The Larry Bird / Magic Johnson Rookie Card – Buyer’s and Collector’s Guide


Larry Bird and Magic Johnson Rookie Cards

The most famous Larry Bird and Magic Johnson rookie card happens to be the same card from the 1980-81 Topps Basketball set. This is an unusual set where each card has three mini-cards. Bird and Johnson appear together on the most famous rookie card, but they also appear apart on several other cards in this set that are considered rookie cards. In this article we’ll walk through each rookie card for for both NBA legends.

1980-81 Topps Larry Bird (#34) and Magic Johnson (#139) Rookie Card

1980-81 Topps Larry Bird and Magic Johnson – The Best Larry Bird and Magic Johnson Rookie

No two basketball players careers have been as closely tied to each others as the careers of Larry Bird and Magic Johnson. They battled for the NCAA championship in college, entered the NBA together, competed against each other for several NBA titles, co-captained the Dream Team and ended up as great friends. So it seems fitting that a bizarre idea from Topps for the 1980-81 basketball set also linked them together in trading card history. Instead of giving each player their own card, Topps put three cards, separated by perforations, on a standard sized card.

As fate would have it (or maybe as Topps planned it) one of the cards had Larry Bird on the left (#34) and Magic Johnson (#139) on the right – separated by a Julius Erving scoring leader card (#174). Both Bird and Johnson also appear on other cards in this set, but those other cards aren’t the main topic of this post, but we will talk about them a little farther down the page.

The 1980-81 Larry Bird and Magic Johnson rookie card is a bit odd, but that doesn’t make it any less iconic. There are only a few rookie cards across all sports that have more than one hall of fame player on it, but this is the only card that has two players who are considered by many to be two of the best five all-time players in the sport. As if having Larry Bird and Magic Johnson wasn’t enough…

There are some other factors that make this card iconic:

  • The State of the Basketball Card Hobby in the Early 1980s: In 1980 the NBA was not a very popular sport. In fact, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson played a very large role in helping bringing the sport back to mainstream popularity. Basketball card collecting was not a very popular hobby, and for that reason there wasn’t nearly as many cards made compared to the print runs we’d see just a decade later in the early 1990s.

  • Made to be Ripped: Each card had three mini cards on it there were separated by perforations. Yes, perforations, like toilet paper sheets. In the early 1980s some people couldn’t resist the urge to bend the cards on the perforations and tear each card into three mini cards. You can’t really blame them, that’s what the cards were designed by Topps to be. That said, there is no doubt that this design significantly decreased the number of high-grade versions of the card that are left in the hobby today. It also provides you an opportunity to pick up a pretty cheap “ripped” Larry Bird or Magic Johnson Rookie.

1980-81 Topps Baseball Set Details

1980-81 Topps Basketball cards introduced the concept of three cards in one. For Topps, this was a one time experiment because they didn’t do it again. Ultimately, it would be a forgettable set if not the several rookie cards for two iconic players: Larry Bird and Magic Johnson. The 264-card set was made up of standard sized cards that are each separated by perforations into 3 1 1/6″ by 2 1/2″ cards.

  • Year: 1980-81
  • Manufacturer: Topps
  • Number of cards: 264
  • Card size (unripped): 2 1/2″ x 3 1/2″
  • Card size (ripped):  1 1/6″ by 2 1/2″
  • Subsets:
    • Team Leaders (non-sequential numbers)
    • Slam Dunk (#253-264)
    • All-Stars (#1-18)

1980-81 Topps Larry Bird (#34) and Magic Johnson (#139) Rookie Card

  • Card no:
    • Larry Bird Rookie – #34
    • Magic Johnson Rookie – #139
    • Julius Erving (Scoring Leader) – #174
  • Misc: Three mini cards on a standard size card

Front of the card

Design: The 70s might have ended, but the design of the 1980-81 Topps basketball card set still has a 1970s feel. Each mini card is on a white background and has a brightly colored line connecting to the team name in a matching script. The color of the border and the script seemingly have nothing to with the actual team colors. The Larry Bird rookie has “Celtics” in a light blue and the Magic Johnson Rookie has “Lakers” in pink. Below the team name is the player’s position and name.The Julius Erving card has a basketball in the top right corner that says “Scoring Leader.”

