Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson are undoubtedly two of the NBA’s greatest players. Jordan and Johnson elevated their respective franchises to sustained championship success. However, before the former Chicago Bulls great reached that point, he turned down a $1 million 1-on-1 matchup against the Los Angeles Lakers star.
Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson rose to stardom in the 1980s
After leading Michigan State to an NCAA championship, Johnson quickly transformed the Lakers into a powerhouse.
In the 1980s, Los Angeles won five NBA titles in eight Finals appearances while competing in an intense rivalry against Larry Bird and the Boston Celtics. Over the decade, Johnson earned three Finals MVP awards, two of his three regular-season MVP awards, and nine All-Star selections. All that firmly established him as arguably the greatest point guard in league history.
Meanwhile, Jordan became the league’s best talent at the tail end of the 1980s. Behind his tremendous scoring ability, he earned six All-Star game selections, garnered three scoring titles, and received three All-NBA First Team nods and a league MVP.
Before Jordan took off into legendary stardom in the 1990s, he turned down a unique one-of-a-kind opportunity against Johnson.
Michael Jordan once rejected an epic $1 million 1-on-1 matchup against Magic Johnson
The former Bulls great’s stellar play earned him tremendous recognition alongside Magic Johnson as the faces of the league.
The Lakers star was coming off dominating the 1980s, with five NBA titles in eight Finals appearances. All that quickly moved toward Johnson proposing in 1990 a one-on-one matchup against Jordan in Las Vegas shown on pay-per-view. The contest featured two 15-minute halves, with the winner taking the $1 million grand prize.
Despite the apparent interest, Jordan turned down the scenario due to his concerns about the contest negatively impacting his public image.
“It was something I didn’t want to do with Magic,” Jordan said during an interview with longtime sports reporter Roy Firestone. “The image of it for one thing. For me, I have been known as a one-on-one player all my career. I was trying to get away from that label to be a more of an all-around player. When you have Magic who has been known as an all-around player and wanting to play a one-on-one situation.
“My concern was that from a public point of view was more or less, ‘They are just playing to get a lot of money.’ I didn’t want that image to be taken out of context. It would be fun to play Magic one-on-one. I wouldn’t mind doing it. That’s something I grew up doing. Playing one of the best players in a one-on-one game. It would be fun to do now, but there is so much confusion involved because of the situation being of a business proposition.”
Although Jordan would have loved to play Johnson, he knew the optics of the game wouldn’t work out in his favor regardless of whether he won. At that point, he hadn’t won an NBA title while the Lakers great had already solidified himself behind his championship success.
In other words, Jordan believed he had nothing to gain publicly from the one-on-one matchup.
Isaiah Thomas and NBPA turned down the matchup
Jordan’s strong sentiment certainly played a pivotal part in the 1-on-1 falling apart, but it was much more than that.
The NBPA, led by Detroit Pistons star Isiah Thomas, was not a fan of the idea because it would start a concerning trend.
“I believe that this sets a bad precedent,” Thomas said via Bleacher Report.
Meanwhile, Gary Bettman, a lawyer for the NBA and now commissioner for the NHL, further backed that firm stance against the proposed one-on-one game.
“We’re not interested in seeing our players being promoted like fighters in Las Vegas,” Bettman said. “We’re not going to allow anything that is exploitive or injurious to pro basketball.”
Although the fans wanted to see two of the game’s greatest talents face each other, it was a move the NBA didn’t want to make the norm.