The Injuries

A bad back brought him down before his time, as everyone knows. The sad fact is that Larry Bird spent very little of his professional career as a healthy man.

During the course of his 13-year career, he missed games because of sprained ankles, knee problems, a bad elbow, Achilles' tendon problems, a groin pull and his chronically bad back. He even sat out the final three games of the 1989-90 season because he had an abcess on his rear end.

And then there was always The Finger.

He broke his right index finger in a softball game in the spring of 1979. This was after the end of the college basketball season and prior to his signing his contract with the Celtics. Two operations failed to restore the finger to its original state. The finger is a swollen and twisted appendage, and Larry Bird had to learn to shoot a basketball all over again. Bird lost the ability to make a fist with his right hand.

As time went on he kept dislocating his right pinky. By 1986 he was taping that finger in a particular way before every practice and game. He played anywhere from the last seven to the last 10 seasons with a permanently dislocated right pinky, to go along with his permanently mangled right index finger. He played a good percentage of his career with a right hand that was 40 percent disabled.

Elbow problems plagued him during the latter stages of the 1984-85 season, and all throughout the playoffs.

As for the back, the first recorded instance of Bird having trouble came on Oct. 22, 1980, when Bill Fitch revealed that Bird's then shooting problems stemmed from a sciatic nerve condition. Fitch said he had known about it from the summer. Bird first denied it, then admitted it two or three days later.

Bird had back problems on and off, and had a particularly rough stretch in December 1985. He was saved that year by coming in contact with orthopedic physical therapist Dan Dyrek. By February, Bird was feeling better, and he went on to nail down his third MVP, as well as his third title.

The heels came into prominence in 1988. He struggled through training camp, and lasted a scant six games into the season before surgery was ordered. He missed the remainder of the 1988-89 season.

But he was not home free. After getting off to a great start in 1990, he was injured in a practice accident and began experiencing debilitating back pain. He went out of the lineup in January, missing 15 of 16 games prior to the All-Star break. Later in the season, he sat out seven more games. After playing Game 1 against the Pacers in the opening playoff round, he spent the night in traction at New England Baptist Hospital. He had a back operation in June 1991.

The following year was a pain nightmare. He missed all of January and February and was only partially effective in the playoffs. He tried to pull his weight with the Olympic Dream Team, but back problems persisted. He announced his retirement on Aug. 18, 1992.


The Kid said...

One of the reasons I always find it hard to speculate on how Bird could have played if he was healthy in his later years is the fact that Larry seemed to be destined to break down physically. The fact that he played so much in pain is truly a testament to his greatness.

Lex said...

The injury thing is interesting on a number of fronts.

I remember being really depressed starting in 1987 because of all the injuries.

Then I remember being reluctant to get "too in into them" because I figured they'd just break down.

The 1990-91 season they started out like 29-5, and then bird got injured and it was all over.

If you focus on the 1979-1987 or 88 years, it provides a better time frame to evaluate his greatness.

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