Two of the most recognizable names in the National Basketball Association, Larry Bird and Earvin “Magic” Johnson, will live on in league history. The NBA recently announced two new trophies named for these legendary players. Learn more about the Larry Bird/Magic Johnson awards and why the league chose these two individuals to name new trophies after.
Who Is Larry Bird?
Larry Joe Bird played in the NBA for 13 years as a small forward/power forward. In his early years, Bird played for three seasons at Indiana State University before being drafted by the Boston Celtics. He was the sixth overall pick in the 1978 NBA Draft, but he decided to remain at Indiana State for another season. Bird led the Sycamores to an undefeated season that year, which culminated in an appearance in the national championship game. During this game, the team faced Michigan State, where Earvin Johnson played.
Although Bird’s team fell to the Spartans, he entered the NBA in the 1979-1980 season, where his presence had an immediate positive impact on the Celtics. Throughout his 13 seasons in the NBA, he remained with the Celtics, and the team played in the NBA Finals five times. The Celtics also won three NBA championships during this time. Bird won the NBA Finals MVP award twice, NBA MVP award three consecutive times, and was named as an All-Star 12 times during his career.
Bird decided to retire after experiencing a compressed nerve root in his back that made it difficult for him to play. During the off-season before his final year in the league, he had disc removal surgery, but he still struggled with pain that forced him to miss 37 games of the 1991-1992 season. When the Celtics faced the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference semifinals, Bird missed four of the seven games. At the end of that season, he announced his retirement. The Celtics immediately retired number 33, which Bird wore throughout his career.
Fox Sports named Bird the greatest NBA small forward of all time in 2016. After his retirement, he became Coach Larry Bird, taking over as the head coach of the Indiana Pacers in 1997. He remained in that position for three seasons, leading the Pacers to the NBA Finals in 2000 and earning the NBA Coach of the Year award during his tenure. Bird later served as the president of basketball operations for the Pacers two different times.
Bird is currently the only player in league history to earn all of the following awards:
- Rookie of the Year
- All-Star MVP
- NBA MVP
- NBA Finals MVP
- Coach of the Year
- Executive of the Year
Who Is Earvin “Magic” Johnson?
Earvin “Magic” Johnson also played in the NBA for 13 seasons and entered the league in the 1979 NBA Draft. Johnson hailed from Lansing, Michigan, and sought a career in basketball from an early age. Both his parents played basketball in their early years. While playing at Everett High School, Johnson got his nickname after recording a triple-double with 18 rebounds, 36 points, and 16 assists. A writer for the local newspaper referred to him as “Magic” and the name stuck, despite the fact that his religious mother believed it to be sacrilegious.
Johnson played for Michigan State, averaging 17 points and nearly eight rebounds per game during his freshman season. He spent two years at Michigan State before being drafted by the Los Angeles Lakers as the first overall pick. He expressed his excitement about playing alongside Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, a 7-foot-2-inch center who later became the leading scorer in league history. During Johnson’s first year with the Lakers, the team reached the NBA Finals, and he was the first rookie to win the NBA Finals MVP award.
While undergoing a routine physical before the start of the 1991-1992 season, Johnson found out that he had HIV. He retired immediately, although fans voted for him to play as a starter in the 1992 NBA All-Star Game. Despite some controversy, he played in the All-Star game and was named the All-Star MVP. He also played on the “Dream Team,” a nickname given to the U.S. national basketball team during the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, Spain. Johnson planned to return to the NBA for the 1992-1993 season but ultimately remained in retirement for another few years.
When the 1993-1994 season was nearly over, Johnson became the head coach of the Lakers at the request of the team’s owner, Jerry Buss. Five of his former teammates played on the team, and Johnson resigned from this position at the end of the season. In an effort to fight the effects of HIV, he worked out aggressively and rejoined the Lakers as a player in January 1996. He played during that season but retired a third and final time.
He later formed the Magic Johnson All-Stars, an exhibition team that featured former college and NBA players. The team toured in the United States, facing teams in the Continental Basketball Association (CBA), as well as in Australia, Japan, Israel, Europe, South America, and New Zealand. Johnson played on that team, recording impressive numbers for several years. He briefly played for the M7 Boras, a Swedish basketball team, and the Great Danes, a Danish basketball team.
Johnson has long been an advocate for HIV/AIDS prevention. He wrote a book about his HIV-positive status and started the Magic Johnson Foundation, which focuses on developing programs to address the social, health, and educational needs of diverse and urban communities. Many fans of the sport credit Johnson with the introduction of showtime-style basketball, which included no-look passes and jaw-dropping alley-oop passes from half-court, among other flashy plays. During his years in the NBA, he was named:
- NBA MVP (three times)
- NBA Champion (five times as a player, five times as an executive/owner)
- NBA Finals MVP (three times)
- NBA All-Star (12 times)
The Lakers retired his jersey number 32 and honored him with a statue in front of the home arena.
About the New Awards
It’s clear that both Johnson and Bird had a significant effect on the game. In 2022, the league announced two new trophies for the MVPs of the Eastern and Western Conference Finals. Prior to the 2021-2022 season, the NBA only named one MVP in the NBA Finals, so the unveiling of these two new awards marked a significant change. The Eastern Conference Finals MVP will win the Larry Bird trophy and the Western Conference Finals MVP will win the Magic Johnson trophy.
Mark Tatum, NBA chief operating officer and deputy commissioner, shared the news about the awards through the league’s official Twitter account. Bird immediately responded to the announcement with a joke referencing the rivalry between the two players, stating that he wished he could win the Magic Johnson trophy. He later shared his excitement with his own followers, where he included an image of the unique trophy.
NBA artist Victor Solomon designed both trophies, which were handcrafted by Tiffany & Co. in the Hollowware shop located in Rhode Island. The base of the trophy is gold and features a net pattern, while the top showcases and pearl-white basketball suspended about the gold base.
About the Magic Johnson/Larry Bird Rivalry
After the two star players faced one another in the NCAA National Championship, Johnson and Bird entered the NBA during the same draft, with Johnson headed to Los Angeles and Bird headed to Boston. The NBA’s head of brand and on-court partnerships, Christopher Arena, summed up the rivalry when he referred to the bicoastal relationship between the two and how their aggressive styles of play reignited a rivalry between the Lakers and Celtics.
In 1984, the rivalry reached new heights when the players faced each other in the NBA Finals. Bird’s previous coach, Bill Fitch, referred to Bird as the best player in the league, specifically calling him out as a better player than Johnson. Even the general manager of the Lakers at the time compared the two and referred to Bird as a “genius on the basketball floor.” These comments fueled the rivalry, encouraging both players to continue to play at high levels and lead their respective teams to success.
Despite the rivalry, Johnson and Bird were named co-captains of the 1992 Olympic Dream Team and played together well. They remain good friends and have each served in executive and ownership roles for various teams in the league. Johnson has emphasized that Bird was one of the first to call him after announcing his HIV-positive status.
Larry Bird and Magic Johnson are undoubtedly two of the best players in NBA history. Both are honored in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame and were named to the NBA 75th Anniversary Team in October 2021. Fans of these stars can find officially licensed sports apparel, sports collectibles, and memorabilia that honors them at Fanatics. The collection includes a range of options that spans all leagues and players from the early days to today. Check out the collection of sports-themed gear and shop now.