What a day for the future of the NBA. At the time it seemed like just another season opening game.
But the future of the league would never be the same. The greatest rivalry in the history of the league, maybe in the history of American sports, was born 40+ years ago right now.
Until Magic and Larry started to square off, NBA games were on tape delay, playa.
They saved the NBA from financial ruin, setting the standard for play and competition in the NBA for the next decades.
Larry Bird’s first game was a 114-106 victory against the Rockets in which he poured in a modest 14 points.
Interestingly also in the same game, the Celtics Chris Ford made the first three-pointer in NBA history.
Magic got off to a hot start with 26 points, asserting himself as the team leader right off the bat, feeding Kareem Abdul-Jabbar with the ball for a game winning hook shot. Magic famously freaked out and jumped into Kareem’s arms, celebrating like they had just won the NBA title.
To which Kareem replied, “You know we’ve got 81 more of these, right Magic?”
Aside from their impact on the league, Larry & Magic had almost identical NBA careers.
Both had 13-year careers and made 12 all-star appearances.
Both won three regular season MVP awards; Bird won two NBA Finals MVP’s, while Magic trumped him with three.
Known for classic match-ups in the NBA Finals, Magic emerged with a total of five “chips” to Bird’s three.
In 18 career regular season head to head match-ups, Magic won 11 to Bird’s seven. Bird averaged 21.7 ppg to Magic’s 19.4.
In the Finals, the two foes faced off a total of 19 times, with Magic emerging victorious in 11 of those encounters.
Bird averaged 25.3 ppg to Magic’s 20.7. But scoring was only a small part of what both players brought to the floor and the rivalry.
The union of Larry Bird and Magic Johnson created the blueprint for all proceeding NBA rivalries and for the league itself.