Larry Bird or Magic Johnson: Who Had the Better Supporting Cast?
Larry Bird and Magic Johnson have always been and will forever be linked. The Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers legends began their rivalry during the 1979 NCAA basketball tournament when Bird’s Indiana State Sycamores met Johnson’s Michigan State Spartans in an epic championship game.
That rivalry carried over into the NBA, and the two stars took full advantage. In each season of the 1980s, either Bird or Magic played in the NBA Finals. They combined for six MVPs and eight championships during that stretch. Not only were they the faces of their respective teams, but they were also the faces of the NBA. Neither Bird nor Magic could get it done without their teammates, but which of the two had the better supporting cast?
Larry Bird and Magic Johnson took over the NBA in the 1980s
Larry Bird and Magic Johnson made immediate impacts when they made their way into the NBA for the 1979-80 season. Bird was actually drafted by the Celtics a year earlier than Johnson, but he elected to play out his senior year of college. Boston held his rights up until the 1979 NBA Draft. Bird and the Celtics struck a late deal that made him the highest-paid rookie ever.
Johnson guided the Lakers to a championship in his first season when they defeated the Philadelphia 76ers in six games in the 1980 NBA Finals. Johnson was named MVP of the Finals.
Meanwhile, Bird led the Celtics to a 61-win season and was named Rookie of the Year. Boston had 29 victories the previous season. In the 1980-81 season, Bird and the Celtics won the first of three championships in the decade.
Bird and Magic squared off three times in the championship round. The Celtics and Lakers met for the NBA title in 1984, 1985, and 1987. Despite being outplayed in the early part of the series, the Celtics stormed back to defeat the Lakers in seven games in the 1984 NBA Finals.
In 1985, the Lakers got their revenge. They knocked off the Celtics in six games, celebrating their championship in the Boston Garden. After the Celtics defeated the Houston Rockets in 1986, the Lakers prevented a Boston repeat by beating the Celtics in the ’87 Finals.
Bird or Magic: Who had a better support system?
Both the Celtics and Lakers were stacked in the 1980s. While the Lakers won a title in Magic’s rookie year, the Celtics pulled off a franchise-altering trade with the Golden State Warriors. Boston held the top pick in the draft and sent it, along with the No. 13 pick, to Golden State for veteran center Robert Parish and the third overall pick. With the No. 3 pick, the Celtics took Kevin McHale.
In their first year together, Boston’s new Big Three won a title. Before the 1983-84 season, the Celtics pulled off another deal, landing Dennis Johnson. With Johnson in town, the Celtics went to four straight NBA Finals.
During that stretch from 1984 to 1987, Bird had the better cast. The Celtics had four future Hall of Famers in their starting lineup with Bird, Parish, McHale, and DJ. In 1986, the Celtics added another future Hall of Famer in Bill Walton. Walton came off the bench during Boston’s ’86 run, playing 80 games and earning Sixth Man of the Year honors.
Magic had the stronger cast for the better part of his career. As a rookie, he had Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who won MVP that season. Johnson also had Norm Nixon and Jamaal Wilkes as starters. Michael Cooper came off the bench. As a rookie, Bird had Cedric Maxwell and aging veterans Tiny Archibald, Dave Cowens, and Pete Maravich, who only played in a handful of games in Boston.
The best player among both supporting casts is Abdul-Jabbar. During his peak, Johnson added James Worthy and Byron Scott to go along with Abdul-Jabbar. With all that talent, it’s tough to say that group was better than Bird, McHale, Parish, and DJ.
It’s a tough question to break down, so we’ll leave it like this. For the mid-80s (1984-1987), Bird had the better cast, but Magic had a stronger overall support system throughout the decade.