On This Day In Sports: Larry Bird Wins 1980 NBA Rookie of Year Award

It was on this day in 1980 that the seeds for the greatest NBA rivalry in history were planted and the desire inside of Magic Johnson was further elevated by a tall, white kid from French Lick, Indiana named Larry Bird.

Bird was awarded the NBA Rookie of the Year, beating out Johnson and avenging a loss he had to the Magic Man in the 1979 NCAA Championship, when Magics Michigan State Spartans team defeated Birds underdog Indiana State squad. 

While Magic was able to capture the pinnacle of team success, Bird beat him out for the John R. Wooden Award and Naismith College Player of the Year honors. 

It was the first battle of many for the two inconic stars, whose relationship and rivalry drove the NBA to new heights and a next level of visibility and marketing success in the 1980’s. 

Magic Johnson and Larry Bird: A Courtship of Rivals Basketball

Magic & Bird: A Courtship of Rivals is a 2010 television documentary film broadcast on HBO. The film chronicles the rivalry between Magic Johnson and Larry Bird that began with the 1979 NCAA Basketball Championship Game and lasted throughout their lengthy Hall of Fame careers in the NBA.

The Bird-Magic rivalry was heated and captivating on many fronts. The Celtics and Bird ruled the Eastern Conference while Magic and The Lakers ruled the Western Conference. As remarkable as Magic was, him being an African-American was the norm for the NBA.  

Larry Bird being white, and looking totally unathletic at first glance, was more of a novelty, elevated him to folklore status and attracted an entirely different type of NBA fan support as he was the Great White Hope slaying black cats on the court with regularity. 

For almost a decade — before Michael Jordan took over the ’90s and asserted himself as “that guy” — the conversation as to who the NBAs greatest player was became a competition between two guys: Magic and Bird.  

Magic was the No. 1 pick of the 1979 draft by the LA Lakers and his Game 6 1980 NBA Championship series playoff performance as a rookie was one for the ages. With Kareem Abdul-Jabbar home in Los Angeles resting a sprained ankle suffered the game before, Magicjumped center, played every position and piled up 42 points, 15 rebounds and seven assists in a 123-107 victory that clinched the title.

Magic Johnson Plays Center in 1980 Finals

Magic Johnson Plays Center in 1980 Finals

But as was the back and forth nature of their relationship, the two Hall of Famers also battled it out for the NBA Rookie of the Year award and Bird proved to be more popular among the basketball writers as he won the award by averaging 21.3 points, 10.4 rebounds, 4.5 assists, and 1.7 blocks per game during the 1980 season, narrowly edging Magic, who averaged 18.0 points, 7.7 rebounds and 7.3 assists of his own that season.

Here’s a taste of Larry Bird’s 10 Most Lit Career Plays

Larry Bird Top 10 Plays of Career

A countdown of Larry Bird’s Top 10 Available Career Plays. Relive this legendary basketball player’s greatest shots, passes, and steals from his rookie season to retirement. Honorable Mention: 11. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9XripG6KMpI 12. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B6oIC8BZ7_0 —————————————————————————————————————————————————————- About NBA Countdown: NBA Countdown provides opinionated lists of many different NBA Players top plays as well as other lists relating to the NBA or the game of basketball.


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