For a complete lack of reason, Magic Johnson’s comments that the Los Angeles Lakers should fire coach Mike Brown if they do not advance to the second round of the NBA playoffs have been taken with considerable heft. The same Magic who sports a 5-11 coaching record after the Lakers gifted him the head coaching job in the 1993-94 season.
Nobody is going to dispute Magic as one of the best five NBA players of all time (I rank him third). However, nobody is going to confuse him with a great coach or executive either. Here’s the thing though. Magic is not alone. Everyone just assumes great players are great at other areas of basketball from coaching to evaluating to being a general manager. And it just hasn’t proven to be so.
In 1976, Tom Heinsohn coached the Boston Celtics to the NBA championship. Since then, no former All-NBA player has done so—not Magic Johnson, not Michael Jordan, not Isiah Thomas. In fact, Since Heinsohn led the Celtics in 1976, only Larry Bird and Joe Dumars are former All-NBA players to guide a franchise to the NBA Finals.
Michael Jordan, the GOAT (Greatest Of All Time) just presided over the worst team in NBA history. Isiah Thomas has been as successful in his post-NBA career as an “Enron executive”—Get paid a lot, destroy everything in your path. Elgin Baylor was once referred to as a “veteran of the NBA Lottery process” by commissioner David Stern. Kevin McHale, well, is Kevin McHale.
The historical All-NBA teams are littered with players who were abject failures following their NBA careers in the coaching and executive ranks. This isn’t to discount their contribution as players, but more to examine their abilities beyond playing.
It was easy for Jordan or Magic or Bird to play on great teams because their teams had an all-time great player. Their teammates were better for it. Their coaches were better for it. However, when a Magic Johnson is on the executive side, he doesn’t have a player of his own caliber playing for him.
How many times did Magic line up and not have the best player on the court on his team? As a coach, you don’t have the luxury of just making sure you’re better than everyone else. The greats just never seem to transition to that line of thinking.
And now, Magic is proving it—he of the 5-11, all-time coaching record. I’m sure if you panned GMs for their thoughts, they would tell you across the board that Mike Brown is worth 5-8 wins per season over Magic as a coach. Yet, it’s Brown’s head that’s being called for by the former Laker great.
Maybe if he get’s fired, Brown will become an NBA analyst for ESPN or TNT. Only then will he truly understand great coaching.
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