Pat Riley is no stranger to witnessing greatness. He lasted almost three decades in the NBA as a head coach and worked with a handful of all-time greats in the process. In his opinion, his former Los Angeles Lakers pupil Magic Johnson could’ve easily been the so-called NBA GOAT if he only opted to score more points, something LeBron James did during his time.
« He’s the greatest player of all time, » Riley said of Magic in 2017 via ESPN. « LeBron is the closest thing to Earvin that we’ve ever seen because of his size, his speed, his acceleration, his vision — everything that he can do. [James] just had more pressure on him to have to score all the time. He has a mentality of being a scorer. [Johnson] could’ve scored 30 points a game if he wanted to. And we could’ve won. »
Cut from the same stone
Riley won four NBA championships with Johnson as the Lakers’ head coach and copped two alongside James as the Miami Heat president. Whenever he looks back at it, he can’t help but reckon that the circumstances were different, but as far as overall attributes go, Magic and LeBron were pretty much the same.
« He didn’t have to score because of Kareem [Abdul-Jabbar] and James [Worthy] and everyone else we had, » the Hall of Fame coach explained. « He was a winner. LeBron is a winner. But the way that LeBron plays the game now — coast to coast, handles the ball, runs the offense — it’s just like Earvin. I mean, same mold. Same DNA. They’re winners. »
Magic didn’t but Kareem did
Riley once said, « LeBron is in a class of his own, » as he is a mix of Magic, Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Jerry West, and Bill Russell. Undeniably, it was quite a huge compliment, but when it comes right down to it, Magic could’ve been still ahead of James in the GOAT conversation.
However, even if Johnson didn’t score those points, Riley thinks it still didn’t make LeBron worthy of the title. As it turned out, Riley’s GOAT, when all metrics are used, is the man who did score those points at the time – Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
« I always said that Kareem was the greatest player of all time because of his longevity. Kareem was unique from the standpoint that he could play at a high level, play 80 games a year … get beat up because of double- and triple-teams and guys just taking shots at him. He just developed this mental toughness along with a great physical body to really last forever. I put Michael [Jordan] in there too. But Kareem was the greatest at that time because of his longevity and the fact that he continued to perform at a high level when he was in his late 30s and 40s, » Riley pointed out.