The NBA Playoffs begin this week, so it’s only right that we remember one of the NBA’s greatest clutch Playoff Champions of all-time, Larry Bird, for this week’s NBA Friday Flashback.
Back in February, LeBron James was asked who would be up on his “Mount Rushmore” of basketball greats in an interview on NBA TV. He chose Michael Jordan, Oscar Robertson, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. LeBron declared that his own face will definitely be up there when he finishes his career, and somebody will have to get bumped.
Let’s be clear: it sure as hell won’t be Larry Bird.
Despite Michael Jordan and his obvious greatness, it’s fair to say most fans would be satisfied if “Mount Rushmore” was whittled down to just two spots, one for the Celtic’s Larry Bird and one for the Lakers’ Magic Johnson. Exemplifying how the game should be played, Magic’s and Larry’s intertwined careers represented the most interesting of NBA eras, involving some of the greatest players.
Magic and Larry first met in the college basketball’s premier event, the NCAA Final, where Magic’s Michigan State trumped Bird’s Indiana State in 1979. It was the first meeting between the legends, and marked the beginning of a decade where they would trade NBA Championships.
Here’s a Letterman appearance where the two share their thoughts on the rivalry:
In 1984, the Celtics and the Lakers met in the Finals, and Larry was presented with a chance to finally repay Magic in full. He took that chance, and then some. On his way to becoming the Finals MVP, Larry Legend averaged 27.4 points, 14 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game. The Celtic’s physicality overpowering the Lakers’ flash.
It wasn’t all that easy. It took 7 games and home court advantage to overcome the Lakers. After game 3, when the Lakers blew the Celtics away 104 – 137 in Los Angeles and Magic dished out an NBA Finals record 21 assists to lead the series 2 -1, Bird had some choice words for his teammates.
“We played like a bunch of sissies. I know the heart and soul of this team, and today the heart wasn’t there, that’s for sure. I can’t believe a team like this would let L.A. come out and push us around like they did. Today I didn’t feel we played hard. We got beat bad, and it’s very embarrassing.”
– Larry Bird on his team after being hammered by the Lakers.
Bird had a reputation as a bit of a trash talker throughout his career. In 1996, during the All-Star Weekend, he was taking part in the three-point contest. Bird walked into the dressing room where all the other contestants were getting ready, and looked at each of them without saying a word. Eventually Bird said, “I want all of you to know I am winning this thing. I’m just looking around to see who’s gonna finish up second,” before exiting the room and proceeding to win the contest.
It was no surprise that his teammates played visibly harder throughout the rest of the Finals. In the next game, they were down 5 points with one minute to go, but the Celtics rallied to level it and win in overtime. In the subsequent Game 5, with the air conditioning “broken” inside the Boston Garden producing a 97 degree setting and the Lakers’ ageing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar having to use an oxygen tank on the bench, Bird scored 34 points and caught 17 rebounds. After the Lakers won Game 6 to tie the series, it all came down to one game in Boston to decide Larry Bird’s fate. The Celtics won, and Bird had finally pulled one over his arch-nemesis.
For a brilliant recap of the 1984 Finals, the different dynamics of the two teams, and of the two men, watch here:
Joseph Carroll, Pundit Arena.
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