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“Either another defends me or I put 60”

"Either another defends me or I put 60"

Larry Bird is one of the great icons of the NBA. A wonderful player, generational, whose duels with Magic Johnson saved the competition and prepared some golden years that definitively hatched with the rise of Michael Jordan. Bird was a forward with a killer jump shot but he also did everything else: he rebounded, defended and was one of the best passers in basketball history. A total player. He won three rings with his Celtics (1981, 1984 and 1986), three MVPs (1984, 1985 and 1986), two Finals MVPs (1984 and 1986), he was twelve times all starentered nine in the Best Quintet, won the Rookie of the Year (1980), prevailed in three triple contests, signed two seasons in a row (1987 and 1988) with at least 50% in field goals, 40% in triples and 90% in free throws and was also, of course, one of the great faces of the unforgettable Dream Team of Barcelona 92.

THE ETERNAL WAR LAKERS-CELTICS

Bird, whose mythical 33 hangs at the top of the Boston Garden, will be 66 years old in December. This one-of-a-kind forward, who was born on December 7, 1956 in West Braden Springs, Indiana, was also a wild competitor… and one of the most skilful when it comes to upsetting or directly complexing rivals. A basketball savant (has won MVP awards as player, Coach of the Year and Executive of the Year) who took advantage of his fire and intelligence to leave moments that are already part of his legend and that of the trash talking in the NBA. These are the most famous:

“From the coach’s lap”

In 1985 Larry Bird scored 60 points against the Atlanta Hawks. Doc Rivers, who was a point guard for those Hawks, recounted how they had to suffer the torment of Bird’s points… and his comments: “Bird would arrive in the area and start announcing what shots he was going to make. He said “a tabla”… it was torture for Domiquine Wilkins. Mentally I could with him. None of us could. He told us “to the board”, or “against whom next” or “from where do you want the goal now”. And not a single one failed. But in the end you had to admit how good it was. The last shot was a long 3-pointer and he said earlier, as he walked across the court, “from the coach’s lap” (in three trainer’s lap) by the area from which he was going to shoot. Then he said “who wants it”. And I think it was Reggie Brown who tried to defend him but he took one of his shots with a lot of arch… and he hit it. Reggie collided with him and sent him into our trainer’s lap, yes. So everything was as he had said. An accident… but as if it had been fate. There were players from our bench high-fiving each other… it was incredible. Mike Fratello, the coach, had to meet us afterwards to tell us that it was one thing to admire what a player like Bird could do and quite another to celebrate it on the bench.

“Who’s going to come in second?”

It was told by Michael Cooper and it is another absolutely famous moment for Bird, who won the first three editions of the three-point contest (1986-88). In the second, in 1987 and in Seattle, He came to the locker room where the rest of the participants were and asked them if they already knew who was going to come second. Bird won the contest with his Celtics training jacket on and his finger raised to the sky before his last shot from the last cart went in. After him, and after the triumph of Dale Ellis in 1989, came Craig Hodges, who won another three in a row. When Hodges was asked if there was less merit in winning that contest without Larry Bird among the participants, he challenged the Celtics forward with “you know where to find me.” Larry Bird’s response was “yes, at the end of the Bulls bench.”

“You can’t defend me”

In its rookie year (1983-84), Clyde Drexler (later ten times all star and NBA champion, one of the great guards in history) had this encounter with Bird: “I was a rookie and I had to defend him. He looked at me and said ‘you can’t stop me…’. I told him that he was too confident and he said to me ‘Confidence? But if you’re a rookie, you don’t know anything yet.’ Then he scored me like 10 points in a row. The coach had to sit me down and Bird walked past our bench laughing at me.”.

“Fly, bird”

This was told by Brad Daugherty, an excellent center for the Cavaliers who was five times all star between the 80s and 90s: “He received in a corner and I ran out to defend him. When he was going to shoot, he jumped as high as I could and when he was in the air he told me ‘fly, bird’. I went down, he shot, and he came in clean, not touching the rim.”

BettmanDiaryAS

“A temperature check”

Frank Layden was the coach of the Utah Jazz when Larry Bird began hitting basket after basket against the Salt Lake Cityers. After the first rounds he walked past the bench and said “it’s just a heat check, so you can see how hot I am.” Then he told the rival coach “hey, Frank, you don’t have anyone on the bench who can defend me.” And Layden looked at his substitutes and answered “no”.

