Sunday, September 27, 2015

When The Game Was Ours by Larry Bird and Earvin Johnson Jr.

Eight NBA championships.  Six MVP awards. These are just two of the statistics that tell the story of the rivalry between Larry Bird and Earvin Johnson, Jr (Magic Johnson). Their relationship, starting with their college careers, is often credited with saving the NBA, which was riddled with drug issues and low attendance when the two entered it.  They battled each other for titles, for the best statistics and always kept an eye on what each other was doing.  They started as enemies but over the years developed a friendship that became close.

This book, written with extensive background help from Bird and Johnson, covers all aspects of the two men's careers.  It talks about the similarities in their upbringing as each came from large families where money was scarce and a work ethic was a given.  It follows their college recruitment stories and then covers their college careers and relationships with their college coaches.

Once the two entered the NBA the same year, they quickly had impacts on their teams.  Each was a team leader; Bird more by example and setting high expectations; Johnson more by his positive personality and desire to build everyone up.  Regardless of who they were playing, each had one goal every year.  They wanted to get back to the NBA championship and they wanted to play each other.

The championship series the two played together are covered extensively, with almost a play by play action.  The team relationships and strategies that the fan usually never sees are explored.  More than anything, the incredible drive and passion each player had is explained.  Raw talent is never enough.  In every field, the stars are not just full of talent.  They are driven to work more, to practice more, to constantly find new ways to shine at their chosen field.  Bird and Magic both did that.  They were touted as opposites, Magic was outgoing, Bird introverted; Magic was Showtime while Bird was old school fundamentals, one was black and one was white.  Yet they were more alike than different in their love of the game and their determination to excel.  They made each other better by their constant striving to outdo each other.  Many sports writers feel that this was one of Michael Jordan's only weaknesses; that there was no one consistent player for him to strive against during his time as basketball's greatest player.

Over the years, their rivalry started to turn into a friendship.  By the time Magic's HIV diagnosis caused his early retirement, Bird was one of the first people who was told.  They grew to make commercials together, go to awards shows together and keep each other updated on their lives.  Each asked that the other be a major speaker at their retirement ceremony, and Magic even had Bird present him when he became a Hall Of Fame recipient.

I've been reading sports biographies lately.  I've always been a sports fan so I remember most of the games and secondary individuals discussed.  Just the other night I was watching a NBA championship game between the Chicago Bulls and the Seattle team from 1996.  My son commented that he doesn't know anyone else who can get so worked up about a twenty year old game even making comments to the players about their performances.  I love sports and the personality components it demonstrates.  This book is recommended for other sports fans who will be entranced at this inside look at one of the greatest rivalries in NBA history.

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