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Magic Johnson and Larry Bird go together like peanut butter and jelly…that is if your peanut butter used to have an intense dislike for your jelly (and vice versa), but after they both made some of the greatest sandwiches in the history of sandwiches, they reconciled their differences and spent the remainder of their lives collaborating on lunches that pleased both PB&J eaters and non-eaters alike.
That’s a long, ridiculous way of saying that Magic and Larry will be tied together for the remainder of time, and justifiably so.
As the two defined an entire era of professional basketball, it’s little surprise that plenty has been written about their impact on the game, their personal rivalry, their teams’ on-court battles, and their friendship. Here, in chronological order are some of our favorite books that delve into the lives and history of Johnson, Bird, the Los Angeles Lakers, and the Boston Celtics.
The Scoop: Larry Legend gets real about his childhood in tiny French Lick, Indiana, his father’s alcoholism, and three magical Celtics championship runs.
A Little Snippet: On high school stardom: “The first time I get the ball, I launch it from about twenty feet out, and it goes in. The crowd goes absolutely crazy while I’m passing everywhere, rebounding, and sinking all my shots. Near the end of the game, we are only down by one point when I get a rebound and somebody fouls me. I go to the free throw line and try to pretend it’s 6 A.M. in the gym back home and these are just two of the five hundred free throws that I shoot every morning. Swish! Both shots are good, and we win the game by one point. Pandemonium!”
A Review: Publishers Weekly: “The narrative is more concerned with Bird’s teammates than with the motivations in his life and though the personal aspects are treated forthrightly, depth and introspection are not among the book’s strengths. However, even the brief suggestions of the inner Bird make the book worth reading.”
Our Verdict: A decent, if not paint-by-numbers basketball autobio.
The Scoop: A memoir detailing Magic’s childhood, his tenure at Michigan State, his ups and downs with the Lakers, and how he handled his case of HIV.
A Little Snippet: On Pat Riley’s coaching style: “I always enjoyed myself in practices, but that doesn’t mean I screwed around. Nobody did. ‘Basketball is business,’ Riley would say. ‘If you want to have fun, go to the YMCA.’”
A Review: New York Newsday: “An emotional phenomenon. Of particularly interest to fans will be the evolution of Johnson’s relationship with Bird, his great karmic partner in the game.”
Our Verdict: More meat than your average athlete memoir.
The Scoop: The title sums it up nicely: A Bill Simmons-ian look at The Association.
A Little Snippet: On his favorite Larry Bird moments: “[There was] the time he the sprang for 60 as Atlanta’s scrubs exchanged high fives on the bench, or the time he dropped 42 on Dr. J. in less than three quarters, frustrating Doc to the point that they started strangling each other at midcourt.”
A Review: New York Times: “One of those literary lollapaloozas that Simmons’s fans must buy.”
Our Verdict: Yeah, it clocks in at over 700 pages, but you’ll very much enjoy the month you spend with it.
The Scoop: A first-person deep dive into the lives and careers of the two Hall of Fame frenemies.
A Little Snippet: On their respective work ethic: “From the start, the blond white kid in French Lick and the gangly African American from Lansing exhibited unusually disciplined work habits. While other boys were playing stickball, riding bikes, sipping soda down at the drugstore, or lounging in the nearest swimming hole, Bird and Magic were on the court, outlasting whoever had joined them that morning to shoot a few hoops.’”
A Review: Bill Walton: “This epic tome is the capstone of their landmark careers. It is also so much more than anyone could ever dream for. When the Game Was Ours brilliantly explains why ‘The Game’ will always belong to Larry and Magic.”
Our Verdict: Reads a tad clunkily at points, but nonetheless, the definitive representation of the Bird/Magic relationship.
The Scoop: A very in-depth look at the 1992 United States Men’s National Basketball Team.
A Little Snippet: On the Dream Team’s aura: “It couldn’t have been scripted any better. And when the Dreamers finally released all that star power into a collective effort, the show was better than everyone thought it would be. They were Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison, the Allman Brothers at Fillmore East, Santana at Woodstock. ‘If it would’ve happened today,’ says Larry Bird, ‘it would’ve been one of those reality shows.’”
A Review: Boston Globe: “The absolute definitive work on the subject, a perfectly wonderful once-you-pick-it-up-you-won’t-be-able-to-put-it-down book.”
Our Verdict: Unquestionably one of the finest basketball books of the 21st Century.
The Scoop: Veteran sportswriter gets down and dirty with the mercurial Lake Show.
A Little Snippet: On Magic’s NBA Draft journey: “The last place [Johnson] wanted to go was Chicago, what with its awful winters (he was never one for snow), and perennially dreadful basketball teams. The Bulls played in dumpy Chicago Stadium, and put forth an uninspired roster highlighted by the likes of Andre Wakefield and Wilbur Holland. Los Angeles, meanwhile, was but a dream to Johnson, who rightly envisioned a paradise of palm trees and 80-degree days and gorgeous women in wallet-sized bikinis. Had the coin landed heads, Johnson would have returned to Michigan State for his junior season.”
A Review: Sports Illustrated: “Pearlman is an indefatigable reporter, and here he provides an all-access pass to one of the game’s greatest dynasties, with tales of Kareem, Magic, Riley and Jerry Buss in their heyday. It’s a book any NBA fan—any sports fan—will devour, likely in one or two sittings.”
Our Verdict: Johnson and his teammates offer honest assessments of the Lakers ups and downs, making it a gotsta-read material for Magic-ologists.