The card also features the following thee players:

  • Larry Bird, Celtics, Forward
  • Julius Erving (Scoring Leader), 76ers, 26.9
  • Magic Johnson, Lakers, Guard
1980 Topps Larry Bird and Magic Johnson Rookie Card Front
1980-81 Topps Larry Bird and Magic Johnson Rookie Card Front
Verdict: Rookie Card

Shop for the 1981 Topps Larry Bird and Magic Johnson rookie on eBay (affiliate link), because it is the rookie for two of the best basketball players ever.


Back of the card

The back 1980-81 Larry Bird / Magic Johnson rookie is broken up into three mini cards like the font. All three cards have the card number in the upper left corner. The Bird and Johnson cards have the the players name, height, weight, college, draft, birthday, home, stats for the 1979-80 season. It also includes a highlight and a cartoon “fun fact.” The Julius Erving leader card has a list of 76ers career scoring leaders. Hal Greer is listed as #1, a ranking he still retains to this day. An interesting footnote is that Magic Johnson’s first name, Erving, does not appear on the card anywhere. Neither does Julius Erving’s nickname, “Dr. J.”

1980 Topps Larry Bird and Magic Johnson Rookie Card Back
1980 Topps Larry Bird and Magic Johnson Rookie Card Back

Larry Bird and Magic Johnson Rookie Card Value

The 1980-81 Larry Bird and Magic Johnson rookie card is one of the most valuable cards made in the 1980s. The chart below was pulled from the popular card grading site PSA on 09/20/2021. It shows prices for the Bird/Johnson rookie card in various conditions.

1982 Topps Bird Johnson Rookie Price Guide
1980-81 Topps Bird Johnson Rookie Price Guide as of 09/20/21

Keep in mind that prices fluctuate. While PSA is a great way to find out the value of a card, we recommend going to eBay to see what cards are currently selling for on the world’s most popular auction site. Click here to view current auctions for the 1980-81 Topps Larry Bird (#34) and Magic Johnson (#139) rookie card


Other Relevant 1980-81 Topps Larry Bird and Magic Johnson Cards

The 1980-81 Topps Larry Bird (#34) and Magic Johnson (#139) card is the rookie that most people think of when they talk about a Bird or Johnson rookie, but there are several other cards in this set that might be considered rookie cards by some. While it’s important not to confuse the cards and overpay, these other cards do offer an excellent opportunity to buy an inexpensive early Bird and Johnson cards. Here are the other cards in the 1980-81 Topps Basketball card set that feature Bird or Johnson.

Let’s start with the two cards that can most reasonably be considered Larry Bird or Magic Johnson Rookie cards. Both of these cards have either the same Larry Bird or Magic Johnson card that we’ve discussed in this post. However, neither of them have BOTH Bird and Johnson, but they should still be considered rookie cards.

Jan Van Breda Kolff (#162) / Julius Erving (#174) / Magic Johnson (#139)

The Magic Johnson card on the right (#139) is the same version as the one on the Bird/Johnson joint rookie. If you can’t afford the version with both, you can pick this one up for a much cheaper price.

1980-81 Magic Johnson Rooke with Erving and Kolff
1980-81 Magic Johnson Rooke with Erving and Kloff
Verdict: Rookie Card

Shop for the 1980-81 Magic Johnson rookie with Erving and Kloff on eBay (affiliate link), because it’s the same Magic Johnson rookie as the card above.

Larry Bird (#34) / Bill Cartwright (#164) / John Drew (#23)

Like the card above, the Larry Bird card on the left (#34) is the same version as the one on the Bird/Johnson joint rookie. This card is worth less than the version containing both superstars.

1980-81 Bird Rookie with Cartwright and Drew
1980-81 Larry Bird Rookie with Cartwright and Drew
Verdict: Rookie Card

Shop for the 1980-81 Larry Bird rookie with Cartwright and Drew on eBay (affiliate link), because it’s the same Larry Bird rookie as the card above.


Magic Johnson and Larry Bird Leader Cards

Now that we’ve covered all the 1980-81 Topps basketball cards with “regular” Magic Johnson and Larry Bird cards, let’s cover the rest. There are still 6 more cards that have one of the two great players. Either Larry Bird or Magic Johnson is featured on a “leader” card in the middle position for all six cards. None of them have both Bird and Johnson. Leader cards aren’t universally considered rookies because some people save that designation for the regular issue cards. Still, these are all first-year cards and any of them make a worthy addition to a card collection. And, if you consider them rookie cards that is fine by me.

