Magic and Bird

My bro-in-law cracked out this hoops documentary from HBO Sports during a family vacation one night. It’s a tearjerker; I didn’t expect that man. I outlasted everybody and thankfully I was alone when the HIV portion of the story came on. It made me sad. I remember where I was when Magic made the HIV announcement, that’s how big he was in my life.

Magic and Bird were influential because they reigned from 1979–1992, my formative years, when I was between 12 and 25 (when the male species is at the peak of his sports fandom). I never liked either the Lakers or the Celtics, hated them in fact, but I couldn’t help but notice them. These guys cast a huge shadow over the NBA and over my beloved Cleveland Cavaliers (only to be surpassed by the shadow Jordan cast over the Cavs).

Basketball, the NBA, Bird and Magic, Dr. J and Moses Malone, and the Cavs comprise the root structure of my love for sports. The joy I felt this Saturday morning watching the Men’s Bicycle Road Race in the Olympics may not have been so joyful had Magic and Bird not clashed in the NCAA final in 1979. Had these two men been born decades apart, I may have been reading the newspaper or working instead of watching sports.

This love of sports; it’s their fault. They are to blame.

We have some real sports issues in this country. Our athletes, and coaches, and managers, and owners, and administrators, mostly just lie, cheat, and steal. That I continue to consume this crap in such massive quantities is such a horrible statement on my life that I’m kind of embarrassed. I can’t help myself though. You can understand why I do it when you consider Earvin and Larry. They did things right.

Did Magic and Bird lie? Yeah, probably. Did they cheat and steal? Never. Never.

The fans were the biggest winners from the Bird/Magic years. These guys had a love for the game and respect for competition that is unheard of in this day and age. Don’t get me wrong, I love the NBA now and I think it’s in great hands, but there is nothing like Bird and Magic – no rivalry as big, no interviews as honest, no stories as compelling.

Were they the best ever? No. Jordan was better than both for sure. LeBron could certainly shut both of them down. Who cares. The greatness of Magic and Bird transcended speed, agility, court savvy, and skill. This documentary captured that beautifully.

Bryant Gumbel, Arsenio Hall, Cedric Maxwell, and a pack of newspaper columnists discuss this rivalry and its impact on basketball and on American culture. The story was uplifting at times and gut-wrenching at others. Mostly uplifting. Magic is just an unstoppable positive force of nature. He’s like this huge tornado of optimism and good cheer that squashes anything negative or salty in its path. Bird is the complete opposite; private, quiet, surly.

The most emotional aspects of the show were when Bird was talking about Magic. The interview with Bird shortly after the HIV announcement was one of the most honest and heartfelt interviews I’ve ever heard. And near the end, during the Dream Team segment, when Larry talked about how different he is from Earvin, and how sometimes he’d like to be more like Magic, it was genuine and sincere. If you don’t get a little choked up you aren’t human.

Dammit, Larry Bird had to shorten his career because he hurt his back shoveling gravel while putting in a driveway at his mother’s house. Earvin Johnson had to shorten his career to concentrate on beating the AIDS virus. But that wasn’t the end. These guys are still killing it.

This was almost as compelling as The Fab Five. Damn close.