Mark’s #40 – When the Game Was Ours by Larry Bird and Earvin Johnson (368 pages)

If you’re a fan of the NBA (as I am), then this would be a good book to read for you to learn how and why the NBA is so popular today.  If you’re a fan of either the Lakers (as I am) or Celtics, then this is a must read.

When the Game Was Ours traces the rise of two of the greatest players in NBA history – Bird and Magic.  Though their personalities were different, (with Magic being the outspoken man with the smile that fills a room, and Bird being the introverted, beer drinking, poor kid from French Lick, Indiana) both men shared a passion and dedication for the game of basketball that may be only matched by two other great NBA players in history – Michael Jordan, and Kobe Bryant.

These two rivals began squaring off and pushing one another to greatness from their early days in College. In 1979 they met in the NCAA championship game, where Magic got the best of Bird and a championship for his Michigan State team.   The following year, both men went to the NBA.

This book was not only a biography of these two men, it was also a personal journey down memory lane for me.  As a child of the 80’s (born in 1975), my earliest memories of basketball revolve around loving the lakers and hating the celtics.  As games and events were retold, I found myself reaching back into my own childhood memories of these events

By the end of the 80’s, Magic Johnson would win five NBA Championships to Bird’s three NBA Championships (yes! Lakers!).

Beyond the games, shots made and missed, and the epic battles, this book was a great inside look at the men and their lives.   I was once again impressed with their competitive spirit, passion, and commitment to excellence that is so rare today, save Kobe of course.  These men hated losing, and thus they despised, yet respected their biggest rival.

Larry and Magic are also almost exclusively responsible for resurrecting the NBA, which was suffering from low ratings and a bad public image before their arrival.

The other thing that is perhaps most impressive about both men is their ability to dominate and control the game while only taking 8-10 shots – something Jordan could never do.  Larry and Magic were the consummate team players.  If it had not been for their rivalry, they each could have one 7-8 championships (Jordan had no real rival in the 90’s)

Perhaps the most engaging part of the book was the detailing of Magic’s HIV virus, it’s impact on him, the game and really the world.  Magic has been a great catalyst in the world to bring about HIV education and public knowledge.  Unfortunately for him, and for the Lakers, when he reported this to the world, the ignorance of the other players, and even his teammates forced him out of the game he loved.  A year later he tried to make a comback, but during a preseason game he got scratched on his arm and started bleeding.  The crowd went silent, and the opposing team did not want to go back on the court. Saddened, Johnson was forced to retire again… Five years later he made one more comeback at the age of 35…Unfortunately, his younger attention hungry teammates did not embrace him well… he played only a dozen games before the end of the season before he retired.

I believe Magic Johnson is the best and most complete basketball player of all time… and this book only helped to confirm that conviction.

Let me conclude with just one stat line from one game:

Game  6 1980 Finals versus the 76’rs (as a rookie filling in at center for the injured Kareem Abdul Jabbar):  45 points, 15 Rebounds, and 7 Assists.

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