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Book review: 'When the Game Was Ours'

Magic Johnson and Larry Bird are iconic figures in NBA history. Long-time Wizards fans are no strangers to their last-second heroics and impossible shots. Their story (singular, since they will always be tied together) is immensely familiar and has been told many, many times in print and on video.

So 30 years after they entered the NBA and 25 years after their first epic Finals showdown, along comes "When the Game Was Ours," a book by Bird and Johnson co-authored by Jackie MacMullan. The book, out this week, has already drawn headlines for what Johnson said about Isiah Thomas. Many have weighed in on that aspect, including a thoughtful piece by our very own Michael Wilbon.

Putting the juicy publicity aside, what does this book add to the Johnson-Bird conversation? "This is our story, from the two people who lived it," Bird writes in his introductory essay.

This is kind of accurate. The book is actually not written in their voices, though they are prominently involved. Other key figures fill in the blanks (teammates, coaches, family members) and it unfolds like every other story about them, with each chapter covering a major snapshot of their lives. All the battles, college and pro, are chronicled and the famous story behind the making of this Converse commercial -- the day they went from bitter rivals to competitors with a healthy respect/admiration for each other -- is also in there.

Where the book does fulfill its promise is when we see their interactions up close. The chapter titled "November 7, 1991" (the day Johnson announced he was HIV-positive) tells the story of how Johnson broke the news to Bird. We glimpse just how shaken up Bird was, and how much they truly valued each other. It's also nice to learn more about their time playing on the same team in the World Invitational Tournament in 1978, and how that tied into Johnson coaxing Bird into playing on the 1992 Olympic team.

Ultimately, the book doesn't feel like the definitive account that its introductory essays hint at. But for the most part, it's a story told well, and having Bird and Johnson on hand is an asset. And for those of us who came of age watching this time in NBA history, the book serves as a way to reminisce.

By Ed Guzman  |  November 6, 2009; 12:00 PM ET
 | Tags: Magic Johnson; Larry Bird; NBA; Jackie MacMullan; When the Game Was Ours; book review  
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second time first

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