The build-up to the 1984 NBA Finals seemed more of a contest between Magic Johnson and Larry Bird than their respective teams.
It is next to impossible not to mention the Lakers-Celtics rivalry when we talk about iconic rivals in NBA history. The popular franchises have met a record 12-times during the Finals, with the record being 9-3 in the Celtics’ favor.
The highlight of the 1984 showdown was the comparisons between Larry Bird and Magic Johnson. The two individuals had been pitted against each other ever since their days in NCAA. Though the two played the game in very distinctive ways, there was always hype about them facing each other.
The two legends had a stacked stat sheet entering the 84 showdown. While Magic had already won 2 championships and was a Finals MVP, Bird was a multiple-time All-NBA First team and had already won his first NBA championship in 1981.
Also read: “It was sad to hear Magic Johnson was retiring from basketball and his life was in serious risk”: How Pau Gasol aspired to be a doctor after the Lakers legend announced his retirement due to HIV in 1991
Though the respective teams had legends such as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Kevin McHale, the entire narrative about the Finals revolved around Magic and Bird.
1984 NBA Finals: Magic Johnson vs Larry Bird
With not long to go for the Finals, Celtics legend Larry Bird told Sports Illustrated.
We both do the same things but we’re not the same type player. When you think of the impact we have on a game, with me, it’s usually scoring, but with him, it’s always his passing. He’s got his hands on the ball more than I do, so he has more control of the situation. said Bird
Magic is just beyond description. I think of him as one of the three top players in the game today, maybe the best. He’s a perfect player.”
The 84 Finals would go down till the wire. However, the Boston Celtics were crowned NBA champion, with Bird winning Finals MVP. On the contrary, it seemed to be a disappointing Finals for the Lakers point guard.
Magic had several occasions of winning crucial games during the series but somehow felt the pressure that led to him having a series of choke moments during the Finals.
The term Tragic Johnson was coined owing to Magic’s collapses in the Finals. Despite several choke moments, Magic averaged 18.0 PPG, 13.6 APG, and 7.7 RPG on a 56.0% shooting from the field in the Finals.
On the other hand, his arch-rival Bird was phenomenal during the Finals. The Celtics legend averaged 27.4 PPG, 14.0 RPG, 2.1 SPG, and 1.1 BPG on an incredible 66.7% from the 3-point line.
Former Lakers GM, while speaking about the comparisons between the two icons, gave Bird the edge.
“He’s such a great passer, and he doesn’t make mistakes. Magic handles the ball more, and he makes more mistakes because he has it more. We’re all fond of different kinds of books, different types of movies. The one that best approaches the kind of game I would recommend a young player model himself after is Bird. He’s a genius on the basketball floor.”
The comparisons between Magic and Bird got to such a point that they were being compared to yesteryear actresses Marilyn Monroe and Raquel Welch.