Larry Bird and Magic Johnson spent years competing against each other and being compared to each other.
It took a 1987 commercial shoot in French Lick, Indiana, to bridge that gap.
"In the beginning, we hated each other," Johnson said Wednesday on the "Dan Patrick Show." "I had to hate him because they beat us."
Bird's Boston Celtics won the NBA championship three times during his career (1981 and '86 vs. the Houston Rockets, '84 vs. the Los Angeles Lakers), and Bird won Finals MVP in '84 and '86. The Celtics played in two other Finals series with Bird, losing to Johnson's Lakers in '85 and '87.
A commercial for Converse brought them together away from the court.
"That's when we became friends, and that's when we said, 'You know, we're more alike than we are different,'" Johnson said.
Their similarites, according to Johnson: They're Midwesterners (Johnson is a Michigan native), they were bigger players who handled the ball skillfully and they thought about their teammates' success.
"He made me better and I made him better," Johnson said.
The first of many meetings between Bird and Johnson came at the 1979 national championship game, when Johnson's Michigan State Spartans beat Bird's Indiana State Sycamores 75-64. Johnson had 24 points, 7 rebounds and 5 assists. Bird had 19 points, 13 rebounds and 5 steals.
Johnson said he and Bird had some sense that their matchup was different because they were the nation's best players that year. However, "I don't think we understood until after," just how impactful that game was.
The game is credited with creating the March Madness vibe that captures the country each year at NCAA tournament time.