Larry Bird Winning Rookie of the Year Still Annoys Magic Johnson

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Larry Bird and Magic Johnson accept the Lifetime Achievement Awards.

Larry Bird and Magic Johnson will be forever linked. The Boston Celtics legend and the Los Angeles Lakers icon came into the NBA together and helped bring the league to a new level.

Johnson and the Lakers were crowned champions in his rookie season. The point guard from Michigan State was named MVP of the NBA Finals after the Lakers defeated the Philadelphia 76ers in six games. Bird, whose Celtics were ousted by the 76ers in the conference finals, was named the league’s Rookie of the Year. That still doesn’t sit well with Johnson.

Larry Bird vs. Magic Johnson is the best individual rivalry in NBA history

Larry Bird Winning Rookie of the Year Still Annoys Magic Johnson
Larry Bird and Magic Johnson accept the Lifetime Achievement Awards onstage during the 2019 NBA Awards presented by Kia on TNT at Barker Hangar on June 24, 2019, in Santa Monica, California. | Michael Kovac/Getty Images for Turner Sports.

With no disrespect to Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain, there was never a better individual NBA rivalry than Bird vs. Magic. The two stole the show, beginning in the early 1980s. Actually, their rivalry began before they entered the NBA when they met for the NCAA championship in 1979.

When they both hit the NBA in the 1979-80 season, the league blossomed. Not only did it rekindle the Celtics/Lakers rivalry from the Russell/Chamberlain days, but it also took the NBA to a new level.

“We ended up in the two most famous franchises, the Celtics and the Lakers,” Johnson told Shannon Sharpe on the Club Shay Shay podcast. “His personality was Boston. My personality was Hollywood.

“They couldn’t have scriped this any better. I’m playing with Kareem and all the guys, and who would’ve thought that my first Finals, my rookie season, we’re on tape delay. Tape delay. I could go play and go home and watch myself play that night.

“We brought the Finals and all the other games to prime-time TV. Larry and I changed the whole league. Every other year, the Lakers would win or the Celtics would win. I’m glad we came in together because I had somebody to measure myself with.”

In each year of the ’80s, either the Celtics or Lakers reached the NBA Finals. They squared off against each other three times.

Magic still bothered that Bird won Rookie of the Year

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In Bird’s rookie season, he took the Celtics from a 29-win team to a 61-win team. He averaged 21.3 points and 10.4 rebounds. Magic put up 18.0 points, 7.7 rebounds, and 7.3 assists. The Lakers went from 47 wins to 60 in his rookie season.

Bird was named Rookie of the Year that season, and it still bothers Magic to this day. It’s not just the fact Bird won, but it’s the large margin of victory that continues to eat away at Johnson.

“It was 60-something (votes) to like two,” Johnson said. “I hate to say that on TV. I was pissed. Two votes? Became the first rookie in NBA history to be named Finals MVP. I was only the third dude ever in NBA history to go from the college championship to the NBA Finals championship. I got two votes, and they were two LA dudes.

“I’m like he’s not that much better than me. Not 63 to 2, but I took it.”

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