Everyone loves a great rivalry. For those of us in Indiana, some that immediately come to mind are Indiana University vs. Purdue University, Indianapolis Colts vs. New England Patriots, and Indiana native Larry Bird vs. Magic Johnson. When Bird and Johnson first battled on the court in the late 70’s, they had no idea that their lives would follow similar paths, both of which included adoption.
Larry Bird is considered one of the top 50 NBA players in NBA history. Born near French Lick, Indiana in 1956, Larry didn’t excel at basketball until his senior year in high school when he averaged 30 points and 20 rebounds per game. He initially attended Indiana University to play for Bobby Knight, but was quickly overwhelmed by the size of the school and transferred to Indiana State University where he played for three seasons.
Like Bird, Earvin “Magic” Johnson is also considered one of the top professional basketball players of all time. He was born in Lansing, Michigan in 1959 and was already a basketball superstar at the age of 15 when he earned a triple double for his high school team. Johnson was recruited by several top ranked college teams, but decided to stay in his home state and attend Michigan State University.
In 1979, Larry and the Indiana State Sycamores faced off against Magic and the Michigan State Spartans. In a hard fought game, Magic’s team came out on top, but this was only the beginning of one of the greatest rivalries in basketball history.
Bird and Johnson both entered the NBA draft in 1979, with Bird heading east to the Boston Celtics and Johnson going west to the LA Lakers. Over the next decade, the two would come head to head in the NBA finals in 1984, 1985 and 1987. After years of playing on opposing teams, they ended up on the same bench as they led the Olympic “Dream Team” to victory in the 1992 Summer Olympics.
Although Bird and Johnson were foes on the court for the great majority of their basketball careers, they managed to forge a friendship that stood the test of time. As Bird faced back injuries and Johnson announced his HIV status to the world, the once rivals became a source of support for one another.
Off the court, Bird and Johnson’s lives mirrored one another special way. Larry and Magic both have three children, and both are adoptive fathers. By way of adoption, Bird and his former wife, Dinah, added a son, Conner, and a daughter, Mariah, to their family in the early 90’s. Johnson and his wife, Cookie, adopted their daughter Elisa in 1995.
Currently, Bird and Johnson have a show on Broadway, Magic Bird, detailing their rivalry on the court and their friendship off. Watch the video below to see the pair discuss their similar paths and Broadway show on Late Night With David Letterman.
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