During the 1979 NBA draft, the Los Angeles Lakers selected Earvin “Magic” Johnson (Michigan State), making him the No.1 overall pick in the draft. The organization felt that Magic was the missing piece of the puzzle needed to bring banners back to Los Angeles.
Previously during the 1978 NBA draft, Larry Bird (Indiana State) was selected by the Boston Celtics with the sixth overall pick. He chose not to sign with them immediately and played out his final season at ISU. This decision by Bird helped to transcend the game of basketball collegiately and professionally. What if Bird would have decided to enter the NBA during the 1978-79 season? There would’ve never been the Magic vs Bird matchup in the 1979 NCAA finals. This matchup carried over into the NBA, producing the heated Celtics/Lakers rivalry during the 1980s.
Beginning with the 1980-81 NBA season, a collegiate basketball player would have to renounce his college eligibility and declare his intentions before entering the draft. This rule became known as the Bird Collegiate Rule.
On May 16, 1980, the Los Angeles Lakers led by 6-9 point guard, Earvin “Magic” Johnson won their 7th NBA title. The Lakers defeated the Philadelphia 76ers 4-2 in the best-of-seven series and Magic became the first rookie to be named MVP in NBA finals history. During Game 6 of the finals, he started at center in place of the injured Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Magic scored 42 points, grabbed 15 rebounds and dished out 7 assists. This amazing finals performance is still regarded as one of the best in NBA history.
Although Magic had veteran players present upon his arrival in Los Angeles, including Kareem Abdul-Jabber and Jamaal Wilkes, he immediately became their floor leader throughout the 1980s, leading them to 5 NBA titles.
Also during the 1980s, Larry Bird led the Celtics to 3 NBA titles making him an icon in Beantown. In 1981, Cedric “Cornbread” Maxwell was the MVP for the Boston Celtics during their NBA finals victory over the Houston Rockets, but it was clearly evident that Larry Bird, Robert Parrish, and Kevin McHale formed the nucleus of that franchise!
Although many have crowned Michael Jordan as the greatest basketball player of all-time, it was Magic along with Bird that saved the NBA back in the 1980s. Where would the NBA be without the heated Celtics/Lakers rivalry? Jordan (University of North Carolina) entered the league in 1984 as the third overall pick selected by the Chicago Bulls in the NBA draft. During the 1990s, he led the Bulls to 6 NBA titles and along with his numerous endorsement deals became a global icon.
During the prime of Magic and Bird’s careers, the NBA was covered more by live radio broadcasts than live television coverage. Even Magic’s 42/15/7 Game 6 heroics in 1980 was tape delayed. Thank God the NBA and CBS ended this practice in 1986!
Even without the lack of television coverage, Magic and Bird would forever change the landscape of the NBA. The league was entering the era of cable television and with the advancement of technology, basketball fans cried out for more live TV coverage.
Although "Air Jordan" benefitted far more commercially than Magic and Bird from the globalization of the NBA, all three, should always be regarded as global icons that rescued a once, struggling organization.