The 1984 NBA Finals: The First Bird-Magic Battle In The Pros

It had been five years since Larry Bird and Magic Johnson changed the landscape of college basketball with their battle at the 1979 NCAA championship game. Even though both stars had immediately made their mark on the NBA in the ensuing four years—two titles and two Finals MVP for Magic, and one crown for Bird—they had yet to meet again for a championship. The 1984 NBA Finals changed all that.

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Bird’s Celtics and Magic’s Lakers had each been the best in their respective conferences all season long. Bird averaged 24 points/10 rebounds/6 assists and won the MVP. Magic averaged 17 points/12 assists. Bird was surrounded by a deep front line, with Robert Parish, Kevin McHale and Cedric Maxwell. Magic was one of seven Lakers to average in double figures, led by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar with 24 ppg. They were on a collision course.

Boston did not look sharp in the conference playoffs, playing a couple shaky games in getting past Washington and requiring a seventh game to eliminate the New York Knicks in the second round. Bird had a 39/12/10 day in the 121-104 win to finally eliminate New York and the Celts got on their game to roll through the Milwaukee Bucks in the conference finals.

Los Angeles blasted through the Kansas City Kings and Dallas Mavericks, and not until they were up 3-1 in the conference finals against the Phoenix Suns was there a hiccup. The Lakers lost Game 5 at home, and needed a 16/13/11 triple-double from Magic to pull out Game 6.

The 1984 NBA Finals would become one of the best in the modern era, but it could have easily turned into a Los Angeles sweep. The Lakers got 32 from Kareem to win Game 1 in Boston Garden. They were ahead by a basket with 18 seconds left in Game 2 when an errant pass from second-year player James Worthy let the Celtics tie, and then Magic dribbled out the clock without taking a shot. Boston won in overtime.

After Los Angeles obliterated Boston by 33 points in Game 3, they were in command of Game 4. At that point, McHale put a hard foul on Los Angeles’ fast-breaking Kurt Rambis and the momentum started to turn. Bird slapped up a 29/21 game, the Lakers coughed up a five point lead with a minute left and the Celtics again won in overtime.

Bird led the way as Boston finally started to play better. Larry Legend had 34/17, as the Celtics pulled away in the second half of Game 5. They were then ahead by four on the road in Game 6, before Kareem’s 30/10 night kept the Lakers alive.

In Game 7, the Celtics outscored the Lakers from the line 43-18 and Maxwell had 24, but Los Angeles had cut an 11-point lead to three in the final minute. Magic turned it over, and the Celtics secured the championship.

Bird’s 27 points/14 rebounds average in the 1984 NBA Finals won him series MVP honors. For the Lakers, the poor execution at the end of Games 2 & 4 led to a long offseason where they branded as the “LA Fakers.” As for Larry Legend, he finally had his revenge over Magic.