They entered the NBA in the same year and then changed the way basketball is played and how the league is viewed.
Fueled by talent, joy and competitive drive, they won championship and MVPs and brought new-found excitement to the league.
For all their accomplishments and significance, Basketball Hall of Famers and NBA icons Magic Johnson and Larry Bird are this year’s recipients of the NBA’s Lifetime Achievement Award. They will be honored June 24 at the NBA awards show in Santa Monica, California.
Bill Russell (2017) and Oscar Robertson (2018) are the previous winners.
First rivals in college (Johnson at Michigan State, Bird at Indiana State) and then the NBA (Johnson with the Los Angeles Lakers and Bird with the Boston Celtics), Johnson and Bird came into the league in 1979-80, and while Bird won Rookie of the Year, Johnson helped the Lakers to the NBA title.
Bird won a title the next season, and Magic’s Lakers finally met Bird’s Celtics in the Finals in 1984 with the Celtics winning. The Lakers beat Boston for the title in 1985 and 1987.
Both won gold medals for Team USA at the 1992 Summer Olympics playing for the Dream Team, the first U.S. Olympic team comprised mainly of professionals.
Johnson finished with five championships, Bird with three. Johnson was three-time Finals MVP and three-time regular-season MVP, and Bird was named NBA Finals MVP twice and won the regular-season MVP award three times – all in consecutive seasons (1984, 1985, 1986).
Bird is the only person in NBA history to win MVP, Coach of the Year and Executive of the Year.
Johnson, who retired in 1991 when he learned he was HIV positive and made a brief comeback in 1995, became a successful business following his playing career. He recently resigned of the Lakers’ president of basketball operations.