Michael Jordan’s Finals debut was Magic Johson’s farewell to the NBA’s brightest stage. By the time the two faced off against each other in 1991, the Lakers were on their last legs. The Bulls – they were just getting started.
The Lakers opened the series with a 93-91 road victory, despite Michael’s 36-point effort. What followed was the ultimate bounce-back campaign, with the Bulls winning four straight games and securing the organization’s first-ever NBA championship.
Jordan, the Finals MVP, finished the series averaging 31.2 points, 6.6 rebounds, and 11.4 assists on 55.8% shooting from the floor. Magic, who struggled to find his shot (43% in the series), put up 18.6 points, 8 rebounds, and 12.4 assists per contest. But the Lakers came up short coming off a decade straight of deep postseason runs. And that was to be expected – they were just a shadow of Showtime, with Kareem gone, and Magic and James Worthy past their athletic prime.
But what if two teams faced off at the peak of the powers? The 1991 Finals matchup was great, but both Magic and MJ had a better team around them at some point in their careers — the ’87 Lakers and the ’96 Bulls. What if those groups were to match up in the Finals? One thing’s for sure; it would’ve been a helluva series. But according to Magic, there’s a clear-cut favorite to come out on top.
Sometimes the Bulls rely on Michael too much. What I was saying is, if you get me in foul trouble and get Michael in foul trouble and take us both out, you’d see what would happen. Our team would dominate them, I mean who’s going to stop Kareem? We had so many more weapons.Magic Johnson
The Lakers did have the ultimate weapon – the 7-2 all-time great. On paper, he’s the potential difference-maker in this matchup, despite being 39 and way past his prime. MJ would’ve been the best player in the series – even Magic agrees with that – but the Lakers’ depth would’ve been too much for Chicago to handle.
No question Michael would’ve scored 50 on us or 50 on anybody else because he’s just a great basketball player. But I think we would’ve held everybody else down.Magic Johnson
Outside of Kareem, the Bulls would’ve matched up well with the Lakers. Going position-by-position, aside from PG and SG – one in favor of the Lakers, the other of the Bulls – every other matchup would’ve been a tossup. That’s why picking a clear-cut favorite in this hypothetical matchup would be disrespectful towards the other team.
Of course, Magic would bet on his team. It doesn’t take a genius to know MJ would do the same thing. If I had to bet, I would give a slight edge to the Lakers, only because of Kareem. And no, I wouldn’t be surprised if Michael proved me wrong. That’s how close this matchup would’ve been. It’s just a shame it never happened.