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HOF coach Jack Ramsay on what made Magic stand out from other players in the NBA


The late great coach Jack Ramsay had a lot of respect for Magic Johnson and how he approached the game. According to Ramsay, he hasn't seen any player that was so studious and meticulous in learning about the game with an incredible desire to improve his craft.

Student of the game

It seems that as the years go by, people forget how good Magic Johnson was throughout his career and that he deserves to be in the GOAT conversation when you consider what he did in his 12-year-long career with the Lakers. Younger fans know Magic through his mesmerizing video highlights filled with flashy moves rarely one can replicate. Just by looking at his NBA CV, you immediately understand you are dealing with a legend that profoundly impacted his franchise and the NBA as a league itself.

The late great HOF coach Jack Ramsay was another genuinely great basketball mind whose knowledge about the game was unparalleled. During his time with the Portland Trailblazers, where he won a championship in 1977, he had to face Magic multiple times during the regular season and the playoffs. Ramsay saw firsthand that Magic was different and that his improvement and basketball IQ were unmatched compared to most other players in the league.

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In his book called ‘Dr. Jack’s Leadership Lessons Learned From a Lifetime in Basketball’ Ramsay talks about what separates Magic from other players. Even though he was an outstanding player ever since his rookie season, aspects of his game needed improvement. Ramsay knew which parts of his game he could exploit, but Magic made adjustments and continuously improved his game. Ramsay soon realized Magic is one of the rare players that doesn’t have any weakness in his game.

Magic was a student of the game and carefully critiqued his own performance to define areas that needed improvement. In his rookie year, he didn't have full control of his left-hand dribble. I coached Portland at that time and made sure we kept Magic going to his left. In one game, he had nine turnovers. That strategy never worked again because during the summer following his first season, he worked hard on being equally adept dribbling in either direction. Each year, Magic added a dimension to his game. He was a marginal perimeter shooter when he first came into the league, but in a few years, he became a dangerous three-point threat. Later on, he added a wheeling skyhook, not unlike Kareem's to his scoring arsenal.

Jack Ramsay, via 'Dr. Jack's Leadership Lessons Learned From a Lifetime in Basketball'

Magic was always looking to improve

After coaching the Blazers for ten seasons, Ramsay stayed in the NBA until 1988, where he spent his last two seasons with the Pacers. By that time, Magic was a five-time NBA champion with numerous individual accolades to his name. Ramsay knew Magic would be brilliant from the get-go because he understood which areas of his game needed improvement if he wanted to take his game to the next level and continue to compete for a championship.

There was always a positive addition to Magic's game each year, and it was no accident. Those changes took place because Magic was never satisfied with his level of play, took the time to focus on some area that wasn't up to his expectations, then worked hard to improve it.

Jack Ramsay, via 'Dr. Jack's Leadership Lessons Learned From a Lifetime in Basketball'

Unfortunately, Magic retired earlier than everyone expected and, alongside the Lakers, could have challenged the Bulls and Jordan on their way to more championships, especially during their first three-peat. If he and the Lakers had the opportunity for another run at the championship against the Bulls, there was no doubt Magic would find a way to put himself and his team in a position to win the game. That was the brilliance Ramsay saw in him, ever since he came into the league as a 19-year-old from college and immediately had a tremendous impact on the game.

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