Super Cities №262—What to Learn from Magic and Bird

Brendan Hart

Our society loves team-on-team rivalries. As fans and observers, we take special joy when our team beats its rival.

Yankees vs. Red Sox. Lakers vs. Celtics. Democrats vs. Republicans.

For the most part, though, we don’t celebrate personal rivalries. I’m not sure why. It could be because, at some point, the world taught us that being personally competitive is disruptive, rude, or brutish.

I say nonsense!

Personal competition makes some people uneasy, but competition is different than confrontation.

There was no better nemeses than Larry Bird and Magic Johnson.

Starting in college, these two men had an epic decades-long rivalry. Championships were on the line and, with everyone watching, so were prestige and pride.

Larry and Magic started as bitter enemies. They wanted to do more than win; they wanted to beat the hell out of each other.

As Magic said:

“I even hated him more because I knew he could beat me.”

Bird was the perfect nemesis for Magic. Magic was the perfect nemesis for Bird. Both benefited from their rivalry. So did the fans.

Your nemesis will make you work harder. They will force you to think creatively, adjust quickly, and log longer hours.

How do you even begin the process of finding a nemesis?

Here are five rules to start.


1.They must be a worthy competitor .

Pro teams don’t play minor league teams.

For a nemesis to drive you, they must be able to beat you.

Find one that can; raise your game; and execute.


2. You don’t need to like them or hate them.

Larry and Magic loved competing against each other, but, at least initially, they didn't like each other.

Like Larry and Magic, you do not have to like your nemesis.

Indeed, for many, disdain, kept in check, is a compelling emotion. You just need to love competing against them.


3. Your nemesis can be an idea .

For many, one’s nemesis is not a person, but an idea or institution.

Uber started because the cab experience sucked, and the cab industry, at least in New York City, was corrupt.

If you don't want to take on a person, find the thing that keeps you awake at night.


4. It’s about you, not them .

Self-motivation is difficult and fluid; it is hard to bring your A-game every day.

Finding a nemesis is motivating. Our nemesis is an external marker.

Bird would not be able to sleep because he knew Magic was practicing.


5. It’s natural .

We are programmed for survival.

In theory, a nemesis is an existential threat.

In practice, a nemesis is a competitor to be beaten.

Beat them and survive.


To start the new year off right, identify a nemesis.

Find that person who is doing something similar, doing it well, and pledge to beat them.

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