By Perry Green and Stephen D. Riley, AFRO Sports Desk

During Magic Johnson’s playing days he was labeled with several definitions and monikers that defined his career. For much of the prime of his career, Johnson owned the title of tallest point guard, best rebounder at his position and the best passer in basketball history. At 6-foot-9, Johnson finished his career with averages of 19.5 points, 7.2 rebounds and 11.2 assists per night. Towering over opposing guards at 6-foot-10, Philadelphia’s Ben Simmons broke out in his inaugural season with averages of 15.8 points, 8.2 assists and 8.1 rebounds per game, sparking an interesting two-way race for rookie of the year. The similarities to Magic are striking. The height defines the comparisons as Simmons already owns the title of tallest point guard in the league, one of the best rebounders and one of the better passers. Is he the next Magic? Perry Green and Stephen D. Riley of the AFRO Sports Desk debates.

Philadelphia 76ers’ Ben Simmons, of Australia, dunks the ball during the first half in Game 1 of a first-round NBA basketball playoff series against the Miami Heat, Saturday, April 14, 2018, in Philadelphia. The 76ers won 130-103. (AP Photo/Chris Szagola)

Riley: I wasn’t old enough to interpret Johnson’s playing career despite being born in the early 80’s. Johnson was a star during my infancy but his career is still replaying years later after his retirement. What Simmons brings to the table is the new, updated 2018 version of Magic. Same game: vision, flare and efficiency inside the arc, all apply; but bigger, faster and more athletic. Johnson averaged 18 points, 7.7 rebounds and 7.2 assists as a rookie, eerily similar to Simmons totals. With a big man in place in Joel Embiid and located dead center in one of the more popular cities on a coast, Simmons has a chance to be better than Magic.

Green: Magic Johnson finished as the best point guard to ever play because of a slew of intangibles to match his slew of natural abilities. His showtime persona on the floor, combined with his willingness to win took Magic beyond basketball. Simmons has similar on-court abilities but does he have the off-the-court swagger to match? Johnson had the superstar team and the glare of the Los Angeles lights backing him everywhere he showed his face. Simmons is talented but he doesn’t have Magic’s intangibles.

Riley: The 76ers are on the rise in the East. This is Simmons and Embiid’s first season playing together and they finished third in the conference with 50 wins, etching out LeBron James’s Cleveland Cavaliers for the third seed. Philadelphia could potentially own four first round picks over the next two seasons, giving them plenty of ammunition to continue stockpile their young unit. If you had to predict the future of basketball in the Eastern Conference, the 76ers would be at the forefront of every prediction. The future is bright and Simmons is headed for greatness. A few commercials and a couple of individual awards could turn Simmons into a media star.

Green: It’s going to take more than a couple of trophies and a commercial to push Simmons to Johnson’s status. Magic retired with five championships, an Olympic gold medal and three MVP awards to cap a heavily accredited career. In my eyes, he’s the greatest basketball player of all time not named Michael Jordan. I don’t care about Simmons’ height or his skills. Until Simmons accomplishes half the awards that Magic has, please don’t even compare. We’re talking about a Hall of Famer and a rookie in the same conversation and that should never happen. I like Simmons but he’s no Magic.

 

Perry Green and Stephen D. Riley

AFRO Sports Desk