The rivalry between Larry and Magic already had legs before they clashed in the NBA.

Larry Bird and Earvin “Magic” Johnson were the best players of the 1980s. They were the saviors of the NBA during that decade after a steep decline in viewership in the 1970s. The Bird-Magic rivalry became the biggest story in the NBA, but it did not start in the professional ranks.


The rivalry started in college basketball with a legendary National Championship game between Larry’s Indiana State playing against Magic’s Michigan State. The Spartans won the championship, 75 to 64, with Magic scoring 24 points compared to Larry’s 19 points.


To this day, Bird considers it the worst loss of his entire career, including his 13-year NBA career, where he suffered significant defeats.



The game between the Spartans and Sycamores set the record for the highest Neilsen rating of any game in American basketball history. It meant there was significant hype heading into the duo’s arrival to the NBA, as Larry and Magic took over the league in the 1980s.


The rivalry became the biggest draw in basketball because fans knew they were watching greatness with Larry’s Boston Celtics and Magic’s Los Angeles Lakers. Bird and his team won three titles during the 1980s, while LA got the lead of five total championships.


Magic had the upper hand for most of their careers, but Bird wasn’t far behind. They dueled for their entire careers, which was compelling for viewers worldwide. The intensity and competitiveness of their friendly rivalry made people love the NBA, helping it become a popular sports league across countless households in the United States.



Gideon Canice

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