Magic Johnson Admits His Relationship With Larry Bird Was ‘Fractured’ Because of His Hatred for the Boston Celtics

The Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers were bitter rivals in the 1980s. With Larry Bird and Magic Johnson leading the way, either the Celtics or Lakers reached the NBA Finals in every year of the decade. Bird and Magic were the faces of the NBA.

The duo is forever linked. Bird and Magic brought the NBA to a new level. On the court, they were rivals. Off it, they shared a few laughs together, but Johnson recently admitted his relationship with Bird was “fractured” simply because of his hatred for the Celtics.

Larry Bird and Magic Johnson gave the NBA a jolt in the ’80s

(Original Caption) Lakers’ James Worthy (C. behind) and Earvin “Magic” Johnson (R) move in, attempting to block Larry Bird of the Celtics in 1st quarter of their game at the Boston Garden. The Lakers lead 3-2 in the best-of-seven series.

The NBA needed Magic and Bird just as much as they needed it. Once the two stars came into the league after their wild NCAA championship game in 1979, the NBA flourished. They went their separate ways but always seemed to find each other when it counted most.

The Celtics reached the championship round five times in the ’80s. The Lakers went to the Finals eight times during the decade. They met three times, with the Celtics winning in 1984 and the Lakers claiming the title in 1985 and 1987.

With their emergence, the league took off. Attendance grew. Television deals soared. The Celtics/Lakers rivalry heated up. There were reports that the two stars didn’t like each other.

“It was reported in the papers that they didn’t like each other,” said Magic’s agent, Lon Rosen, to Sports Illustrated in 1991, “and they started to believe it themselves.”

Johnson told Sports Illustrated that things started out that way but loosened up a bit the more they faced each other.

“Before, we wouldn’t say nothing. We’d just be glaring at each other, wouldn’t even shake each other’s hands,” Johnson said. “But now we’ll talk a little bit on the court: ‘I got you that time,’ ‘What you doing on me? You can’t stop this,’ ‘You’re too big to be out here.’ Little stuff like that. It’s fun.” 

Johnson recently said his relationship with Bird was ‘fractured’

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Back in 1991, Bird acknowledged he and Magic had the same work ethic. He said had the two grown up together and played pick-up games in the playground, they probably would have been best friends.

“Magic plays the game the way I always wanted to play the game,” he said. “If I’d grown up where he did (in East Lansing, Mich.) and I had been on the playgrounds when he was, I’d say we’d be best friends. And deep down, I’ve always felt that way.”

“Magic plays the game the way I always wanted to play the game,” he said. “If I’d grown up where he did (in East Lansing, Mich.) and I had been on the playgrounds when he was, I’d say we’d be best friends. And deep down, I’ve always felt that way.”

During a recent appearance on Shannon Sharpe’s Club Shay Shay podcast, Sharpe asked Johnson about his relationship with Bird during their playing days. Johnson labeled it “fractured.”

“Our relationship was fractured because it was Celtics Lakers. See, we hated them and they hated us. So we could never be friends. (Coach Pat) Riley stressed that. He said if a Celtic goes to the ground, you better not pick him up. We had to hate them to beat them.”

Magic Johnson, on his relationship with Larry Bird during their playing days

“It wasn’t until ’87 when Converse wanted to do a commercial with both of us. I flew out to French Lick, Indiana, where he’s from. We shot about half the commercial, and it’s lunch time. I think I’m going to a trailer because we really haven’t broken bread before. As I take like three steps toward the trailer, he said, ‘Magic, I’d like you to have lunch up at the house. My mom has prepared lunch.’

He threw the ‘mom’ in there, so I go to the house. He’s down there and I’m down there. She’s bringing out all the dishes, and she hit him and said, ‘Did you tell him yet?’ He said, ‘No, mom, you tell him.’ She said, ‘Magic, you’re my favorite basketball player.'”

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