The NBA has seen a lot of great players in over 70 years of history. Big names like George Mikan, Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, and LeBron James have left a big mark on the league and that will never change.
The association has seen a lot of great players doing impressive things on the court but Charles Barkley believes that not Jordan, not LeBron, not Kobe, or even Russell were as influential as Magic Johnson and Larry Bird.
This pair entered the league in 1979 and changed everything for the league, creating one of the best rivalries in NBA history while being great friends on the court. Barkley joined Jimmy Kimmel Live Show recently, where he made the case for this all-time greats as the most important players in league history (8:40).
“Magic Johnson and Larry Bird are the two most important people in NBA history. If it weren’t for those guys, the NBA wouldn’t be what it is today. Obviously, Michael Jordan took it to another level, but I’m old enough to remember, before Magic and Larry got into the NBA, the league was too black, too many drugs it wasn’t making any money. So when these guys talk about who made the league, it was Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, and I wanted to do something special for Magic because what he and Larry did we can’t put to words. You can’t say thank you enough.”
He talked about LeBron, Kobe, and more figures, praising everything they did on the court but clarifying that none of them reached the level of importance of Bird and Johnson.
“I love LeBron, Kobe, Tim Duncan, Patrick Ewing, and all those guys but the two most important figures are Magic and Bird.”
When those two landed in the league, things changed for their franchises and themselves. They played against each other in several Finals, starring in some historical moments, always pushing one another. They took the league to the next level and the association owes them both a lot.