“Larry Legend” played his entire 13-year career with the Boston Celtics, and his rivalry with Los Angeles Lakers guard Earvin “Magic” Johnson catapulted the league to new heights. Bird’s sharp shooting, pinpoint passing and rugged rebounding helped the Celtics win NBA titles in 1981, 1984 and 1986. He won three straight league MVP awards from 1984 to 1986 — no one has won three in a row since. He was rookie of the year in 1980, All-Star MVP in 1982 and Finals MVP in 1984 and 1986. At 6-foot-9, he was one of the first players of his size to take advantage of the 3-point line. He was the 3-point contest champion three times. He was elected to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1998.
The high-flying “Dr. J” was the ABA’s brightest star before the merger, and he dominated the NBA, too. He was the NBA MVP for the Philadelphia 76ers in 1981, becoming the only player to be capture MVP honors in both leagues. His 76ers lost to the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA Finals in 1980 and 1982 before breaking through and sweeping them in 1983. Erving was the All-Star Game MVP in 1983. Before his 1980s accomplishments, he was ABA MVP three times and won the ABA Slam Dunk Contest in 1976. In the two leagues, he was an All-Star a combined 16 times. He was elected to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1993.
EARVIN “MAGIC” JOHNSON
The flashy point guard with the megawatt smile made the “Showtime” Los Angeles Lakers go. During the decade, he was a five-time NBA champion, three-time league MVP and three-time Finals MVP. He led the league in assists four times and in steals twice in the ’80s. At 6-9, he could do everything on the floor. In 1980, he played center in a title-clinching win over the Philadelphia 76ers, finishing with 42 points, 15 rebounds and seven assists. He was best known for his fancy passes that fueled the Lakers’ relentless fast break, and he retired as the league’s all-time assists leader. He was elected to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2002.
Many remember Jordan for his title runs in the 1990s. But his footprints are all over the 1980s, too. He was rookie of the year in 1985 — the same year his Air Jordan shoes were first released to the public. His 1988 season was one of the best of all time — he won the scoring title by averaging 35 points per game and was named league MVP, defensive player of the year, All-Star Game MVP and Slam Dunk champion. He won three of his 10 scoring titles in the decade. He was elected to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2009.
Malone ranks among the best players who went straight from high school into pro basketball. The 6-9 post player was a dominant inside force who won three MVP awards, including back-to-back honors in 1982 for the Houston Rockets and 1983 for the Philadelphia 76ers. He led the Rockets to the Finals in 1981, then won an NBA title and was Finals MVP in 1983 when he helped 76ers knock off the Los Angeles Lakers. He led the league in rebounding six times. When he retired, he was the NBA’s all-time leader in made free throws. He was elected to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2001. He died in 2015.
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