Magic Johnson and Larry Bird had arguably the most iconic rivalry in NBA history. Two legendary players that started their careers around the same time, playing for two of the most decorated franchises in the history of the league; the Celtics and the Lakers. And both went down as two of the greatest to wear those jerseys.
Larry Bird came into the league in 1978, after a stellar stint at Indiana State. He was joining a Boston Celtics team that had fallen off. After joining, he immediately transformed them into a championship contender. With Bird at the helm, the Celtics would be one of the best teams in the NBA for years to come.
The Celtics would add other solid stars like Kevin McHale and Robert Parish, allowing them to form a big three that dominated the Eastern Conference. Within just 2 seasons, Bird would lead the Celtics to the NBA championship, establishing himself a superstar in the NBA.
As for Magic Johnson, he entered the league in 1979 and immediately took it by storm. Johnson joined a pretty strong Los Angeles Lakers team led by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and instantly made an impact.
He and Kareem formed a solid tandem and took the Lakers to the NBA Finals. And during the Finals, Magic announced his arrival onto the NBA landscape by leading the Lakers to the championship and winning Finals MVP, becoming the only player in history to win Finals MVP as a rookie.
The duo was incredibly dominant during the 1980s. In fact, Bird and Magic Johnson played in each NBA Finals of the decade and had a combined 13 NBA Finals appearances between the two during the 80s.
Magic and Bird even faced off in the NBA Finals on three occasions; 1984, 1985, and 1987. Bird and the Celtics won their first encounter in 1984 but would lose to Magic and the Lakers in 1985 and 1987. The rivalry between the Lakers and the Celtics was arguably at its peak during this time.
No duo has been able to match this, with LeBron James and Stephen Curry coming closest, playing 9 out of the 10 NBA Finals during the 2010s.
There are very few words to describe just how pivotal Bird and Magic were in the NBA's worldwide growth. They made the NBA must-see television and made the league one of the most lucrative sporting brands in the world.
Charles Barkley has described Magic and Bird as the two most important players in the history of the league and credited them for saving the league and giving it new life. It is hard to argue, given how popular the NBA is today, and just how revered both Bird and Magic are in today's NBA.