Skip to main content

When the NBA resumes later this month, talk will heat up regarding the GOAT as LeBron James seeks his fourth championship. Would another title or another MVP award be enough to convince doubters that he’s a better player than Michael Jordan? In the 1980s, the GOAT topic never was spoken about as it is today. Olden Polynice, a former first-round pick and 15-year NBA veteran, was asked who the better player was, Larry Bird or Magic Johnson, and he had a pretty quick response.

Larry Bird vs. Magic Johnson

Larry Bird and Magic Johnson will be forever linked. It all began in 1979 when Bird was the star on an overachieving Indiana State basketball team and Earvin ‘Magic’ Johnson was the best player on his Michigan State squad. The teams met in an unlikely matchup for the NCAA title where Johnson’s Spartans claimed the championship.

The rivalry began that day and then heated up in the NBA when the pair hit two of the top markets in the league. Bird was drafted by the Boston Celtics and Johnson hooked on with the Los Angeles Lakers. The Celtics and the Lakers, although in different conferences, became one of the better rivalries in all of sports. Bird and Magic were the leaders of two loaded teams that met in the finals three times in the 1980s.

Bird went on to win three consecutive MVP awards and three championships with the Celtics. Johnson also collected three MVP honors and he added five championships to his resume. Bird played 13 years in the league and was a 12-time all-star, while Johnson also played 13 seasons in the league and is also a 12-time all-star. Bird was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1998, while Johnson got was inducted in 2002.

Who is Olden Polynice?

Olden Polynice is a 6-foot-11 center who played his college basketball at Virginia. He was a first-round selection of the Chicago Bulls in the 1987 NBA draft. Polynice was taken with the eighth overall pick and was immediately traded to the Seattle SuperSonics in a deal involving Scottie Pippen.

Polynice spent 15 seasons in the NBA, the first three-plus seasons with the Sonics before being dealt to the Los Angeles Clippers. He played for five different teams during his long run in the NBA. His best stretch came in his final year with the Detroit Pistons when he averaged 13.1 points and 12.3 rebounds in 37 games. He was traded mid-season to the Sacramento Kings.

He played five seasons with the Kings. Polynice averaged 12.5 points and 9.4 rebounds during the 1996-97 season while playing in all 82 games. He went back to Seattle for a year and then played with the Utah Jazz for two seasons. He finished his career with the Clippers, but appeared in just two games during the 2003-04 season.

Polynice picks between Larry Bird and Magic Johnson


Larry Bird May Have Stayed a Garbage Man If Not for a Man Named Bill Hodges

During an interview with Chris Broussard on In the Zone, NBA veteran Olden Polynice and Broussard were discussing the NBA GOAT. Broussard said he understands the debate between Michael Jordan and LeBron James, but he said he couldn’t ever remember a GOAT discussion during the Larry Bird/Magic Johnson era. He said he didn’t even remember that much talk about who was the better player just between the two of them.

So Broussard posed the question to Polynice, who played against both Bird and Johnson. He asked Polynice who he thought the better player was. “I gotta give it to Bird,” Polynice said. “He can get his own shot off. He can do basically what Magic was able to do, plus be an offensive threat all the way out to the 3-point line.

“They were pretty much the same size. They were both slow and they were both not leapers. But Bird, that outside three. They were both high-IQ guys, but I gotta give it to Bird.”

All stats courtesy of Basketball Reference.