Rivalries can form in a variety of different ways. In the case of Magic and Bird, it formed in the purist and most natural of ways. The two began as teammates at the World Invitational Tournament, a couple of second-stringers not yet having been discovered.
Then came college and the NBA soon followed. Each would land in their respective powerhouse franchises and all the implications of the storied history between the Celtics and Lakers would only intensify their rivalry, not just for themselves, but for the fans. This coupled with their individual competitive drive created a rivalry between them to challenge each other and elevate their teammates at the same time.
It made for a decade of epic basketball, revived the NBA and left fans thirsty for more.
Not even the would-be rivalries that have trickled through the league within the span since Bird and Magic’s hay-day are worth mentioning in the same sentence.
The closest we’ve come to re-capturing what Bird and Magic had, is what Kobe Bryant and LeBron James have now–and it’s a long shot. Jordan didn’t need a rival because he had everything you could ask for in a basketball player all rolled into one. He had enough talent, flash and flair to carry the NBA all on his own. It’s something Kobe couldn’t do and LeBron could’ve done had he not sent his talents to South Beach and subsequently air-mailed every fourth quarter in the 2011 NBA Finals.
Jordan may not have needed anyone, but Kobe and LeBron need each other to challenge themselves to surpass Jordan’s legacy inasmuch regard as the fans need them to take the game to the next level, much like Jordan did when Magic and Bird’s time has passed.
James is still young enough that he can come out and stampede over everyone using his size and strength. As Kobe gets older, he knows he has to develop different ways of manipulating his style of play to maximize results on the court. The two could still very well be on a collision course to meet in the finals at some point, but with each passing year, the window of opportunity closes slightly.