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Charles Barkley says that 80s legends Larry Bird and Magic Johnson are the most important players in the history of the NBA.
The NBA is unique in its ability to generate talent that somehow is bigger than the league itself. Back in the 60s guys, guys like Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell became household names in households that perhaps did not understand the NBA or the game of basketball. As time went by, a new generation of players took over the mantle of slowly but surely spreading the NBA's gospel across the country.
However, nearly 50-60 years ago, the NBA was not the only premier basketball league in the United States. The ABA for example, was a rival to the NBA and actually had stellar basketball prospects choose them over the latter. The most famous example would be Julius Irving's decision to sign with the ABA rather than the NBA. In all fairness, he did however make his way to the NBA down the line.
With interest in the NBA starting to wane, it saw the arrival of two players that would change the course of history in the NBA forever.
In 1979, both Larry Bird and Magic Johnson entered the league, joining the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers. The following decade in the NBA would be defined by the dominance of these two basketball titans and their respective teams. They would face off in the NBA Finals on multiple occasions, bringing about the narrative of an intense rivalry, generating massive amounts of fan interest.
Charles Barkley recognizes the importance of both Bird and Magic, saying,
"Magic Johnson and Larry Bird are the two most important people in NBA history. If it weren't for those guys, the NBA wouldn't be what it is today."
"Obviously, Michael took it to another level, but I'm old enough to remember, before Magic and Larry got into the NBA, the league was too black, too many drugs. Larry and Magic made the league."