Grampa Celtic Remembers Bird

They are little remembered, but they're all true.

Such is the legend of Larry Bird that you tend to forget the things that other, more human players end up becoming known for.

For instance:

Did you know that Larry Bird was the first player since Elgin Baylor who made it a practice to throw the ball off the backboard in order to get it back so he could lay it in? After Bird had done so in a 1982 game against the Bullets (getting himself a 3-point play), one of his teammates was aghast. "You should have heard McHale," laughed Bird. "He said, 'Damn, Larry. It's a close game!' "

And, to the question "Did Larry Bird ever goaltend?" the answer is "Yup." On Feb. 9, 1988, he goaltended an Akeem Olajuwon shot in the course of a 44-point (17-for-27) effort against the Rockets. This is the same Olajuwon he beat in a jump ball in the first quarter of Game 6 during the 1986 Finals. It defied the laws of physics, but Bird did it.

On Jan. 24, 1982, Bird had two up-and-down violations in the same period (third) during a home loss to the Portland Trail Blazers.

On Jan. 2, 1981, he went scoreless while shooting 0 for 9 from the floor during the famed "Eight Bricks and a Block" game in Oakland. Two nights later, he scored 12 seconds after the opening tap, hit his first six shots and had 33 points in a victory over Portland.

The Celtics were famous for the hordes of so-called Green People who cheered them from coast to coast during the Bird Era, but it may have reached a peak in 1988 when cries of "Lar-ree!" came rolling down from the rafters. At Madison Square Garden.

Larry Bird had 61 teammates, not counting exhibition game mates. The tallest was Artis Gilmore, at 7 feet 2 inches. The shortest was Andre Turner, at 5-9 (or so).

Here's a look at some other things that helped establish his legend:


Larry Bird always said he didn't think the 3-point shot was a sensible rule. But that didn't prevent him from becoming the most destructive exponent of the 3-point shot the game has ever known.

He doesn't hold any records, although it's doubtful if anyone has bettered his streak of making 25 out of 34 during one stretch back in 1986. But when it came to making Killer Threes in proliferation, Bird lapped the field.

Bill Walton once put Bird's proficiency with the shot in perspective. "I don't think there are really any other great 3-point shooters," Walton observed, "guys you can count on to make the tough shots from out there. Many of the other people who people think about have never even played in what you'd consider to be big games."

Bird didn't care for the rule because (a) he didn't think a game should be decided at the end by a three and (b) the referees, being human, all too often called twos threes and threes two.

Monster Threes litter Bird's resume. The left corner clincher against Houston in 1981 Game 6 . . . The game-ending bombs that beat Phoenix, Washington and Dallas, among others . . . A biggie to put away Game 4 in the 1986 Finals . . . The left corner shot that had the Lakers beaten until Magic's famed hook shot in '87 . . . The four straight fourth-quarter threes to punctuate the Milwaukee Sweep in '86 . . .

Bird used the 3-pointer as a psychological weapon. He loved going for the three that would make a 5-point game with two minutes left an 8-pointer, or the one that would make an 8-point game with five minutes left an 11-pointer. He knew the three could be a demoralizer, and he wanted to be the executioner.

One of his great threes came in Chicago 11 years ago. The Bulls were making a charge at the end of the third quarter in Game 4, and Chicago Stadium was a wall of sound. On Boston's first possession of the final period, Bid sauntered upcourt, saw that David Greenwood had sunk back behind the arc, and let it fly. Have you ever heard 19,000 people gasp? That game was over, and there were still 11 1/2 minutes to play.

His favorite three? "The one in Houston back in '81. They was comin' back, and I dropped the bomb on 'em."

That was typical. The Celtics led by 3, and the Rockets still had hope. He "dropped the bomb," and all hope was gone.


In the beginning, there was no such thing. You just had a good game with double figures in points, rebounds and assists, which, admittedly, was a mouthful.

Then Laker public relations man Bruce Jolesch came up with the term "triple-double," and a new sports concept was born.

Bird's first such affair came in his 14th NBA game on the evening of Nov. 14, 1979. The opponent: Detroit. The numbers: 23 points, 19 rebounds and 10 assists in 36 minutes. It was the first of 67 career triple-doubles, 58 of which came during the regular season. In addition, Bird would have 62 games in which he would miss a triple-double by either one assist (38 times), one rebound (23 times) or one basket (once).

Triple-doubles meant less than nothing to Bird, and he proved it in 1985 when he spurned an opportunity to rack up a quadruple-double. He was playing in Salt Lake City, and at the end of the third period he had 30 points, 12 rebounds, 10 assists and 9 steals. The Celtics were up by 22.

When K.C. Jones was informed that Bird was one away from a unique milestone, he gave Bird a chance to go back in. Bird said no.

"I already did enough damage," he reasoned. "Why go for it, if we're up by 30? If it mattered, I'd have been out there trying to get it, but it wasn't no big deal."

Bird simply didn't care about triple-doubles. "That's just a meaningless stat which gets hyped by the media," he said. "I could get a triple-double every night if I want to, but it doesn't always help the team win."

Even Bird had to be impressed with himself the night of April 1, 1987. That's when he had 17 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists in the first half against the Bullets. "He's playing in his own league," gushed Washington coach Kevin Loughery. "Maybe it's a league other guys can't get to."

- Final triple-double: March 15, 1992, vs. Portland (49-14-12)

- Most in one season: 10 (1985-86, '89-90)

- Boston: regular season, 22; playoffs, 5

- Hartford: 2

- Away: regular season, 34; playoffs, 4


"I know," sighs Larry Bird. "I'm sorry. It's a bad habit."

So why did you do it, Larry?

"It goes way back, long before high school," he explains. "Back home, we wore our tennis shoes everywhere. You wore 'em to school. You wore 'em outside on the playground. Then you wore 'em inside. You wiped your hands on the soles to keep 'em clean. Later on, I was doing it without realizing it."


Larry Bird was eminently capable of being a Bad Boy on the court. He was too competitive to accept the ebb and flow of the typical NBA game in a placid manner.

The ledger reveals that he took an enforced early shower five times in regular-season NBA games. Twice he was banished for fighting and three times via the double-technical route.

His fights:

1. Feb. 13, 1981, at Utah: With 21 seconds remaining in the third period he got into a fight with Jazz forward Allan Bristow (now the Charlotte coach). Both were ejected.

2. Nov. 9, 1984, vs. Philadelphia: The celebrated contretemps with Dr. J. It was mid-third period. Larry had 42. Doc had 6. The Celtics were rolling. The two got into it at mid-court and out they went.

His double-technicals:

1. March 11, 1983, at New Jersey: The Celtics were leading by 13 with 6:13 remaining in the third quarter when Larry got one from Hue Hollins for general groaning and a second for threatening to throw the ball at the official.

2. Feb. 17, 1986, at Phoenix: The game was over (Phoenix was cruising) when Mike Lauerman became a part of Celtic trivia by tossing Larry with 9:57 left. K.C. Jones would join Bird in the locker room before the game ended.

3. Nov. 12, 1987, vs. Milwaukee: Ouch! Larry incurs a two-T tally from referee Billy Oakes early in the first quarter. Bird was crushed when he learned the following day that Wayne Gretzky had come to see him play. "I never would have gotten thrown out if I had known Gretzky was there," he wailed.


On Sunday, March 6, 1988, Bird was off to a fine start against the Cleveland Cavaliers. He had 13 first-quarter points and all was well with the world -- until he took off on a baseline excursion with 20 seconds or so left and was met by Dell Curry. He was struck -- accidentally -- in the face by a Curry elbow and sustained a hairline fracture of the orbital bone on the left side of his face.

Typically, Bird refused to quit playing. He went to the locker room for treatment, and returned to score 18 of his 31 points while suffering from double vision. How was this possible? "Basically," explained Dr. Arnold Scheller, "Larry saw a superimposed rim. He has a tremendous ability to adjust to adversity."

There was great speculation about whether or not Bird would play in the next game against San Antonio. Bird materialized at the midcourt circle, goggles in hand, to play the game. He shot 15 for 27 from the floor and scored 36 points. The Celtics needed them all to pull out a 119-118 victory over the Spurs. Shrugged Bird, who despised the goggles, "I really wasn't happy about wearin' 'em, but I don't want to be layin' around in the hospital."

He wore the dreaded goggles three more times, hating every nanosecond of the experience. He scored 30, 28 and 34 points with his neo-Kareem look. "I don't know how those guys who wear 'em all the time do it," he said. "Every shot I took, I didn't know if it would be an air ball or a swish."

There were a few more of the latter than the former. Wearing the goggles he despised, Larry Bird shot 55 percent from the floor in four games. In his first goggle-less game, he shot 8 for 19.


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 topic of extended playing time was a constant source of irritation for Bird. His reasoning was fairly straightforward and it generally boiled down to the following:

A. "I train myself to play 48 minutes."

B. "They're paying me a lot of money, so I assume I should be playing."

C. "Who wouldn't want me on the floor?"

He was always ready to play long stretches during the playoffs. He always said that the extra TV timeouts put in for the playoffs made playing big minutes a no-sweat affair. In the 1981 playoffs he averaged 44 minutes a game. In the 1987 Detroit series he played 8,556 of a maximum 8,640 seconds during the final three games, which computes to a possible playing percentage of .9902777.


Larry Bird participated in 10 NBA All-Star Games. He didn't care for any of them, and that would include the 1982 affair, in which he was rightly adjudged to be the Most Valuable Player.

"They're not my style," he said time and time and time again. "It's nice to be picked, but it's not the kind of game that's good for me." Let the record show that Bird hit the first 3-point shot in All-Star Game history -- a biggie that salted away an East OT triumph in 1980 at the Capital Centre.


FLCeltsFan said...

Wow! Awesome article. So much I had forgotten about.

This is the same Olajuwon he beat in a jump ball in the first quarter of Game 6 during the 1986 Finals. It defied the laws of physics, but Bird did it.

Defies the laws of physics indeed. I remember Bird dunking once. Grampa didn't mention that :)

Lex said...

Bird dunks were pretty rare

FLCeltsFan said...

Yep. I only remember seeing one.

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