The Magic-or-Michael debate continues on TV


Boxers or briefs?

Pistachio or Rocky Road?

Mantle or Mays?

Magic or Michael?

The debate over which player, Magic Johnson or Michael Jordan, is the greatest to lace up a pair of basketball sneakers has been refueled by the return of Johnson to the Los Angeles Lakers, and Turner commentators have taken lukewarm positions.

Jordan's supporters, who are legion, point to his acrobatic brilliance, three championships won with a group of players perceived to be inferior and seven straight scoring titles as proof that he is the best player of all time.

Johnson's fans point to his ability to play all five court positions, uncanny passing skills and five championships as evidence for their case.

"It comes down to what's your favorite flavor?" said Hubie Brown, one of Turner's NBA analysts. "When you look at the four greatest guards in the history of the NBA, you're talking about Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Oscar Robertson and Jerry West. How would you like to pick from that group? That's a hard call."

Brown's analyst colleague, Chuck Daly, who coached the pair with the 1992 Olympic team, seems to lean toward Johnson.

"Magic, at that position, might be the most unique player, and he brings that word I keep going back to, leadership. He's such a leader," said Daly.

Dick Stockton, the lead voice of the NBA on CBS and now a Turner play-by-play man, related a conversation he once had with former Boston forward Kevin McHale about the relative contributions of Jordan and Larry Bird, who was a teammate of McHale's on those 1980s Celtics teams.

"McHale said, 'If you had Larry Bird taking only 10 shots, he could still contribute,' " said Stockton. " 'If Michael Jordan was limited to only 10 shots, he wouldn't be a factor in the game.' "

In fairness, Jordan's defensive skills, which are far superior to Bird's or Johnson's, give him a significant edge, but isn't it great to have Johnson back to get the argument going again?

TNT and TBS provide more chances to make your call, with Johnson and Jordan making appearances this week. Jordan's Chicago Bulls travel to Phoenix for tonight's TNT game (8 o'clock), and the Lakers and New Jersey Nets will form the second half of tomorrow's TBS doubleheader, after the Orlando-Detroit game at 8 p.m.

By the way, as expected, Friday's Bulls-Lakers game was a record-setter, posting a 7.1 cable rating, the highest-rated game in the 12 years Turner has been carrying the NBA.

The game was seen in 4.745 million homes, and through 29 telecasts, viewership of the NBA package on TNT is up 57 percent from this point last year, and the 13 TBS Wednesday games are up 40 percent from last season.

Impertinent questions

Here is this month's collection of things that might make you go "Hmmm":

* Just how many highlights of interesting things are we missing during those obnoxious "ESPY Awards" promos that have been running during ESPN's "SportsCenter"?

* Aren't listeners of the "Tony Kornheiser Show" on Washington's WTEM (570 AM) getting cheated when a 40-minute portion of his show is repeated four times a day just so he doesn't have to work a full three-hour shift?

Specifically, the station's engineers record the first 40 minutes of Kornheiser's 10 a.m.-1 p.m. show each day and rerun it at 12:20 p.m. so he can duck out then. Since the show is repeated at 4 p.m., a listener could hear the same patter four times in the same day.

Assuming, of course, he or she can tolerate it the first time.

* When does the statute of limitations on Jim Speros' credibility with the local media run out?

Between proposing to move the Stallions to almost any location under the sun, tossing out a preposterous notion that he be granted an NFL expansion franchise and his seemingly inexhaustible desire to stand in front of any microphone or fill up any reporter's notebook, Speros long ago strayed past the point where people should take his voluminous statements seriously.

Here's hoping our Canadian friends in the media have lots of tape and paper. They'll need it.

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