Pat Riley: Magic Johnson -- not LeBron or MJ -- is NBA's greatest of all time

Riley calls Magic NBA's best all-time player (0:58)

Pat Riley explains why he considers Magic Johnson to be the best player ever, saying he could beat LeBron James one-on-one. (0:58)

The best player in NBA history? According to Hall of Fame coach Pat Riley, it's not LeBron James. And it's not Michael Jordan.

It's Earvin "Magic" Johnson.

"He's the greatest player of all time," Riley, the Miami Heat president and former Los Angeles Lakers coach, said while sharing the stage with Johnson during an event sponsored by American Express on Monday night in Los Angeles.

Johnson, a 6-foot-9 point guard, played for Riley for nine seasons.

"LeBron is the closest thing to Earvin that we've ever seen because of his size, his speed, his acceleration, his vision -- everything that he can do," Riley said. "[James] just had more pressure on him to have to score all the time. He has a mentality of being a scorer. [Johnson] could've scored 30 points a game if he wanted to. And we could've won."

But what made Johnson great, Riley said, was his ability to fit in with the pieces around him as the three-time league MVP led the Lakers to five NBA championships in the 1980s.

"He didn't have to score because of Kareem [Abdul-Jabbar] and James [Worthy] and everyone else we had," Riley said. "He was a winner. LeBron is a winner. But the way that LeBron plays the game now -- coast to coast, handles the ball, runs the offense -- it's just like Earvin. I mean, same mold. Same DNA. They're winners."

Johnson quickly interjected, drawing laughs from the crowd.

"That's why he's the best player," Johnson said of LeBron. "He has it and it just rubs off. He's just special."