Larry Bird and Magic Johnson fostered arguably the greatest rivalry in NBA history. Bird and Johnson guided the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers to tremendous sustained success. The intense competition led Bird to admit Johnson played a pivotal role in shaping the player he became.
Larry Bird shared an intense rivalry with Magic Johnson
Before Bird and Johnson entered the NBA, their legendary rivalry was birthed after a matchup in the 1979 NCAA championship game.
Johnson led Michigan State over Indiana State, setting the stage for the two to extend the intense competition playing for two of the league’s most historic franchises. In the 1980s, they anchored tremendous respective success, combining to win eight NBA titles with 13 NBA Finals appearances.
Bird and Johnson faced each other on the grandest times, with the Lakers star getting the edge twice. The rivalry went much further than competing against each other as their success led to the NBA skyrocketing in popularity. The two played a pivotal part in uplifting the league to becoming a staple across the globe.
The intense competition also led Bird to develop a special connection with Johnson that pushed him more than he rivalry knew.
Larry Bird admitted he needed Magic Johnson to bring the best out of himself: ‘I had to have him there for some reason. Like a crutch, somebody I could compare myself to.’
The intense rivalry shared between Bird and Johnson created a strong connection between the two all-time greats.
It led them to develop the sense of using the other as a barometer for motivation to bring the most out of their talent. The former Celtics admitted that he used Johnson like a “crutch” to push him forward.
“I had to have him there for some reason,” Bird said via NBA.com “Like a crutch, somebody I could compare myself to.”
Bird may have held hatred directed toward Johnson, but it only pushed him harder to outperform and out succeed the Lakers star point guard. At the same time, Johnson shared the same animosity that anchored his internal drive.
“That’s why we hated each other. We knew we were mirrors of each other,’ Johnson said.
The constant comparisons only drew a more substantial connection from afar while bringing the best out of them. The mutual hatred wasn’t fueled by any more than wanting to best the other on the basketball court.
The two needed each other to reach their potential, and it worked, leading them to each experiencing a tremendous amount of success. Bird won three NBA titles and two NBA Finals MVP awards, earned three regular-season MVP awards, and received nine all-NBA First Team selections. He remains the only forward in league history to win three consecutive regular-season MVP awards.
Meanwhile, Johnson earned five NBA titles and three NBA Finals MVP awards, three regular-season MVP awards, and nine All-NBA First Team nods. The two became the face of their era behind their sustained success driven by their internal motivation to best the other.
The intense rivalry forever shaped the NBA
More than three decades after the two stars last graced an NBA court, their legendary rivalry remains an iconic part of league history.
Bird and Johnson pushed each other to tremendous heights while raising the game behind them. The intense matchups and championship success further grounded them as crucial parts in shaping the NBA to what it has become.
The two all-time greats have their legacies forever intertwined and, more importantly, cemented as pivotal figures that transformed the game.