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Larry Bird and Magic Johnson Rivalry

The Larry bird versus magic Johnson rivalry is probably one of famous sports entertainment phenomenon of this century (McBride 4). The unusual, unique and personal talent and style of these two players is certainly worthy of their remembrance and centers of analysis for a good number of decades to come (McBride, 5). This is because of the representation they did through their character, background and race. In the 1980's, they became more than just heroes in sports (McBride 6). Bird and Johnson's rivalry represented deep cultural values and tensions.

Johnson is retired American professional basketball player who played point guard for the Los Angeles Lakers of the national basketball association (Haskins 2). After winning championships in high school and college, he was selected first overall in the 1979 NBA draft by the Lakers. He won s championship and an NBA finals most valuable player award in his rookie season, and won four more championships with the Lakers during the 1980s.

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Johnson did not initially aspire to play professionally, focusing instead on his communication studies and on his desire to become a television commentator (Jean 10). Even though Johnson was recruited in several top ranked basketball teams, he decided to play close to home. He initially wanted to attend university of Michigan but later settled on Michigan state university after the school coach promised Johnson that he could play the point guard position. At 6 feet 9 inches, Johnson became the first big man to dominate play at point guard, a position usually reserved for smaller players. His passing, dribbling skills, and ball-handling technique won him the nickname "Magic." His magnetic personality made him one of the most popular players in the league.

Johnson remained a stand out player and led the Michigan State University to the National Championships in 1979. Then the next year he turned professional and spent the remaining time of his life with the Lakers, including a couple of comebacks after retirement and a short time as a coach. Early in the 1980 season, Johnson was sidelined after he suffered torn cartilage in his left knee. He missed forty five games and said that his rehabilitation was the most down he had ever left. Johnson later returned before the start of the 1981 playoffs, but the Lakers then assistant and future coach later said Johnson's much anticipated return made the Lakers a divided team. During the off season, Johnson signed a twenty five million dollar contract with the Lakers, which was the highest paying contract in the sports history at that time (Cameron 24).

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It can probably be useful to deduce that the Michigan state university could not have made it to those heights if it were not for the support and leadership from Johnson. His stand out technique of playing was probably the turning point of the Michigan state university basketball team. Even though Magic Johnson turned professional, his contribution to the growth of the players he led was significant. Still, he was even more than a revolutionary player, who, at 6'9" was the tallest point guard in league history. His sublime talent elicited wonder and admiration from even the most casual basketball fan.

During a routine physical examination for an insurance policy, Johnson found that he was a carrier of the HIV virus (Jean 47). He admitted that his lifestyle as a sports celebrity included extensive heterosexual promiscuity (Jean 47). However, he never suspected that he might contract HIV, which he thought was limited to homosexual men. The Lakers team physician advised Johnson to quit basketball immediately in order to safeguard his threatened immune system. Johnson shared his discovery with the other players on the Lakers team, and then announced to the American people that he was HIV-positive (Jean 47).

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In November 1991, Johnson stunned the sports world with his announcement that he was infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Johnson announced that he was retiring from professional basketball but returned in 1992 and again in 1996 (Jean 56). He turned his enthusiasm and leadership skills to business. Among his successes, he developed movie theaters and shopping malls in poor and neglected sections of large cities where no one else would invest (Jean 110).

Magic Johnson hoped still that he could have a future in basketball after announcing his retirement in 1992. He remained active in basketball world and purchased five percent of the Lakers and he formed a charitable but competitive basketball team that played exhibition games around the world. He became the vice president of the Lakers organization and took over as interim head coach of the team for the later part of the 1992-93 seasons.

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Larry bird on the other hand was a high school sophomore, by the time he was going through difficult times in his family during which poverty had taken a better part of his family (McBride 62). He had become one of the best basketball players in French lick. This was the basketball team of the west Baden's high school. His high school coach, Jim Jones, was a key factor to bird's success (McBride 63). He would come and help bird and his friends practice daily during the week (McBride 64).

Bird receives a basketball scholarship to Indiana University in 1974. However, he was overwhelmed by the size of the campus and the number of students and was not mentally ready for this stage. In Indiana, bird recalls the poor treatment he received from one Kent Benson. He dropped out of Indiana 24 days later, disappointing his mother (Cameron 32). He returned home to French lick where he enrolled in the nearby Northwood institute before dropping out and getting a job with the street department for a year. The department picked garbage, repaired roads and removed snow. He played for the AAU basketball for Hancock construction and after that year, he decided to enroll in Indiana state university where he was coached by bob king (Cameron 44).

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King suffered from a stroke prior to the 1978-79 season and assistant bill who had been persuaded by bird to return to college basketball, was promoted to head coach (Cameron 62). Bird led the team to NCAA championship game in 1979, his senior season, only to lose to the Michigan state university Spartans, who were led by magic Johnson (Jean 47).

The Boston Celtics selected the 6'9", 220-pound bird 6th overall in the 1978 NBA Draft, even though they were not certain whether he would enter NBA or remain in Indiana state to play his senior session (Cameron 88). Bird ultimately decided to play his final season in college, but the Celtics retained their exclusive right to sign him until the 1979 NBA Draft. Bird agreed to sign with the Celtics for a sixty five thousand dollar contract for one year making him at that time the highest paid rookie of that season.

