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8.26.2008

Bird had Heart Problems Late in Career

Former Celtics star Larry Bird said he had an irregular heartbeat during offseason workouts late in his playing career, but decided not to tell team doctors.

According to Bird, he didn't inform Celtic team physician Dr. Arnold Scheller until his heart problems intensified following his retirement and move into the club'sfront office.

However, Bird details periods of sudden exhaustion and how his heart "jumped around" during offseason workouts in this week's Sports Illustrated, which has published excerpts from the former susperstar's upcoming book, "Bird Watching: On Playing and Coaching the Game I Love."

"I always knew there was something wrong with my heart," Bird wrote.

"I'm not going to be stupid about this heart condition, but I'm not going to live my whole life in fear of this thing, either," Bird wrote.

"If it goes, it goes."

After retiring in 1992 and joining the Celtics' front office, Bird said he experienced the "episodes" more often. He finally told Scheller and was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation.

Bird was put on medication and told to exercise, eat healthily and drink alcohol only in moderation. But his condition worsened in the spring of 1997, right before he became the Indiana Pacers' coach.

"I got a little scared because it didn't seem like it was going away," Bird wrote.

The disease is not life-threatening and not as serious as ventricular fibrillation, which doctors believed caused the death of former Celtics teammate Reggie Lewis. But on March 17, 1998, while coaching Indiana in a tight game against the Chicago Bulls, Bird almost passed out.

"I was standing on the sideline and hoping for a television timeout because I felt like I was gonna pass out," Bird wrote. "Finally, the ref whistled time. Whenever we have a timeout, they always put a chair on the court for me so I can sit down and talk to the guys. This time I fell into that chair because I was going out."

At one point earlier, Pacers cardiologist King Yee used defibrillator paddles to jolt Bird's heart back to a normal rhythm. Yee told Bird to be more serious about his condition and medication.

"I guess Dr. Yee was trying to scare me," Bird wrote.

Ed Lacerte, Celtics trainer for the last 12 seasons, said he was unaware of any atrial fibrillation problems with Bird before the end of his career in 1992.

"I can't comment on anything after that," Lacerte said when reached at home last night. "But I was never told of any problems while he was playing."

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