October 24, 2011

Happy Mon. Some clouds here with a chance of clear. Pink in the southeast. Temp about 28 degrees.

We watched a sports documentary about the rivalry between Larry Bird and Magic Johnson. They were exact contemporaries and the two players who dominated the NBA in the 1980s. They were fierce rivals initially, as in their senior year in college Johnson and MSU beat Bird and Indiana in the NCAA championship game. The next year Bird, with the Celtics, was NBA Rookie of the Year. Johnson with the Lakers faced off against Bird and the Celtics four times (?) in the following years and they split the championships. Bird was MVP three times, Johnson was MVP three times. The two players were opposite personalities. Bird was shy and intensely private. He grew up dirt poor and his father shot himself when Bird was about 12. Johnson was extrovert and loved an audience. He lit up any room he entered. Bird built a house for his mother and lived off-season in rural French Lick, Indiana. Johnson became a Hollywood celebrity, and lived the sybaritic life. On film he discusses visits to the Playboy Mansion and six-on-one sex. There is much talk in the film of the personality split between Earvin Johnson, the regular guy, and Magic Johnson the star, almost like Jeckyll and Hyde. Sometime in the mid-80s Converse tennis shoes got Bird and Johnson to endorse different styles of basketball shoe and had them get together at Bird’s farm to film a commercial. They played basketball one-on-one for fun and ended up hanging out together. Larry’s mom cooked dinner for Earvin, and the two stars became friends.

Bird grew up playing basketball with African-American men in town because they were the best players. They let him play and he got along well with blacks. But many fans saw him as the great white hope, a white guy who could jump and shoot and pass and compete fiercely on the court. Many black players thought Bird was overrated because he was white, but his teammates knew otherwise, and his stats spoke for themselves. Can stats speak? Anyway, when Johnson was diagnosed with HIV, there were many basketball players who said publicly and privately they would never play against him, that he must be gay, etc., and he had to quit the league at the height of his career. Bird called him to ask how he was doing. When Johnson speaks on film about that, he chokes up, because he was finding out who his real friends were. They ended up playing together on the Barcelona Olympics Dream Team, the last team Johnson played on. In the film, both are retired and speak about their careers. After Johnson had to quit the NBA, Bird lost interest in basketball. His main adversary on the court was no longer there. He stopped looking at box scores of Lakers games, which he had done for years to see how Johnson did. He hurt his back shoveling gravel for his mother’s driveway. He retired a couple of seasons later.

In short, I thought I would be watching some good basketball footage—and there is quite a bit of that—but the social history of the times made this an interesting documentary. From Netflix.

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