The rivalry between basketball legends Earvin "Magic" Johnson and Larry Bird first garnered national attention during the 1979 NCAA National Championship. Johnson led Michigan State to victory, defeating Bird and Indiana State in the highest rated college basketball game of all time. Both players had captured the nation's attention in the NCAA finals, and they moved seamlessly to the NBA, where they reinvigorated their teams. Bird brought life back to the Boston Celtics' franchise, while Magic became the star of the Los Angeles Lakers.
Magic Johnson and Larry Bird both became household names at the same time, and they spent the next decade as the biggest stars in basketball. They were constantly compared to each other, and their success and failures were always measured against each other. Many sports broadcasters saw key similarities in their playing styles, which pushed both of them to fight harder to improve their own game and come out on top.
The sports headlines about the pair practically wrote themselves: flashy Magic against country-boy Larry. Their rivalry was the biggest story in basketball, culminating in a Converse commercial shot in 1986. In the commercial, Larry Bird, known as the "Hick from French Lick," plays basketball at his country home while Magic Johnson pulls up in a limo and challenges him to a game. To further cement their rivalry, Converse released a line of shoes featuring the "Bird shoe" and the "Magic shoe." While shooting the Converse commercial, their rivalry turned friendly. They started hoping for the other's success so that each could measure himself against the other and continue to improve as a player.
The early 1990s brought challenges for both Magic and Larry. Larry Bird suffered from chronic back pain; Magic Johnson announced he was HIV positive. They both were members of the gold medal-winning 1992 United States Olympic Basketball Team, nicknamed the "Dream Team." After the Olympics, both players retired.
More than three decades after facing off in the NCAA Finals, the story of their rivalry and its impact on sports serves as the basis for the Broadway show Magic/Bird. The play begins with Magic Johnson's HIV announcement, then goes back to the beginning of their rivalry and depicts how invested basketball fans became in both players. The key aspect to Magic/Bird is how Magic Johnson and Larry Bird eventually became invested in each other as friends.
Watch Magic Johnson and Larry Bird's 1986 Converse commercial for their line of "Weapon" shoes: