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.
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.
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.
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
Here's a look at some other things that helped establish his legend:
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."
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 . . .
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.
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."
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
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
THE RUB OF THE SNEAKER
"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
THE BAD BOY
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
And then there was always The Finger.
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.
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.
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.
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.