Bird mulling Olympic invitation

August 22, 1991

Bird mulling Olympic invitation

Larry Bird said all along he was too old to play in the Olympics. But that was before his recent back operation, which alleviated the chronic pain that has plagued him for years and gave him new optimism about his future.

Bird is feeling so good he returned an inquiry from the US Olympic Basketball Committee yesterday afternoon saying that if he was selected as a member of the US Olympic team, he would be interested in playing.

Magic Johnson, Patrick Ewing and others also have answered in the affirmative, which is the closest thing to an invitation to participate in the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona that any player will get.

Yet while many news outlets reported that Bird had officially accepted an Olympic invitation and would be on the roster, the star Celtics forward was still wavering last night.

According to his attorney, Bob Woolf, Bird is not "100 percent sure" he wants to play on the team.

"At this point, what Larry is saying is he'd like to reserve judgment on a final decision," said Woolf. "He wants to make sure he's healthy. He's interested, but nothing is definite."

The official selection of the US team, an invitation-only process with no tryouts, will not be announced until Sept. 21. Bird will likely wait until then to decide.

Yet the fact that Bird said he is interested in playing is a major turnaround from comments he's made in the past. Bird previously said he would not participate in the Olympic Games because hedid not want to take a spot from a younger player.

His change of heart appears to have evolved as his rehabilitation from back surgery continues to be both swift and successful.

"I think he started to make up his mind a couple weeks ago," said Woolf. "He was down the Cape walking 5-6 miles and swimming every day. He was playing ball with kids on the beach and feeling really great.

"About that time, he was approached about playing on the Olympic team. He wasn't sure how he felt about it because he said all along he didn't want to take a spot from a younger player, but he felt so positive about his condition, and about the opportunity to play with Magic.

"But the one thing that should not be misinterpreted here is that Larry is playing his final year and participating in the Olympics so he can go out with a flourish.

"As long as Larry is feeling fine physically, and can continue to earn every cent the Celtics pay him, he'll play on and on."

Woolf was quick to add that he has not discussed extending Bird's contract, which expires after next season, "but I think it's a very real possibility."

Dave Gavitt, who doubles as USA Basketball president and chief executive officer of the Celtics, was in Scotland for a golf trip and could not be reached for comment.

Aside from the news that Bird might have a chance to add a gold medal to his trophy case, Gavitt will undoubtedly be pleased with the implications it will have for his Celtic team.

In the first place, the mere fact that Bird feels he might be healthy enough to make a contribution in Barcelona suggests his rehabilitation is progressing as well as or even better than reports have suggested.

Also, for the first time since his rash of serious injuries, which included double heel surgery during the 1988-89 season, the possibility of Bird's career continuing beyond next year has been broached.

Celtics owner Alan Cohen, who was not aware Bird had been considering the Olympic berth, seemed thrilled with all three developments.

"I think it's just wonderful," said Cohen. "Larry and Magic started all this . . . what a dream to have them playing together."

Cohen said the news Bird has decided to mull over a possible Olympic invitation only further strengthens his belief that his star forward is recovering nicely.

"You always have concerns," he said, "but we were getting the feeling he was getting along well. Because of that, I won't say this news makes me dance for joy, but it's one more good sign."

Cohen said the possibility of extending Bird's contract beyond next season had "not been discussed, not to my knowledge."

How does it hit him that Bird might want to continue wearing Celtic green beyond 1992?

"If Larry Bird can play, then we're crazy not to want him," Cohen answered. "We've never had any thoughts beyond next year, but in my heart of hearts, it's occurred to me. He's not a leaper and he's not exactly a speed demon, so his game wouldn't suffer with age the way others' would."

Bird has been injury-plagued for the better part of three seasons, and there are undoubtedly those who question his decision to add an Olympic stint to his agenda. Do not count Celtic officials among them, however.

"Sure, there will be a lot of people saying, 'What is he, crazy?' " said team president Red Auerbach. "But, hell, it's a year away. I'm sure if he's not 100 percent, he won't even consider it."

Auerbach said he knew Bird had been reconsidering his stance on playing in the Olympics, and believes a little push from both Magic and Gavitt might have made the difference.

"It's a once-in-a-lifetime thing," said Auerbach. "Then he looks around and all these other guys are doing it, and he figures, 'Why not?' "

Aside from Bird, Magic and Ewing, those who have reportedly been contacted by USA Basketball include David Robinson, Scottie Pippen, Charles Barkley, Karl Malone, John Stockton and Chris Mullin.

Lon Rosen, who represents Johnson, said his client was "thrilled" to hear Bird has shown interest in the Olympics after all.

"But none of these players have been formally invited," said Rosen. "I'm sure Larry got the same letter Earvin did, which said, 'If you were selected for the Olympic team, would you be interested in playing?'

"I talked to Earvin today, and he said he hopes both he and Larry make the team so they can turn it on together."

Bird, who is continuing his rehabilitation in Boston, was not available for comment.

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