Magic Johnson and Larry Bird are arguably the most popular names in basketball from the 1980s when they were at the peak of their prowess. HBO’s sports drama series ‘Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty‘ showcases the LA Lakers “Showtime” era in the 1980s, when they dominated the NBA. In the series, the fierce on-court rivalry between Magic Johnson and Larry Bird is one of the show’s most intriguing aspects. With the series dramatizing several real incidents, viewers must be curious to learn more about Johnson and Bird’s off-court relationship. If you are wondering whether Larry Bird and Magic Johnson are friends in real life, here is everything you need to know!
Are Larry Bird and Magic Johnson Friends?
Earvin “Magic” Johnson Jr. and Larry Bird started their NBA careers with bitter rivals LA Lakers and Boston Celtics, respectively. However, the rivalry between the two basketball players started at the college level when Johnson’s Michigan State Spartans faced Bird’s Indiana State Sycamores in the 1979 NCAA finals. Johnson’s performance in the finals helped Michigan State clinch the Championship, with Johnson winning the Most Outstanding Player award over Bird. When the duo entered the NBA with the Lakers and Celtics, their rivalry intensified in the following decade.
After winning the 1980 NBA Championship with the Lakers and being awarded the Finals MVP, Johnson spent nearly the entire of the following season on the sidelines due to a knee injury. In contrast, Bird continued to put in stellar performances for the Celtics. While the Lakers crashed out in the first-round playoffs, Bird took the Celtics to the 1981 NBA Championship Finals, where they defeated the Houston Rockets. However, Bird would not get a chance to avenge the 1979 NCAA finals until the 1984 NBA Finals, where the Lakers faced Celtics in a final for the first time in Johnson and Bird’s career.
The Celtics defeated the Lakers and won the 1984 NBA Championship, and Bird was named the Finals MVP. The two teams would face each other again in the following year’s Finals, and Johnson’s Lakers emerged victorious on this occasion. The Lakers and Celtics returned to the NBA Finals in 1987, with the Lakers once again winning the title and Johnson winning the MVP award. Although the duo’s rivalry declined after this point, the Johnson-Bird rivalry is considered among the best rivalries in sports. It is widely credited with restoring interest in the NBA during the 1980s.
Johnson and Bird were inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, cementing their places as all-time greatest of the sport. While Johnson and Bird had a fierce rivalry during their career’s early years, especially on the court, the basketball stars eventually developed a friendship. According to Magic Johnson, their friendship began while filming an advertisement for Converse in Bird’s hometown, French Lick, Indiana. Bird invited Johnson for lunch with his family, and over the course of the meal, the two learned how similar they were.
Happy birthday to my enemy turned great friend Larry Bird!! Larry was dominate since the day he stepped on the court at Indiana State and carried it one with the Boston Celtics! pic.twitter.com/IATlZj8q1s
— Earvin Magic Johnson (@MagicJohnson) December 8, 2022
“His mom gave me the biggest hug and hello, and right then, she had me. Then Larry and I sat down for lunch, and I tell you, we figured out we’re so much alike. We’re both from the Midwest. We grew up poor, our families [are] everything to us, basketball is everything to us. So that changed my whole outlook on Larry Bird,” Johnson said, speaking with NPR. Johnson and Bird’s friendship only matured over the years, with Johnson turning to Bird for support after his HIV diagnosis in 1991 and Johnson attending Bird’s retirement ceremony in 1992. Bird also gave a speech at Johnson’s Hall of Fame induction.
In recent years, Johnson and Bird have made several public appearances and teamed up for a book titled ‘When the Game Was Ours’ by Jackie MacMullan about their rivalry and friendship. Their relationship is the subject of the 2010 HBO documentary film ‘Magic & Bird: A Courtship of Rivals,’ directed by Ezra Edelman. Johnson and Bird’s rivalry is also a major plot point of the HBO sports drama series ‘Winning Time,’ particularly in the show’s first two seasons. In December 2022, Johnson shared a sweet message for Bird’s birthday through X (formerly Twitter), reaffirming their close friendship.