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Decades after the two stepped into retirement, the rivalry between Magic Johnson and Larry Bird remains a fixture in the NBA world. The two legends enjoyed an intense but respectful personal competition that brought the best out of each basketball standout.

Of course, that rivalry also pushed the former Los Angeles Lakers great to make a notable admission about the Boston Celtics legend.

Magic Johnson and Larry Bird shared an intense rivalry

Larry Bird and Magic Johnson first ignited their rivalry with an intense matchup in the 1979 NCAA Championship Game.

Johnson led Michigan State past Bird and Indiana State, setting the stage for one of the greatest rivalries in sports history. The two stars quickly became the faces of the NBA’s two most historic franchises, leading each to championship success.

Johnson and Bird dominated the 1980s by combining to win eight NBA titles in 13 Finals appearances, with the former grabbing the edge twice in three head-to-head matchups on the grandest stage. The fierce rivalry even helped save the league from spiraling toward a disastrous fate.

The two Hall of Famers lifted the NBA to a level of global popularity it hadn’t reached before. All the while, the intense competition between the two pushed them to incredible individual heights while forever changing the game of basketball.

Along the way, the two developed an unbreakable bond due to their mutual desire to best the other. Eventually, Johnson even confessed a startling truth about his longtime rival.

Magic Johnson admitted he only feared Larry Bird

The intense rivalry between Magic Johnson and Larry Bird took center stage throughout a decade dominated by the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics. The two Hall of Famers partook in numerous fierce head-to-head clashes, building an unwavering level of mutual respect as they experienced sustained success.

Johnson eventually shared just how great that level of respect was.

“When I played, Larry Bird was the only one I feared,” Johnson said, per ESPN in 2000. “A lot of Black guys always ask me, ‘Did Larry Bird really play that good?’ I said Larry Bird is so good it’s frightening.”

That shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. Bird also repeatedly voiced that Johnson was the only player he cared about — aside from his Celtics teammates — and the two consistently pushed each other to greater heights by serving as their opponent’s greatest motivating factor.

The rivalry spawned not from bitter hatred, but from a desire to outperform. Though Johnson and Bird may not have liked each other for several years, the two always had tremendous admiration for one another thanks to their excellence at their craft.

Legendary rivalry forever changed the NBA

Magic Johnson and Larry Bird undoubtedly had the greatest rivalry in NBA history.

The two stars became the faces of the league that lifted the game of basketball to a level of popularity that inspired the many generations of players that followed them.

Johnson remains arguably the greatest point guard in league history. Bird is another lock for all-time top-10 conversations and enjoys comparable lasting respect. More than three decades have passed since the two last played each other, but they have left an everlasting impact.