Larry vrs Magic: the great days

30 For 30 must be one of the best programs of its type ever. For those who don’t know, it’s an ESPN program, which basically are in-depth sporting documentaries. What makes it different is the qualities of these shows which often take a different angle to a well-known story or personality, or perhaps take a more intimate perspective. They’re well made, highly intelligent, and far beneath the surface. If you happen across a story you like you find yourself completely immersed in it – this is what happened to me last night.

I happened across last night’s shows. I was doing some random channel switching when it popped up: Celtics vrs Lakers.

I discovered the NBA back in the early eighties. It would be on TV here in Oz late at night and then only the finals. Sitting in a darkened lounge room in suburban Melbourne and watching the feats of unknown basketball stars started off as a novelty. It was strange and foreign and to the teenager I was then pretty dreamy. As the novelty wore off real appreciation grew. I came to know the players and the teams intimately, I found my favourites and cultivated my allegiance. I don’t how or why, but I became a Celtics fan.

Back then if you mentioned Celtics in the next breath would be the Lakers, and vice versa. I can only imagine now, but I reckon I favoured the Celtics because they were the earthy alternative to the flash and glamour of the LA Lakers. I could appreciate the show the Lakers put on, but the Celtics seemed more authentic to me. And, they had Larry Bird.

I loved Larry Bird. He’s probably my favourite basketball player of all time, just ahead of Michael Jordan. I loved him because he was a superstar, and because he was such a damn smart player, and probably loved most because he was so damned unlikely. Here was a tall, gangly, very pale skinned, red haired white guy without any particular athletic gifts who dominated in a league of flashy and explosive athleticism. What he had was his great smarts, an incredible passing game, a pretty good shooting hand, and an unsurpassed competitive edge. He was a leader.

Like the Celtics and Lakers, if you mentioned Larry Bird then Magic Johnson came next. He was Bird’s Laker’s counterpart, and epitomised the differences in the teams. Magic was immensely talented, a great athlete, a happy go lucky, larger than life motor mouth with a great ability to take a game by the scruff of the neck. You had to love Magic. He and Larry came into the game at the same time – a blessing to the sport – and then dominated it for the next 10 years.

The show last night was about that great rivalry, between Celtics and the Lakers, between Bird and Magic, between two different cultures and philosophies.

I loved it. I remembered so much watching it. I could recall moments sitting there watching clutch moments in the key finals series between the two teams. Sport is like that. We interact with it as a spectator and an aficionado, and in so doing it threads its way through the simple day to day of our life. We remember things by the sports we watch, and remember sporting moments by the things we did. They become enmeshed.

This is a two part show and last night I watched the first part before having to go to bed. Tonight I’ll watch the second part which will feature the epic battles between the two sides. Can’t wait to watch.

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