magic johnson

ESPN ‘Celtics-Lakers’ 30 for 30 doc equates extraordinary black men with less impressive white men

  • There’s a long-running debate among basketball enthusiasts over who was better, Earvin “Magic” Johnson or Larry Bird. 
  • The debate is inseparable from conversations about the NBA during the 1980s — a struggling, racially-polarized league given new life by the rivalry between Johnson, Bird and their respective teams, the Los Angeles Lakers and the Boston Celtics.
  • ESPN charts the feud in a three-part “30 for 30” documentary — Celtics/Lakers: Best of Enemies — the first two episodes of which aired Tuesday night. The film is both nuanced and deliberate in documenting how race factored into the rivalry. 
  • But its conceit is rooted in a fallacy. Johnson, who is black, outmatched Bird by every notable metric — even as fans scrambled for a white foil who could match the Laker star’s brilliance.
  • It’s time to stop placing these men on equal footing, as if Johnson didn’t spend the decade demolishing his white opponent. Bird was a great player. But the '80s belonged to Magic. Read more (Opinion)

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