June 10, 1984: During the height of the Larry Bird-Magic Johnson rivalry, the Boston Celtics wrap up the NBA championship with a 111-102 win over the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 7 of the Finals.Bird was the MVP of the series, but it was the Celtics’ Cedric Maxwell who came up big in the seventh game, scoring 24 points. Bird averaged 27.4 points per game in the Finals to Johnson’s average of 18.0. Magic did have a 21-assist game, though.
Magic was devastated by the 1984 defeat, but he and the Lakers would win the NBA Finals over the Celts the following year, four games-to-two. Bird outscored Johnson again in the series, but Magic was the superior playmaker, dishing out 14 assists per game. Magic and Bird met a third time in the NBA Finals in 1987, with the Lakers winning again four games-to-two. This time Johnson dominated Bird in the box score every which way, averaging 26.2 to Bird’s 24.2. The assists go without saying: Magic had 13 per game.
In their NBA careers, Bird averaged 24.3 points per game and Johnson 19.5. The differerence for Magic were the aforementioned assists—he dished out an average of 11.2. Both players won three NBA Most Valuable Player awards, and both were 12-time All-Stars. Overall, Johnson captured five NBA titles and Bird three. The rivalry bonded them in the end, and they remain close.
The first time the pair met on the court was in the championship game of the 1979 NCAA Tournament, a prime time event in Salt Lake City that changed the face of college hoops. Johnson played for Michigan State, and Bird was the “Hick from French Lick,” the star of the undefeated Sycamores of Indiana State. The Spartans won 75-64. The game drew a 24.1 rating, the highest to this day of any basketball game at any level in television history.
(Tom Scott hosts the Scott Slant segment during the football season on KTVB’s Sunday Sports Extra. He also anchors four sports segments each weekday on 95.3 FM KTIK and one on News/Talk KBOI. His Scott Slant column runs every Wednesday.)