Magic Johnson Reveals What Set Larry Bird Apart from Other NBA Legends

Exploring the roots of a historic NBA rivalry.

by Nouman Rasool
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Magic Johnson Reveals What Set Larry Bird Apart from Other NBA Legends
© Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Image

When discussing the unparalleled prowess of Larry Bird on the basketball court, few can offer insights as rich and authentic as his greatest adversary, Magic Johnson. In an interview with Inside Hoops, Johnson shared his profound admiration for Bird, emphasizing the Boston Celtics forward's exceptional game-reading ability, anticipation, and his knack for making pivotal decisions that often left both rivals and teammates spellbound.

Magic highlighted Bird’s incredible court vision and passing accuracy, attributes that solidified his status among the NBA's elite playmakers. "The Hick from French Lick," as Bird was affectionately known, was not just a scorer but a creator whose unselfish play consistently elevated the performance of everyone around him.

"Larry could take over a game at any moment," Johnson remarked. "He not only scored but also collected rebounds, dished out assists, and his will to win was stronger than anyone else’s."

Beyond Mere Skills

Johnson's reflections extend beyond mere skills.

He spoke of Bird’s strategic mindset, how he played the angles, and maintained balance, making him a formidable opponent under any circumstance. This profound respect stems from a legendary rivalry that began in college and blossomed in the NBA, as both athletes became the faces of their respective franchises—Johnson with the Los Angeles Lakers and Bird with the Celtics.

Their competition throughout the 1980s didn't just thrill fans—it redefined the NBA. "When we both entered the league, I don’t think we realized how much we would contribute to propelling the NBA forward," Johnson noted.

From games that were once tape-delayed to prime-time broadcasts, the league's growth paralleled the intensity of their matchups. Despite their fierce battles, Johnson and Bird shared a mutual respect and recognition of their similarities as players.

Both were unselfish, team-first leaders who prioritized victory above all. Bird himself has often mirrored Johnson's sentiments, acknowledging their shared attributes as competitors and winners. Their rivalry and friendship not only highlighted their individual greatness but also their joint impact on basketball’s global popularity.

Long after retiring, both legends continue to reflect on their careers with humility, always crediting each other for elevating the game to unprecedented heights. Their legacy is not just a collection of stats and accolades but a testament to how rivalry can foster respect and friendship, setting a gold standard for sportsmanship in the NBA.

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