Larry Bird is Not Perfect
March 9, 1980
I am a fighter of the good fight. The adjectives seem to fly everywhere these days for Larry Bird - "awesome" and "spectacular" and "unbelievable" and all the rest - and I gag on them, cough and sputter and spume. I use the words, of course, but that does not mean I have to like them.
I am a Boston sportswriter. I will find something wrong with this kid if it takes days and nights of research, hard and fast thinking of the supreme degree. I am bred for this type of work, trained in the use of venom and straight-razor viciousness, known throughout the world for these qualities. I will not be denied.
"What can you say about him?" you might ask. "Larry Bird has done everything for the Boston Celtics this year. Scored. Rebounded. Taken a team that was just about last in the NBA a year ago and helped it to become first. Filled the Garden. Filled arenas throughout the league. Made at least one shot per game that never has been seen before. Passed. Dunked. Hit the three- pointer.
Stolen the ball. Played defense. Made everyone else look good. Smiled at the cameras and said, Hello.' What can you possibly say?" Hah. I take to the challenge the way only a true champion can. I am a man who could find cavities in Donny Osmond's smile, treachery in an evangelist's heart, "Made in Taiwan" in the corner of any picture of a golden sunset. I am a Boston sportswriter.
I have my little list about this Larry Bird. He can't do everything, you know. I've found a lot of things he can't do.
1. He can't fly. No doubt about it. Every time he has left the ground, he has returned to the ground. True, there have been times when he has been in the air long enough to ask a stewardess for a pillow and a good magazine, eat a tray-table dinner, cold roll and all, stick the little plastic plugs into his ears and listen to a half-dozen easy-listening selections, look to the left, look to the right, then shoot the basketball, but that's not flying. Only jumping. He has to start his move at the top of the Garden key and land on a Logan runway to prove that he can fly . . . and I don't think he can do it.
2. He can't grow a killer moustache. Really. He's tried, and we've given him almost a whole year of grace, but that moustache of his just doesn't look threatening. It's still a moustache with a learner's permit. He looks as menacing as the paperboy ringing the doorbell to make collections. There's still the feeling - even with the moustache - that when he stands next to a big guy like Darryl Dawkins, he is going to be asked to hand over his lunch money. He just doesn't scare the other team. Until he starts playing.
3. He can't change a consumer's buying habits. I can only speak for myself here, but so f he hasn't made me run to the store. I don't need a basketball, so the "You can do it, kid" ad just doesn't apply to me. The Stop and Shop ads aren't bad, but any good 1980 consumer knows that the little coupons in the Wednesday paper are what determine where you buy and what you buy in today's Great Inflation Sweepstakes. The even-Up ad? There's a chance with that one, a switch in soft drinks is always a possibility, but somehow I need more information than the command "Freshen up."
4. He can't shoot without the ball. This has been a tricky one to notice. For a while, I thought he was the first player I'd ever seen who could shoot without the ball. You know the move - he passes off in the middle of the shot and continues with the follow-through while, say, Chris Ford hits a three- pointer. For half of this season I was as befuddled as all of those guys jumping in his face. I thought he was shooting, too, without the ball. Turns out, though, those are just fakes. Watch closely the next time. Don't be deceived. Just fakes. He hasn't scored once all year without the ball, no matter how convincing his move has looked.
5. He can't get Jimmy Carter to call. How embarrassing is that? Jimmy calls everybody these days, from the proprietors of general stores in New Hampshire to the members of the US hockey team to speed skater Eric Heiden. President Jimmy hasn't called Larry Bird once, not in 53 wins, not in the last 13 out of 15, not in the last nine in a row. There haven't even been any reports of congratulatory calls from Kevin White, any member of Congress, any singing cowboy or Mae West. It would seem that somewhere along the line Jimmy should have called, at least a week ago to see if the kid were a registered Massachusetts voter, but no, not a jingle.
6. He can't intercept every pass, block every shot cleanly or take an underhanded set shot from the leprechaun's nose at halfcourt and make it. I've seen some passes go past him. Really. I think I saw at least two, or maybe three, in the last week alone. True, he steps in front of an amazing number of passes, but I ve seen him beat. Once. Or twice. Or maybe three times. I've even seen him - once his man has caught one of those passes - foul the man. True, he seems to block an amazing number of shots for a player his size,
but I've seen him foul. Once. Or twice. Or maybe three times.
7. The underhand, half-court set? He's never even tried it. I'll admit he's already made just about every other shot you can imagine - lefthanded, righthanded and backhanded - in this one season, but the underhanded half-court set is an obvious problem for him. You can even see the other teams, leaving him alone, daring him to take the shot, but he never does.
8. He has had absolutely no effect on world problems. Are the hostages home from Iran? Are the Olympics going to be played in Moscow? Has the price of home heating oil gone down? Has the common cold disappeared? Has Cher found peace, happiness and a top-40 single? Larry Bird has had no effect on any of these issues."Hey," you might say, "what are you talking about? What does this have to do with basketball?" Hey, I don't even have to reply to that. I'm a Boston sportswriter. I have to find something wrong, don't I? I m just doing my job, and this kid makes it awfully, awfully hard.
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