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(L-R) Boston Celtics great Larry Bird holds his 1084 NBA Finals MVP Award; LA Lakers star Magic Johnson looks on at the Boston Garden in 1987.
(L-R) Larry Bird, Magic Johnson | Frank O’Brien/The Boston Globe via Getty Images; Wendy Maeda/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

On Thursday, June 14, 1984, hundreds of thousands of Boston Celtics fans came out to celebrate their basketball team’s triumph over the Los Angeles Lakers in seven games to win the 1984 NBA Finals. As Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, and Robert Parish celebrated on the streets below, there were three NBA stars secretly watching the proceedings from a hotel window high above the crowd. In a hotel suite looking down at the raucous celebration were the Dallas Mavericks’ Mark Aguirre, the Detroit Pistons Isiah Thomas, and the Lakers Magic Johnson.

Larry Bird and the Boston Celtics had a miraculous comeback to beat the LA Lakers in the 1984 Finals

Prior to the 1984 NBA Finals, the last time Magic Johnson and Larry Bird met in a championship game was the 1979 NCAA final. Johnson’s Michigan State beat Bird’s Indiana State 75-64.

By 1984, Bird and Magic were the two biggest names in the NBA. At that point, Bird had one NBA championship, as the Boston Celtics beat the Houston Rockets in 1981. Magic had two, with the LA Lakers besting the Philadelphia 76ers in 1980 and 1982.   

The 1984 Finals were the first time the two greats would go head-to-head for a championship in the NBA.

The Celtics and Lakers split the first four games. Boston won twice in overtime, while LA took Games 1 and 3 with relative ease.

Game 5 is still an all-time classic. Bird put up 34 points to Magic’s 10 in an oppressively hot Boston Garden. Tip-off temperature was 97-degrees, per, making it still the hottest game in NBA history.

Magic, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, James Worthy, and the Lakers won Game 6 back in LA. The teams then headed back to Massachusetts for another sweltering affair.

In a 90-plus-degree Garden, Cedric Maxwell was the star of the game. He poured in 24 points to lead the Celtics and made the critical steal to end a late Lakers comeback and seal the 111-102 victory.

Magic Johnson watched the Celtics victory parade from his hotel room

In the 1980s, NBA teams didn’t have private jets to whisk them home after a game. The players were at the mercy of commercial airline schedules back then, which meant the LA Lakers had to spend the night in Boston after the crushing loss.

Longtime Boston-based sportswriter Jackie MacMullan reveals on her Icons Club podcast what that night and the following day were like for Magic Johnson.

The reporter recounts how two of Johnson’s best friends, Dallas Mavericks guard Mark Aguirre and Detroit Pistons Hall of Famer Isiah Thomas, spent the night with him in his Boston hotel suite.

The two NBA players tried their best to console Johnson. They ordered the finest room service and blasted Motown to try and snap their buddy out of his funk. However, nothing worked. The next day, things got worse:

Magic Johnson had a bird’s-eye view of the celebration from his high-rise hotel room overlooking the Boston Public Garden. And it was killing him. He sobbed as he watched delirious Celtics fans partying in the streets below, donning shamrock jerseys and waving garish green banners, chanting the name of his arch-rival: Larry Bird.

Jackie MacMullan on Magic Johnson watching Larry Bird’s parade

Magic taking the loss that hard was a lesson not lost on Aguirre and Thomas, who would go on to win two titles together in Detroit half a decade later.

The moment, peering down on celebrating Celtics fans also gave Johnson more motivation to come back stronger next season, and that he did.

Larry Bird’s parade helped inspire Magic to win the 1985 Finals


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The Boston Celtics and LA Lakers (and more importantly Larry Bird and Magic Johnson) met in the NBA Finals again the next season.

Both teams won their Conferences with relative ease in the regular season. Boston only lost four games in the playoffs on its way to the 1985 Finals, while LA only lost two.

Game 1 of the 1985 Finals was a resounding Celtics win. The home team beat the Lakers 48-114 in what is now known as the “Memorial Day Massacre.” After that, though, thanks to some master motivation by coach Pat Riley, Magic, Kareem, and the Lakers came storming back.

LA won four of the next five, only losing by two points in Game 4, to take the title.

Abdul-Jabbar won the Finals MVP, averaging 25.7 points, 9.0 rebounds, 5.2 assists, and 1.5 blocks per game in the series. Johnson did his part, too, putting up 18.3 points, 6.8 rebounds, 14.0 assists, and 2.2 steals per game.

Magic took note of the deflated look on Bird’s face as he walked off the hallowed parquet floor,” Jackie MacMullan notes in her podcast. “’Now he knows how I felt last season,’ Magic thought.”

All stats courtesy of Basketball Reference

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