December 29, 1979
Larry Bird's LA Debut.
These lines are from an ad bought by the Lakers and placed on Page 2 of yesterday morning's Los Angeles Times sports section. In the righthand corner is the message, "Sold Out." The real purpose of the ad, therefore, is in the middle of the box: "Good seats available for Phoenix, 7 p.m. Sun., Dec. 30."
And so the Celtics were welcomed to sunny Los Angeles for the single most awaited regular-season game in Laker history. The Forum had been sold out for weeks, and everyone from Pacific Palisades to Pomona wanted to be on hand when Earvin Johnson and Larry Bird, accompanied by such satellite stars as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Dave Cowens, Jamaal Wilkes and Cedric Maxwell resumed their rivalry last night.
Though the Lakers began the evening as a second-place team in the NBA's Pacific Division by a half-game (26-13 to Seattle's 25-11), in the mind of the local populace this game was to be a clear confrontation between the best in the East and the best in the West.
Each team prepped the night before in fine style, the
Celtics rolling over San Diego, 118-97, and the Lakers cruising by Utah, 124-116, in one of those it-wasn't-as-close-as-the-score-indicated games. Each team had filled an enemy arena which had not seen a capacity growd this season. And each team rightfully tried to downplay the importance of this game.
In truth, the Bird-Magic showdown was a totally inaccurate representation of the game (they don't even play the same position). It does figure, however, that star-crazy LA would blow this game out of proportion.
Bird began his LA stay with a press conference at the Forum. It didn't last long and he had no trouble fielding the soft questions.
He came prepared to correct an impression of brashness caused by a statement he had made in front of an NBC camera during last Saturday's "Sportsworld" show. In that interview he had jokingly referred to Magic as "the second best player in the world," the unspoken implication being that he was the best. What he meant, of course, was "best in the college world last year."
"I knew they'd ask me about that," Bird explained. "I was ready for them."
The Celtics likewise appeared to be ready for the game. Their display of ball movement and shooting had impressed the San Diego fans and press. The latter, in fact, was puzzled when the Celtics not only failed to gush over their showing, but also indulged in some heavy self-criticism.
"We'll have to play a lot better tomorrow if we want to beat LA," Bird had opined.
But to the Clippers and the San Diego media, the Celtics had looked every bit as powerful as advertised. At any rate, they arrived in LA with no rest problems and no injury woes beyond the mending process of M.L. Carr's sprained right wrist. Whatever the Laker fans and local press wanted to make of the game, the Celtics at least felt they were up to playing it.