You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Robin Roberts Honored at 2019 NBA Awards

The NBA went Hollywood on Monday night, mixing basketball legends with a star-studded list of presenters including Samuel L. Jackson, Tiffany Haddish and “This Is Us” star Justin Hartley at the 2019 NBA Awards. Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal hosted the third annual award show, which aired live on TNT, kicking things off with a surprise rap performance before honoring the top players in the game. But the spotlight was on Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, famously longtime rivals on the court, who accepted their honor together. “Lifetime achievement award — that means you’ve been around a long time,” Bird quipped onstage, addressing the audience first.

“I think we pushed each other to greatness,” Johnson remarked during his speech, turning to Bird. “I always wanted to be just where you were. Thank you for pushing me and I hope I did the same for you.”

For more than a decade, Johnson and Bird were best-known as two of the NBA’s top talents, true rivals, and the faces of the Los Angeles Lakers and the Boston Celtics. So, the two legends receiving the lifetime achievement award together on Monday night was fitting, as their paths have moved in a parallel way for the entirety of their careers, including playing against each other in college and serving as co-captains of the 1992 Olympics Dream Team (which was inducted into the NBA Hall of Fame in 2010).

“Their careers since college have been so intertwined with each other that, you know, like peanut butter and jelly, they go together,” former Detroit Pistons star (and another rival) Isiah Thomas told Variety on the red carpet. “I get to observe again another special moment for those two. It’s been a great journey for me — I was just watching their competitiveness and also watching their love affair with the game and with the NBA.”

While the rivalry was focused on the court for Bird and Johnson, it also extended to the fans and the basketball culture at large.

“I grew up a Magic fan and hated Larry Bird,” “Stumptown” actor Michael Ealy joked. “Then I saw the documentary that came out about Magic and Bird and realized how important it was that they had each other and how much they kind of helped raise their game. And I feel like, as an actor you can only get better by playing somebody who’s better than you, somebody that raises your game.”

“They didn’t just play…they brought a certain character to the game — personality. And they also like made their teams iconic,” comedian Amanda Seales explained. “And I think also the fact that here’s a white guy, here’s a black guy and they have a sportsmanship and camaraderie. And we’re in a country that continues to just try to push this racism thing through the door. But we’ve always seen that like sports a lot of times can be the equalizer.”

Among the NBA stars awarded during the gala celebration were Luka Dončić (Rookie of the Year), Mike Budenholzer (Coach of the Year), and NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, who accepted with a tearful speech. Sportscaster turned “Good Morning America” anchor Robin Roberts received the Craig Sager Award, presented by WNBA star Candace Parker and “Insecure” actress and creator Issa Rae, which comes in the form of a bold jacket designed after Sager’s trademark style.

“I’m honored and grateful for this recognition. The words often associated with this award – courage, faith, compassion and grace are a perfect description of Craig Sager,” Roberts began, remembering her late friend and colleague. “We were both inducted into the sports broadcasting hall of fame the same year and I was really looking forward to seeing Craig that night, but he was too ill to attend and we were so devastated when he passed away in the very next day.”

Sager and Roberts worked alongside each other as sports reporters in the early days of their careers and maintained a friendship that continued until Sager’s death in 2016 after a battle with leukemia. The legendary broadcaster was just 65 years old. Roberts fought and won battles with both breast cancer and the bone marrow disease MDS, bravely sharing the realities of each disease with her television audiences. Roberts’ speech centered on her mother’s advice to “make your mess your message” and how she’s worked to inspire and encourage others in their own battles with these diseases, as well as creating awareness for life-saving initiatives like the bone marrow registry.

“You never know what someone is going through. I urge you not to compare your despair,” Roberts concluded, preaching a message of compassion. “Extend to that person everything that you’ve got — all the kindness, love and understand you can. And why not do it like Craig did – with absolute joy, because he came at you strong…Sager Strong.”

Popular on Variety

More Scene

  • Anne Hathaway Modern Love

    Anne Hathaway Talks Mental Health Awareness, Playing a Bipolar Woman on Amazon's 'Modern Love'

    In Amazon Prime’s upcoming “Modern Love,” Anne Hathaway sheds light on an important facet of living with mental health issues, playing a bipolar woman who struggles with dating. “We’re all becoming more sensitive, wiser and more cognizant of gentility, and especially emotional gentility. I think those conversations are starting to happen. And I think the desire [...]

  • Margot Robbie, Nicole Kidman, Charlize Theron.

    Charlize Theron Could Win Second Oscar for Playing Megyn Kelly in 'Bombshell'

    Charlize Theron walked on stage before a screening of “Bombshell” at West Hollywood’s Pacific Design Center on Sunday night and announced to the crowd, “I’m about to s— myself.” The Oscar winner had good reason to be nervous. The screening of the Jay Roach-directed drama about the fall of Fox News boss Roger Ailes was [...]

  • Charlize Theron speaks at the GEANCO

    Charlize Theron Talks 'White Privilege,' Growing Up During Apartheid in South Africa

    Charlize Theron, during an onstage discussion with her “Gringo” costar David Oyelowo about philanthropy at Thursday’s annual fundraiser for Nigerian children’s educational and health program GEANCO, said she was a beneficiary of “white privilege” while growing up in Apartheid-torn South Africa. “I obviously am a white person who benefited from my white privilege,” Theron said [...]

  • Lyliana Wray, Sam Ashe Arnold, Miya

    ‘Are You Afraid of the Dark’ Revival Team on Living Up to the Series’ Legacy

    The 2019 revival of “Are You Afraid of the Dark?” centers around the Carnival of Doom, a place that star Jeremy Ray Taylor (“It Chapter Two”) describes as “beautiful on the outside, but…in the middle of it, there are definitely dark secrets. Variety caught up with the young star during a carnival-themed celebration at Row DTLA [...]

  • Charlize Theron'The Addams Family' film premiere,

    Charlize Theron Speaks Immigration, Diversity in ‘The Addams Family’

    They’re creepy, they’re kooky, and they’re an allegory for immigration in America.  Charlize Theron discussed the changing face of the nuclear family and her animated film, “The Addams Family,” with Variety at the movie’s recent premiere at the Century City Mall in Los Angeles. “When you think of [the Addams] being around since the sixties, [...]

  • Emma Stone attends the Los Angeles

    Emma Stone Talks 'Cruella' Transformation, New 'Zombieland' Sequel

    Despite inevitable comparisons to Glenn Close’s iconic turn as Cruella de Vil in 1996’s “101 Dalmatians,” Emma Stone teased that her take on the infamous villain in the upcoming “Cruella” movie will be very distinctive. “It comes long before her story,” Stone told Variety at the premiere of “Zombieland: Double Tap” at the Regency Village [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content