Magic Johnson and Larry Bird‘s iconic rivalry during the 1980s saved the NBA from a disastrous fate. The two developed a strong bond that extends well off the court. However, the connection pushed the Hall of Famers to take extra measures to best each other.
Magic Johnson and Larry Bird rivalry fueled the NBA
Johnson and Bird‘s rivalry was sparked by the epic 1979 NCAA Championship Game that featured Michigan State topping Indiana State.
The two rising stars’ connection became cemented after they entered the NBA with two of the league’s biggest franchises. Johnson and Bird faced each other three times in the NBA Finals, with the Los Angeles Lakers getting the upper hand twice over the Boston Celtics. They combined to win eight championships in the 1980s, with Johnson making eight Finals appearances to Bird’s five trips.
The intense rivalry lifted the NBA to tremendous heights, reaching popularity it never experienced before. At the same time, it pushed the two all-time talents to bring the most out of each other.
Magic Johnson admitted he experienced many sleepless nights because of Larry Bird: ‘I was scared to death because I knew that he could beat me’
Johnson and Bird competed against each other at the highest level throughout much of their illustrious careers.
It fueled the on-court rivalry between the all-time talents that only brought the best out of each other. Although the friendship didn’t develop until a few years into their playing days, Johnson revealed during a 2012 interview on The David Letterman Show (h/t Los Angeles Times) that matchups against Bird led to many sleepless nights.
“I didn’t want Larry to like me,” Johnson said. “He didn’t have to like me, but we both respected each other. I knew Larry could beat me if I made mistakes or if we didn’t play our best game. Larry made me have sleepless nights because I was scared to death because I knew that he could beat me.
“That’s what a great player does to you that you have to go up against. Not only was he great but the Celtics were great too. Hopefully, I was the same thing in his mind when he went to try to go to sleep.”
It’s a shared sentiment Bird held anchored by mutual respect that only drove him to hone his craft each offseason to best his longtime rival.
“Everybody says there is a hate element to it,” Bird said. “But there never was hate but rather that I had so much respect for him. You never let your guard down, and he was so good. I used to have this thing in my head in the summer where I’d go shoot 700 jump shots that day and I’d get ready to leave and I’d go, ‘God, I know he’s shooting 800’ and it’d drive me back out there.
“It was mind games too, but I always respected him and his teammates. We had great teams.”
The rivalry may have led to an outside perception that the two hated each other. However, the respect and admiration wound up creating unforgettable on-court battles and forged a lasting friendship.
Rivalry fostered life-long friendship beyond the court
Behind their intense rivalry, Johnson and Bird played a pivotal part in helping save the league from a disastrous fate.
The passion for the game, coupled with learning about each other off the court, led to deep-rooted respect and love for each other. It’s guided them to form a strong bond that has only grown stronger with time.
The connection has kept them close throughout the years, with the on-court rivalry remaining a strong source of respect. It’s been nearly three decades since the two competed against each other, but their friendship extends far off any basketball court.