7. Larry Bird
In the late seventies, the Boston Globe posited that professional basketball had “achieved the ultimate and the ultimate appears to have limited appeal.” Evidently, the national-viewing audience agreed with the Globe’s dim assessment. As the decade waned, a myriad of afflictions — valid or otherwise — had taken their toll, and the NBA began fading into obscurity.
Enter rookie sensations Larry Bird and Earvin Magic Johnson, headliners of the historic 1979 NCAA Championship game, who, by divine providence, miraculously revived the NBA’s most-storied rivalry.
The Boston Celtics versus the Showtime Lakers. East versus West. Middle America versus the Pacific Elite. Bird v. Magic. Professional basketball had been saved. Equal parts style and substance, no general brought more elegance to transition basketball than Magic Johnson, and no athlete has ever been more magnanimous — whose angelic brilliance captivated the pacific elite and breathed life into a lethargic Lakers team, on the cusp of relevancy, and transformed it into the dynastic institution that was Showtime.
If basketball can be broadly defined as the confluence of collaboration, vigor, and guile — then Larry Legend enabled the former and excelled in the latter. The magnum opus of Hoosier Hysteria, the Hick from French Lick’s innate disposition — the 6’9 everyman — dissimulated his virtuosic brilliance. In the spirit of Converse’s eponymous marketing campaign, I’ve selected Bird as my weapon of choice.