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Bird's impact on the Celtics was immediate. The Celtics were 29-53 during the 1978-79 seasons, but with bird, the team improved to 61-21 in the 1979-80 season, posting the league's best regular season record. Bird's collegiate rival, magic Johnson also had entered the NBA in 1979, joining the Los Angeles Lakers. In 1980, despite a strong rookie season from Johnson, bird was named league's rookie of the year and was voted onto the Eastern Conference all star team (Cameron 54).

The additions of bird and Johnson rejuvenated the NBA, which had suffered from low attendance and minimal television interest through much of the 1970s. Immediately upon their entry into the league, the two players became repeating presences in the NBA Finals. Johnson's Lakers won the championship in 1980, Bird's Celtics captured the NBA title in 1981, and Johnson's Lakers wrested it back in 1982. Bird and Johnson first dueled in the 1979 NCAA title game; as professional basketball players, they would face off numerous times during the 1980s, including the NBA Finals of 1984, 1985 and 1987 (Cameron 76). Lakers versus Celtics, and specifically Bird versus Magic, quickly became one of the greatest rivalries in the history of professional sports. This was the greatest rivalry ion sports that took place in that decade. We had two greatest players of that generation entering their prime, Boston's Larry Bird, 27, and L.A's magic Johnson, 24, with five NBA regular seasons under their belts, squaring off the first time in an NBA finals.

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The rivalry of these two basketball players therefore can be seem to have started after Johnson's Michigan state university team defeated bird's Indiana state university in the 1979 season of the NCAA finals (Cameron 77). The rivalry continued in the NBA, and reached its climax when Boston and Los Angeles met three out of four NBA finals from 1984-87. Johnson asserted that for him, the 82-game regular season was composed of 80 normal games, and two Lakers-Celtics games. Similarly, Bird admitted that Johnson's daily box score was the first thing he checked in the morning (Jean 52).

Several journalists hypothesized that the Johnson-bird rivalry was so appealing because it represented many contrasts (Cameron 82). These included the clash of the Lakers and Celtics, the clash of the Hollywood and flashiness, the Boston/ Indiana and the clash of the blacks and whites. The clash was also significant because it drew closer attention to the faltering NBA. Prior to Johnson and Bird's arrival, the NBA had gone through a decade of declining interest and low TV ratings. With the two futures Hall of Famers, the league won a whole generation of new fans, drawing both traditionalist adherents of Bird's dirt court Indiana game and those appreciative of Johnson's public park flair (McBride 42). Sports journalist Larry Schwartz of ESPN asserted that Johnson and Bird saved the NBA from bankruptcy. Despite their on court rivalry, Johnson and bird became close friends during the filming of a 1984 converse shoe advertisement that depicted them as enemies (McBride 45). Johnson appeared at bird's retirement ceremony in 1992.and described bird as a friend forever.

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In modern basketball and far much more in today's sports world, the issue of race and other discrimination is normally a very negligible factor (Cameron 26). Today, teams have tried to get players from all over the globe basing their selections on talent and average personality at individual level and never on racial basis. Today race is not as big an issue/not as important to people, in the 1980's ones race greatly influenced that they were a fan of black vs. white. During the 80's the Lakers and the Celtics were the two dominate teams and Bird and Johnson were the two dominate players and so people really only had those two to root for; today there are so many good teams and players that race is hardly a factor (McBride 56).

Additionally, this means that such a clearly defined rivalry cannot exist between players and most likely will never exist. There are a big number of star player globally but it is hard to argue that there are any real rivals in modern championships, more especially in basketball. Sportswriter Jack McCallum, "The NBA of the '70s was the enclave of the selfish and the satisfied, a place where individual talent flourished at the expense of team play" (McBride 62). The 1970's was an era of bad basketball in which the pro league was in the midst of a crisis. In 1976 the NBA had finally absorbed four teams from its competing league the American Basketball Association (ABA) after a costly bidding war (McBride 14).











However this newly expanded NBA had many problems besides fiscal trouble. Of this there was much on-court violence between players and entire teams, and during the decade of 1970 there were 8 different champions, the most in any ten-year period. The lack of any clear cut champions made the game less appealing to viewers (Cameron 79). This particular rivalry between Larry Bird and Magic Johnson as we can see contributed to the rejuvenation of the NBA in 1980s after a lack of interest in over twenty years (Jean 88).

Therefore, the issues that usually arise in the court or rather in the field where these players meet, are usually not real rivalries but just assumptions that viewers and fans make. Race will never again be an issue in modern basketball because it has been proven even in modern soccer that teams can even be managed by different people in different ethnological perspectives. These are issues that journalists use in getting the attention of both readers and listeners. Therefore it's not much into what people say but what is actually happens. The only people who contain the truth of these matters are the victims of these allegations. The two could not be compared if the other was absent in the court. Therefore we can say this was all the same a court affair.

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In a nutshell, I am forced to point out that this particular rivalry that existed between these two talented basketball players was of great significance to the basketball community that existed in that time. This is because of the great contribution they made to the NBA and the individual teams they led to the mentioned championships. Therefore it is not much of the race one belongs to but the actual impact one can make toward the realization of specific objectives as a team leader or player as well as a coach. This could extend also all the way to fans and well. Therefore the talent that existed in Larry Bird and Magic Johnson is worth of their remembrance and points of analysis in so many years to come. Once every generation or so, a player comes along who can truly be called a superstar. Larry Bird and Magic Johnson were such players.

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