Larry Bird‘s illustrious NBA career became fueled by his intense rivalry with former Los Angeles Lakers star Magic Johnson. The two all-time greats anchored the league’s rise to prominence behind their stellar play and sustained success. It all led Bird never to consider teaming up with his longtime rival.
Larry Bird’s legendary rivalry with Magic Johnson
Before entering the NBA, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson sparked their rivalry through the 1979 NCAA championship game.
Johnson led Michigan State past Bird and Indiana State, setting the foundation for arguably the league’s most iconic on-court competition. The two quickly became two of the NBA’s biggest stars, leading their respective historic franchises to tremendous success.
During the 1980s, Bird and Johnson combined to win eight NBA titles with 13 NBA Finals appearances between them. The two faced off against each other three times on the grandest stage, with the Lakers star getting the edge twice.
Bird and Johnson served as the linchpins that skyrocketed the NBA’s popularity and worldwide appeal. Beyond that, the intense rivalry also served as a critical factor to sustaining it throughout the Hall of Famer’s careers.
Larry Bird reveals why he never wanted to team up with Magic Johnson: ‘This goes way back’
Bird spent his entire 13-year career with the Boston Celtics, where he cemented himself as an all-time great.
His intense on-court rivalry against Johnson further fueled him to lead the Celtics to success. His unwavering desire to beat Johnson guided him never to consider joining forces to play alongside the former Lakers great.
“He had a fantastic career, won a lot of championships, but when I look back through all that, I had more enjoyment beating him than I’ve ever had beating anybody,” Bird said via Basketball Network. “If I didn’t have that, other than a couple of championships, you know, what is it? We started in college; this goes way back.
Bird’s rivalry with Johnson began before his NBA career as the 1979 NCAA championship game loss ignited the internal flame to get the best of the Michigan State product. Although he got the short end of the stick, losing two of the three meetings in the NBA Finals, the emotions of the lone win were irreplaceable.
If the two joined forces, the league’s landscape would have changed drastically. It’s hard to envision any team in the 1980s beating the two stars together. They were arguably the game’s two best talents at their respective peaks, combining for six regular-season MVP awards and 24 All-Star game selections.
Ultimately, it’s a what-if scenario that would have never panned out due to the outright competitive nature between the two all-time talents.
Larry Bird left an irreplaceable imprint on the NBA
The passionate rivalry against Johnson brought the best out of Bird.
The Lakers star served as the barometer for greatness that fueled his work ethic, allowing him to reach tremendous heights. Bird remains regarded as one of the game’s greatest talents that helped shape the league into what its become.
Bird etched his place behind his dominance, such as remaining the only forward in league history to capture three straight regular-season MVP awards. He accomplished it all with three NBA titles, two NBA Finals MVP awards, three regular-season MVP honors, 12 All-Star selections, nine All-NBA First Team nods, and his No. 33 jersey retired with the Celtics.
Beyond all that, Bird left an everlasting on the game.