Magic Johnson Was a Coin Flip Away From Playing for the Chicago Bulls

Imagine Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan playing on the same Chicago Bulls team? Jordan was the first superstar to put the Bulls on the basketball map, but things could have been a little different. The Bulls might’ve had a different look in the early 1980s had a coin flip gone their way.

Magic Johnson’s basketball career at Michigan State

Earvin ‘Magic’ Johnson made the most out of his two years playing college basketball at Michigan State. The 6-foot-8 point guard immediately made a name for himself in his freshman season after his illustrious high school career that wound up with him being a Parade All-American.

Johnson and the Spartans claimed the Big Ten title in his freshman season. The team went 25-5 and made it to the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament before falling to Kentucky 52-49. Johnson finished the season averaging 17 points per game. He also dished out 7.4 assists and pulled down 7.9 rebounds per contest.

In his second and final season with the Spartans, Johnson put up 17.1 and 8.4 assists per game. He also averaged better than seven rebounds. Johnson guided Michigan State to the NCAA tourney finals for an epic battle with Larry Bird and Indiana State. Magic and the Spartans prevailed 75-64 in what was, and still is, the most-watched college basketball game in history. After the season was over, Johnson declared that he was making himself available for the 1979 NBA draft.

A legendary NBA career

After two seasons at Michigan State, Magic Johnson opted to enter the NBA draft where he was the first overall selection. Johnson was selected by the Los Angeles Lakers and Magic went on to play 13 seasons with them.

In the NBA, Johnson and Larry Bird rekindled their basketball battles as the Lakers and Bird’s Boston Celtics went on to become one of the league’s biggest rivalries. Johnson went on to win five NBA titles and was named the NBA’s Most Valuable Player in three seasons.

Johnson averaged 19.5 points and 11.2 assists in his Hall of Fame career. He was inducted into the Pro Basketball Hall of Fame in 2002. Johnson was an NBA All-Star in 12 of his 13 seasons in the league. After the 1990-91 season, Johnson missed the next four seasons after he tested positive for HIV. He made a brief comeback as a player in the 1995-96 season, playing in 32 games and averaging 14.6 points per game.

Magic Johnson was nearly a member of the Chicago Bulls

During the late 70s, the NBA’s draft rule was that a coin would be flipped between the last-place teams in the two conferences to determine which one would get the top pick. In the 1978-79 season, the worst teams in each conference were the Chicago Bulls and the New Orleans Jazz.

The Jazz, however, owed the Los Angeles Lakers the pick after a previous transaction for former Laker Gail Goodrich. The Jazz won the coin flip so the Lakers were awarded the top pick.

George Andrews, Magic Johnson’s attorney at the time, said Johnson seemed to prefer playing for the Bulls.

“He thought at the time Artis (Gilmore) was comparable to Kareem (Jabbar),” said Andrews. “He thought he could win with Artis. Magic was very positive about Chicago because it was close to home as a Lansing, Michigan guy. It would have been an interesting situation. Reggie (Theus) would have played fine with him. Artis, those were his prime years, and Reggie became an All-Star. If the Bulls had Magic, Reggie, and Artis and with Jerry Sloan becoming coach that season, they would have been very good. That would have been a tough team to match up with.”