The 1980’s was the time when the NBA made its comeback into prime time television. It was the decade when basketball became cool again and people started following it with keen interest. Gone were the days of the early game with the likes of Chamberlain, Russell, Robertson and in came a fresh new breed of talent. Two such superstars were Larry Bird of the Boston Celtics and Magic Johnson of the Los Angeles Lakers.
The two first locked horns in the NCAA college championship, where the 33-0 team led by Larry Bird took on Magic Johnson and his fired up teammates. A game that was the highest televised at its time, Magic Johnson would come out on top and mark the beginning of one of the sports’ most legendary rivalry. Magic and Bird dominated the 1980’s, winning 8 titles between them and either one of the two was present in each and every finals.
The Lakers were the first real dynasty in the league going way back to the 1940’s and 1950’s in the George Mikan era. It was followed by the Celtics and Bill Russell having their own dynasty, winning 11 titles in 13 years. The Lakers were desperate to take back what they thought was rightfully theirs, and eventually succeeded in closing down the gap between the two ball clubs. Although Magic and Bird seldom guarded each other, but when the game was on the line, there was no way they were letting each other out of sight.
The clashing styles of play of both the players made the contests even more interesting. If Bird was the most silky shooter the game had ever seen, Magic was the most flamboyant Point Guard. Both possessed a skill set unique to them. Never had the league seen anyone of Magic’s height handling the point, and his passing skills and moves were second to none. As for Bird, his height, skill combined with dead eye shooting made him a nightmare for anyone who tried to guard him. The game had not seen a player of his size able to make jump shots with so much ease as he did.
The “Showtime” Lakers were the antithesis to the gritty and tactical Boston Cletics. Both foundations represented the two opposite facets of the NBA and America at the time. The flashy, Hollywood Lakers against the intellectual capital Boston. The country born, white kid Larry Bird against the upcoming, urban black kid Magic. The sub plots to this great rivalry helped thicken the plot, which grew more intense as the years went by.
The two met in three finals, in 1984, 1985 and 1987. Bird won the first meeting and Magic the last two. Games were almost always decided on the last possession, and it took little gems from both the teams to eke out title wins, with Magic providing arguably the highlight with his ‘junior, junior, sky hook’.
The two are forever intertwined with each other right from their college days and always held each other in the highest regard. Both have gone on record saying that the other was the best they have played against, but the truth is that they somehow managed to bring out the best in each other and take their game to the next level. They still remain great friends and highly respected members of the basketball community. They filled up the seats, brought the game back from the dead together and the true winners were the fans, the game and the league. Hoping for more of the same in the future, however unlikely it may seem right now.
Share your thoughts on the rivalry of Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, in the comments below!
Photo by cliff1066™