Larry Bird and Magic Johnson: The Hearts of Champions

Leo PizziniAnalyst IMarch 14, 2010

At the risk of rewriting another's story, I am compelled to express my perception of the embattled saga by and between Larry Bird and Magic Johnson.

HBO deserves paramount credit for their retelling of the iconoclastic tale and I recommend that any sports enthusiast quickly find the station to relive or experience this amazing intertwined journey of heart and soul competition and friendship that no work of fiction could ever encapsulate.

In an era marked by the progression of racial tension and inequity, the story of Larry Bird and Magic Johnson was a rivalry that unintentionally fortified the racial divide and later em-blemished it's nature.

Bird and Johnson battled for accolades and titles for over a decade with a passion that the modern athlete has largely lost and forgotten. The purity of their drive and determination remains unparalleled to this day.

It is amazing that their fate was to meet in the NCAA and the NBA finals. 

The fiercely competitive rivals had only competed for the pinnacle of statistical greatness prior to the Michigan State versus Indiana State collegiate national championship. Their cerebral awareness of each other's greatness manifested itself in the spawning of a classic that day.

As teammates, they put their rivalry aside to be harmoniously magical in representing the USA as young collegiate players. Their embedded desire to out perform each other was unapparent in the unselfish play that topped the hierarchy of what defined greatness to these champions.

Atop any vanity or self-glory was the drive to win.

Despite a mutual respect for one another, a friendship was non-existent, and once in the NBA the rivalry was re-formed.

In a landslide vote, Bird earned rookie of the year honors over Johnson in the same year that he watched Magic win the NBA championship from home. Both players were envious of each others accomplishments and driven to elevate their respective games by one another.

Lakers versus Celtics was a clandestine rivalry.

White fans were enamored by the success of Larry Bird in a league and sport dominated by the play of black athletes while black fans scrutinized the legitimacy of his success and hype with some justification as it was not an unfamiliar trend for a white establishment to crown greatness upon a celebrated white figure and further down play the success and accomplishments of a magnanimous black icon like Magic Johnson.

Meanwhile, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson were just playing basketball.

Bird followed Magic's rookie debut with an NBA championship of his own and the stage was set for another showdown that not only represented the underscored racial divide, but moreover the emergence of two basketball legacies and two NBA dynasties.

Larry Bird took the first meeting in the NBA finals from the Lakers. Magic would counter twice, each winning more championships and league wide MVP entitlements.

The ultimate culmination of these two dynamic game changers affect on both basketball and a nation divided by race was not the back and forth nature of their rivalry on the court but rather the ironic duality and dichotomy that they represented as men.

Magic Johnson and Larry Bird are the revered emblems of the epitome of that which is great about amateur and professional sports. They are the personification of the ability to inspire, endear, and overcome all things tangible and propaganda to better the greatness in themselves.

Those who remember the "Dream Team" will not soon forget the manner in which these two champions played the game. One could not dream of a more fitting conclusion to the legends of Bird and Magic than the championship they earned on the world stage for all of the races in the melting pot called the USA.

In the end, white fans fell in love with Magic and black fans fell in love with Bird just as those men had grown a love for each other. Celtics fans and Lakers fans, white fans and black fans, have no choice but to acknowledge the multidimensional complexity of the rivalry and the undeniable fact that neither teams' or players' greatness could have been as bona fide without the greatness of the other.  

Nary an athlete nor a fan could learn more about the heart and soul of competition and life as by the lessons that be told in the tale of Larry and Magic.