.
“Zaza, I’m sorry,” Johnson said, laughing.
The Warriors likely would not have an answer for Abdul-Jabbar. But would the Lakers have an answer for Golden State’s endless barrage of 3-point shooting? Johnson and Riley argued the Showtime Lakers had superior talent both because of the roster and continuity that sparked five NBA championship runs, including four under Riley.
Nonetheless, Johnson and Riley otherwise spoke glowingly about the Warriors as they hold a 2-0 lead over the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Finals. While Johnson praised the defense from Klay Thompson and Draymond Green, Riley complimented the team’s changed mindset after blowing a 3-1 Finals series lead last year to Cleveland.
Yet, neither proclaimed the series to be over mostly because of Cavaliers forward LeBron James, who recently tied Johnson for the most triple doubles in NBA Finals history (eight).
“He’s definitely right now one of the top five greatest players,” Johnson said. “He’s going to continue to move up. LeBron is special. He’s special because he has that quality of making his teammates better.”
Many said the same thing about Johnson.
“LeBron is the closest thing to Earvin that we have ever seen because of his size, speed and acceleration and his vision and everything he can do,” said Riley, who recruited James to take his talents to South Beach in 2010. “He just has more pressure on him to score all the time.”
Nonetheless, Riley called Johnson “the greatest player of all time.”
“If they played one on one, he’d win it,” Riley said of Johnson. “He would never call a foul. LeBron would respect him as an elder. So he’d win. That would be a game of all games.”
So would the game between the Showtime Lakers and the Warriors. Though Johnson considered both teams to have superior conditioning, he contended the Showtime Lakers also had superior qualities elsewhere.
“Our basketball IQ was greater than any team I’ve ever seen,” Johnson said. “We were unselfish. We were mean and tough. We were mentally tough.”