MIKE BURKE

Allegany Communications Sports

It was a very appropriate touch made by the NBA last week when it announced the Most Valuable Player awards in the Eastern Conference finals and the Western Conference finals would, effective immediately, be the Larry Bird and Earvin “Magic” Johnson MVP awards respectively.

In addition, the Eastern and Western Conference championship awards have been named for Bob Cousy and Oscar Robertson respectively.

I understand the ESPN generation and many of the dimwitted hosts of their inane daytime talk shows do not acknowledge the existence of Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Cousy, Robertson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Jerry West, Julius Erving et al, who merely made the NBA. Time more or less begins with Michael Jordan with these jaspers, because his highlights were on SportsCenter.

What these people fail to understand is there would have been no Michael Jordan highlights on SportsCenter had Larry Bird of the Boston Celtics and Magic Johnson of the Los Angeles Lakers not come along, because the NBA Finals at that time were not even on live television. The CBS affiliates that chose to show them at all aired them tape-delay after the local 11 o’clock news.

Trust me on this. I was there.

But when Bird and Magic brought their new rivalry, which began in the 1979 NCAA Championship Game between Indiana State (Bird) and Michigan State (Magic), to the NBA, things changed almost immediately.

No need to get into Bird’s three NBA titles and Magic’s five. No need to talk about their MVP awards, their stats, their never-before-seen skills or their personal accolades. No need to even talk about some of their greatest plays that, truthfully, were on SportsCenter as the technology and satellites improved, as the first SportsCenter aired in September of 1979. Though it was nothing then like it would soon explode into being.

No, no need to bore anybody here with numbers. They’re easily enough found on the internet, though they are well worth exploring.

No, what you talk about with Larry Bird and Earvin “Magic” Johnson is they both, together, saved the NBA.

Saved the NBA. Fact.

Their presence and their sense of team completely revived the two winningest and most important franchises in NBA history, the Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers, and returned those team rivalries back to the top of the three best in sports, along with Yankees-Red Sox and Duke-North Carolina.

Bird and Magic formed the greatest one-on-one rivalry since Russell and Wilt, and soon made it the trademark personal rivalry in professional sports history.

They made even the most casual of basketball fans make the NBA appointment TV in their lives.

The two of them put the NBA back on live television, then prime-time television and remade it into being what it remains today, which is to say a global entity that is stronger than ever and growing even stronger every day, as the NBA has long been the most progressively-thinking sports league in the world.

There is no TNT pre-game, halftime or post-game show (which I never miss) without Bird and Magic. There is no Chuck, Shaq and Kenny the Jet without Bird and Magic. There would have been no Jordan Rules to the point that it reached without Bird and Magic, and (egads!) there would not be the silly action-figure LeBron mania that exists today without Bird and Magic.

Which just goes to show you, nothing is perfect.

Naturally, there was outcry and empty rage voiced from the millennials over the NBA’s latest announcement, who are of the mind that even Jordan was prehistoric, and that the Eastern Conference finals MVP award should be named after James rather than Bird, which is so utterly plastic and mindless because they believe everything should be named for James.

LeBron is great for his time. He is frighteningly talented and driven. I find him rather likeable and respect him personally. His social conscience is admirable and he’s a great player. But he’s not here if not for Russell, Wilt, Oscar, West, Kareem, Dr. J or many others who took professional basketball out of cold, dank civic centers and college gyms and put it into state-funded arenas and on national television and every world-wide media and social media outlet of every kind.

Yet when the baton was dropped in the late 1970s, Larry Bird and Earvin “Magic” Johnson picked it up in the early 1980s and lifted the NBA to heights never imagined or realized by any professional sports league that will never be equaled again.

The NBA did a very nice thing with the Larry Bird and Magic Johnson conference finals MVP awards, and the NBA did the right thing.

Well done. Once again.

Mike Burke writes about sports and other stuff for Allegany Communications. He began covering sports for the Prince George’s Sentinel in 1981 and joined the Cumberland Times-News sports staff in 1984, serving as sports editor for over 30 years. Contact him at [email protected] and [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @MikeBurkeMDT