A Shoe Commercial Is What Finally Helped Larry Bird and Magic Johnson Become Friends

Larry Bird and Magic Johnson are two of the most iconic NBA superstars to ever play basketball. Today’s fans know them as wizened old ambassadors of the game, as well as being close friends. However, fans who watched basketball in the 1970s and 1980s know that things weren’t always so pleasant between the duo. They got quite competitive with each other in their many battles.

Many don’t realize that the thing that eventually broke the ice between the two was actually a shoe commercial they starred in together. Let’s take a closer look at their epic rivalry and the ad that moved them from mere rivals into respectful adversaries. 

The beginning of the Larry Bird vs. Magic Johnson rivalry

Magic Johnson and Larry Bird at a press conference in Salt Lake City, Utah, before the NCAA Final Four Championship game
Magic Johnson and Larry Bird | Bettmann via Getty Images

Before they even made it to the NBA to play against each other, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson squared off in college. Bird led the Indiana State Sycamores against Johnson’s Michigan State Spartans in the 1979 NCAA men’s tournament finals. Johnson’s team emerged victorious, but a new rivalry was born. 

Bird would land on the Boston Celtics while the Los Angeles Lakers drafted Johnson. Both teams saw immediate returns from their picks. Bird and Johnson revitalized both franchises in their rookie seasons, turning them into powerhouses seemingly overnight. Across the 1980s, the teams played each other in the NBA Finals three times, with Johnson’s Lakers winning two while Bird’s Celtics won one. 

By the time their careers ended, Johnson had won five titles with LA while Bird won three with Boston. It still might stand as the greatest one-on-one rivalry in basketball history. Additionally, it was quite icy for the first several years until the two came together under rather unique circumstances. 

The Converse commercial that helped Magic and Bird become friends

According to the Basketball Network, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird came together in 1986 to film a commercial for Converse. Converse was the sneaker company with which both players had a shoe deal. It’s safe to say that without their common sponsor bringing them together, they likely wouldn’t have hung out that day. 

Johnson recalled being bothered that Converse filmed the spot in Bird’s home of French Lick, Indiana. “I did not want to go to Indiana,” Johnson recalled, adding, “I was going to his home, too. I protested.”

Larry Bird took Magic Johnson to have lunch at his mom’s house

After concluding the first portion of the commercial shoot, the two were beginning to see each other less as rivals and more as human beings who had a lot in common.

What really sealed the deal on the duo’s friendship was when lunchtime rolled around. Magic Johnson prepared to retreat to his trailer for lunch by himself, but Larry Bird wouldn’t hear of it. On Bird’s insistence, the pair went to Bird’s mother’s house in French Lick. There, his mom welcomed Johnson as if he was part of the family. 

“His mom greeted me on the porch,” remembered Johnson, noting the warmth with which he was received. “It was a ‘Mom Bird’ hug like my mom would hug me.” 

Johnson added that the two really got to know each other as people rather than just basketball players, stating, “I got to know Larry the man that day, and he got to know Earvin.”

From there, mutual respect was cemented. Since then, Bird and Johnson have famously gotten along very well off the court. The two even ended up as teammates during the 1992 Summer Olympic Games in Barcelona. To this day, they regard each other as friends. So, if it weren’t for that fateful day in French Lick, the basketball world might have been robbed of one of its great friendships. 

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