Magic vs. Bird: Rivalry and Respect

You see, this isn’t simply about stats, or in-game highlights. Greatness, in sports, is usually characterized by those intangibles that carry as much weight as anything that shows up in a boxscore. Passion. Focus. Will to win. Work ethic. Vision. Magic Johnson had all of these, in abundance, to complement his extraordinary physical talents. Sure, many other guys ran faster and jumped higher, but basketball isn’t track and field. There are a lot of those guys who never won it all, at the highest level.

LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 4:  Former NBA player Magic Johnson attends game one of the NBA Finals between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Orlando Magic at Staples Center on June 4, 2009 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Noel Vasquez/Getty Images)

As a longtime Lakers fan, I’m much like you Celtics fan; just as passionate and equally fanatic. By nature of the rivalry, if you’re old enough, you had the opportunity to see Magic at work. Maybe even more often than you would’ve liked. But that gives you perspective. And, if you’re perfectly honest with yourself, then we’d have to agree on one thing. That is, that Magic Johnson is the all-time greatest Laker; a game-changer who revolutionized the point guard position with his unique combination of height and ballhandling ability.

There were other stellar players throughout the history of that great franchise, but think about it… Magic was that rare transcendent figure. Across generational lines, and even international lines, the majority of people would recognize Johnson on sight, far easier than they would Baylor, West, or Goodrich. And for, perhaps, the last bona fide ‘pre-youtube’ Lakers star, that says a great deal.

The best command respect; from their own teammates, from opponents, and from the fans. What can you say about a man who brought five titles to L.A., routinely beating strong competition, in an era where free agency and expansion hadn’t yet watered down the league? Ultimately, the true testament comes from having seen Magic play. I think we both can check that off of our ‘bucket list’ (again, assuming that you were around in the ’80s).

Now, I don’t expect you to rush off and put on a Lakers t-shirt, but I’ll leave you with this, in case you still have doubts. Stroll past the front of the Staples Center, which has now stood for over ten years, and you’ll find one statue currently erected to honor a Lakers player. That player? Magic Johnson. Need more? Here’s a quote: “Magic is head and shoulders above everybody else. I’ve never seen anybody as good as him.” Wondering who delivered that quote?

Larry Bird.

Do I really need to say much more?

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