June 9, 1986
Watching Larry Bird perform must be very much like being on the same court with him, only safer. The unfortunate teammate who looks away or relaxes for just an instant may get smacked in the temple with the basketball. Bird doesn't take it well when one of his passes is fumbled out of bounds. He glares disdainfully at the offender.
The spectator who blinks isn't subjected to that, but he may miss the most intriguing part of Bird's talents - the subtleties that sometimes make it seem as if the game he's playing is his alone:
The body language - a twitch of his shoulder, his hands or his head. The eye movement, distracting the defender's concentration. The extra dribble that moves his man another inch, creating just enough room for him to thread a pass to a teammate or transform a well-covered shot into an open one. The bit of hesitation that creates chaos for everyone but him.
Named Most Valuable
The Boston Celtics gained their 16th championship this afternoon at Boston Garden largely because Bird reached that plane. He scored 29 points, snatched 11 rebounds, fed his teammates for 12 assists and even disrupted the Houston Rockets with three steals. His efforts solidified his selection as the most valuable player of the final series.
''He is undoubtedly in my mind at least the best basketball player playing the game today,'' said his teammate Dennis Johnson.
Despite his team's 55-38 halftime lead today, Bird - with 16 points, eight rebounds and eight assists -wasn't happy at intermission. He felt he wasn't ''going at it enough.''
''If I get a few more shots,'' he said, ''we could have put it away in the first half.''
When Bird wants the ball, he doesn't have to ask. ''They know,'' he says of his teammates. ''Just by getting mad and storming around, I got everybody's attention. I didn't want this day to slip away from me.''
Bill Fitch, the Rockets' coach, was wary of Bird. ''I truly think that when he gets like that, he believes he can do anything he wants,'' Fitch said.
By the middle of the third period, Bird had turned the famous parquet floor into his personal stage. He began with a simple 3-point shot from 25 feet. Then, just before the end of the period, he shimmied by Rodney McCray, drawing two other defenders to him as he went to the basket. But he stopped just long enough to make them crash into each other in mid-air.
The finale came a few minutes later when Bird gained control of the ball after it bounced off Ralph Sampson's leg, took three dribbles away from the basket, turned and launched a spinning 3-pointer.
In the locker room later, Bird, still doused with celebratory champagne, was already talking about next season. He said he would take two weeks off before going to work once again. ''I've got some things to work on,'' he said. ''I'm not real comfortable with my moves to the basket. By next fall, I want four or five moves I can go to. If I do that, I think I'll be unstoppable.''
The prospect of a better Bird would scare most opposing coaches, but not Fitch.
''I love it,'' he said. ''There are an awful lot of guys on this team who can learn from that. It's like they say, how do you teach four dumb dogs? Throw one smart one out there and the others'll learn from him. Larry's that smart dog.''