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The Two and Only
Bob Ryan
December 14, 1992
During their glorious 13-year rivalry, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson measured themselves by one standard: each other
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December 14, 1992

The Two And Only

During their glorious 13-year rivalry, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson measured themselves by one standard: each other

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"People who saw our games against each other saw some of the best basketball ever played," Magic says. "That's why the Olympics meant so much to me. I had always fantasized about us playing together. For it to happen meant more to me than anything else I've ever done."

Their spiritual bond had become unbreakable. Each could do things only the other could truly appreciate. "It's what Michael Jordan is missing now," Magic says. "He knows he has no one to measure himself against. Larry and I always had each other. Athletes live to get so up that they can't sleep for two or three days before a competition. Nobody did that to me except Larry Bird. The only time in my life I've ever been scared about a game was the NCAA final and those Celtic games. After God and my father, I respect Larry Bird more than anyone."

Bird says, "I have always looked up to him because he knows how to win. I've always put him a step ahead of me. But we think the same way about basketball."

"Maybe it's appropriate that they go out together after all," says Riley. "Why not? They'll always be linked. They were just smarter than the other players in the league. Spiritually. Mentally. I think of four words to describe them: Respect. Dignity. Integrity. Trust. That's over and above the skills."

Those skills are preserved on videotape for all time. Bird with an arcing step-back jumper a foot behind the three-point line. Magic driving the lane and leaving a perfect drop pass for Abdul-Jabbar. Bird, in the air for a jumper, suddenly snapping off a bullet past one defender's ear and another's flailing hand and hitting McHale underneath the basket for an easy two. Magic snatching a rebound in traffic and going coast to coast, splitting the final two defenders as only he could.

They were the only members of an exclusive fraternity. "We weren't about stats," says Magic. "We were about winning."

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