Magic and Bird: The Past On the Present

By J.A. Adande

Despite the tone the title of their new book, “When the Game Was Ours” might indicate, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson are not a couple of grumpy old men who think the NBA might as well have folded after they retired.

In a promotional conference call Monday, Bird said, “It seems like they’re stronger and bigger than we were, they hit the weight room. You have your great players and your mediocre players. It really hasn’t changed. I just think the NBA’s awesome and I think it’s going to continue to get better.”

Johnson said, “The league is in good hands. I’m so happy that we’ve moved away from those scoring point guards, that we’ve got point guards that distribute the basketball.”

One difference stands out: the new rules that limit hand-checking.

“You know how many points Larry Bird would average without people putting their hands on him?” Johnson said. “What Michael [Jordan] could do without what the Pistons used to do with Michael back then? Larry Bird, he was unstoppable with all of that. Just think of what he would be with some of the rule changes they‘ve got now. We would still be talking about the records he held.”

They sure aren’t going to bemoan any lack of civility between opponents. Not when the book (which was co-written by Jackie MacMullan) contains page after page detailing how much the Lakers and Celtics despised each other in the 1980s. So they didn’t harp on LeBron James walking off the court without shaking hands after the Orlando Magic beat his Cleveland Cavaliers in the playoffs.

“I can remember when I played, I wouldn’t shake anybody’s hands after a loss,” Bird said.

Said Johnson: “The Celtics and Lakers, we never shook anybody’s hands.”