Following his recent selection as Sportsperson of the Year by Sports Illustrated for 2022, Stephen Curry was questioned by SI about his ideal starting lineup. There was just one requirement: Curry had to list himself, which isn’t really a stretch given how difficult it is to argue for anyone else to be the best point guard of all time.
Curry told SI, “I’m at PG, I’m going with Magic [Johnson], and we’ll play hybrid guards. “You have [Michael] Jordan, Dirk Nowitzki, who spreads the field and shoots the ball, and Shaquille O’Neal, the big man who controls the paint. I believe that is a strong lineup.”
Let’s not overthink this because Curry put together this fantasy starting lineup on the fly, but it is noteworthy that LeBron James was left out. Despite how unimportant this is, I can’t help but think LeBron will view it as a slight. The leading figures in this post-Jordan era are Curry and LeBron. There is no one else who can compete with either, and LeBron can easily be said to be the greatest player in history.
The only way you could even begin to rationalize Nowitzki above James for the spacing alone is if Curry’s lineup fits quite well, but even in that situation, I don’t get how you could choose Dirk over Larry Bird or Kevin Durant, who was another affront as Curry’s former teammate. Shaq definitely deserves this kind of acclaim, but if you want a conventional center, I’d recommend Tim Duncan (don’t start with the “he was a power forward!” semantics).
Magic Johnson over LeBron, who is essentially a bigger, stronger, quicker, more athletic, better scoring, better shooting, and better defending version of Magic, is the one you just can’t rationalize. LeBron is an all-time passer, and Magic Johnson is perhaps better than James at only one thing on a basketball court: passing. Whoever would choose Magic over LeBron is in a nostalgic daze.
The best perimeter combination you could possibly put together is a Curry-Jordan backcourt with LeBron serving as the point forward. You can then discuss the fourth and fifth players from there. However, it is impossible to rationalize omitting LeBron from any all-time starting five, not even one that you can think of off the top of your head.