John Long (#88) / Magic Johnson (#18) / Ron Boone (#237)

1980-81 Magic Johnson Leader with Long and Boone
1980-81 Magic Johnson Leader with Long and Boone
Verdict: Subset Rookie

Shop for the 1980-81 Magic Johnson leader (rookie) with Long and Boone on eBay (affiliate link)


Mo Cheeks (#178) / Magic Johnson (#18) / Ron Boone (#237)

1980-81 Topps Magic Johnson Leader with Cheeks and Boone
1980-81 Topps Magic Johnson Leader with Cheeks and Boone
Verdict: Subset Rookie

Shop for the 1980-81 Magic Johnson Leader (rookie) with Cheeks and Boone (affiliate link)


Scott May (#47) / Larry Bird (#30) / Jack Sikma (#232)

1980-81 Topps Larry Bird Leader with May and Sikma
1980-81 Topps Larry Bird Leader with May and Sikma
Verdict: Subset Rookie

Shop for the 1980-81 Topps Larry Bird Leader (rookie) with may and Skima (affiliate link)


Marques Johnson (#143) / Larry Bird (#30) / Jack Sikma (#232)

1980-81 Larry Bird Leader with Johnson and Sikma
1980-81 Larry Bird Leader with Johnson and Sikma
Verdict: Subset Rookie

Shop for the 1980-81 Larry Bird Leader (rookie) with Johnson and Skima (affiliate link)


Junior Bridgeman (#146) / Larry Bird (#31) / Ron Brewer (#198)

1980-81 Larry Bird Leader with Bridgeman and Brewer
1980-81 Larry Bird Leader with Bridgeman and Brewer
Verdict: Subset Rookie

Shop for the 1980-81 Larry Bird Leader (rookie) with Bridgeman and Brewer (affiliate link)


Fred Brown (#228) / Larry Bird (#30) / Ron Brewer (#198)

1980-81 Larry Bird Leader with Brown and Brewer
1980-81 Larry Bird Leader with Brown and Brewer
Verdict: Subset Rookie

Shop for the 1980-81 Larry Bird Leader (rookie) with Brown and Brewer (affiliate link)


Magic Johnson’s Legacy

Erving “Magic” Johnson is regarded as one of the greatest NBA players despite his career being cut short when he tested positive for HIV. He was the reigning MVP when he was forced out of the league. He later came back to co-captain the Dream Team to the 1992 Olympic gold medal.

  • 10 time All-NBA
  • 12 time All Star
  • 4 time NBA Assist Champion
  • 2 time NBA Steals Champion
  • 10 times led NBA in Triple-Doubles
  • 5 time NBA Champ
  • 3 time NBA MVP
  • 1992 Olympic Gold Medal
  • NBA Hall of Fame

Larry Bird’s Legacy

Larry Bird is regarded as one of the NBA’s greatest all-time players even though his career was cut short with a back injury. He has many great career accomplishments from his playing days and continued his involvement in the NBA as a coach and president of basketball operations for the Indianapolis Pacers.

  • 1979-1980 Rookie of the Year
  • 2 time 3pt Goals Leader
  • 3 time All Defense
  • 10 time All-NBA
  • 12 time All Star
  • 3 time NBA Champ
  • 3 time NBA MVP
  • 1992 Olympic Gold Medal
  • NBA Hall of Fame

Get Your Larry Bird & Magic Johnson Rookie

Do you want to add a 1980-81Topps Larry Bird (#34) and Magic Johnson (#139) rookie to your collection? If so, we recommend starting your search on eBay – the world’s #1 card trading place. Even if you’re not planning to buy one just yet, it’s fun to look at all the great cards currently for sale.


Want Larry Bird merch?

Amazon.com is the world largest ecommerce market place. They have Bird and Magic books, memorabilia, and so much more. See what you can find today.

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Want Magic Johnson Merch?

Amazon.com is the world largest ecommerce market place. They have Bird and Magic books, memorabilia, and so much more. See what you can find today.

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All About Larry Bird / Magic Johnson Rookies Infographic

Larry Bird and Magic Johnson Rookie Cards Infographic
Larry Bird and Magic Johnson Rookie Cards Infographic

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