A show for Magic Johnson

The Magic-Bird rivalry is one of the most legendary in the NBA, a League that grew thanks to those duels between the Lakers and Celtics and entered a golden age that was later triggered by Michael Jordan. Magic, who became his close friend, recounts how Bird received him before a match between the two that he was unable to play due to a muscle injury: “He came up to me and said, ‘Man, I’m sorry you’re not playing. But since you’re here I’m going to put on a good show for you. So just sit back and enjoy it.’ I told him to leave me alone, but after every time he scored a basket, he would turn and look directly at me ”.

“You said you were going to kick his ass”

Kevin McHale revealed Bird’s strategy before a game against Elvin Hayes: “I was going to start the game and just before the kickoff, Larry yells at me ‘go Kevin, tell Elvin Hyes what you just told me.’ I hadn’t said anything to him, absolutely nothing. But he insisted ‘come on, tell him what you told me, you’re going to kick his ass’. Hayes was looking at me fixedly and at that point it was not a matter of denying it, so I limited myself to agreeing with him.

“I’m going to take the ball”

KC Jones, the Celtics’ coach in the 1980s, remembered the end of a game against the Bullets in Washington: “Larry made the last basket but I called timeout. He came to the bench somewhat annoyed and said ‘after the dead time I’m going to shoot from the same place and I’m going to put it in again’. and it was because he had already told the Washington players that he was going to make the last basket and take the ball”.

“Today I am going to be left-handed”

Bill Walton was the legendary sixth man on the 1986 champion Celtics, one of the greatest teams in NBA history. The red giant experienced firsthand how Bird was motivated for a match in a very special way: “At the end of a tour of matches he had achieved everything he had set out to do. We hadn’t lost on that trip, so the day before the last game he told us that he was going to play left-handed, as if he were left-handed. And that he was going to do it for at least the first three quarters. After those three quarters, in Portland, he had 27 points against poor Jerome Kersey.” Bird finished with 47 points, 14 rebounds and 11 assists. And a 21/34 in field goals. Not only that: he made the basket that forced overtime and then hit the game-winning shot in overtime.

“Give me the ball and move away”

His former teammate ML Carr also experienced his methods in the first person: “He asked us if we wanted to win the game. We said yes and he said ‘okay, give me the ball and get out of my way’”.

“What is the scoring record?”

Danny Ainge, now an executive at the Utah Jazz after having been president and general manager of the Celtics for years, lived as a teammate Bird’s habit of motivating himself by the scoring record of each pavilion: “When he was in a pavilion bandaging his ankles, he used to call a worker from that field and ask him what the scoring record was on that court.. It was his way of challenging himself.”

the torture chamber

Ainge also recounted that he and Dennis Johnson (the backcourt starter: shooting guard and point guard) used to hear Bird tell them “give me the ball, I have this guy in the torture chamber”: “And he said it with the player who was defending him right there, in front of him”.

“You will have another to defend me…”

Bird had a habit of challenge opposing coaches on their defensive matchups. “Hey, Coach. You better have someone else out there to defend me because I’m going to kill the one who’s even defending me now.”

“I’m going to put it in your face”

Xavier McDaniel, the Supersonics forward, suffered Bird’s cold blood in the final moments of the games: “We were tied. And he came and told me where I was going to receive and that he was going to score on my face. I told him that I would be waiting for him. We came out of timeout, he cut twice for the baseline and He received it on the post, in the exact place he had indicated. She debuted, turned and shoved it in my face. Then he looked at the clock, turned around and told me ‘I wasn’t counting on leaving two seconds of playing time’.

“I’ve punished them enough already”

On February 18, 1985, against the Utah Jazz, Bird had 30 points, 12 rebounds, 10 assists and 9 steals at the end of the third quarter. He didn’t play in the entire fourth quarter (the score was 90-66 before that last quarter) and when asked later why he hadn’t gone for the quadruple-double, he replied “what for? He had already punished them enough.”

“I am the best shooter in the NBA”

Like Drexler, Reggie Miller also had his rookie experience with Bird. The one from the Pacers tried to distract him during a series of free throws and between the two shots (he hit both) Bird told him: “Rookie, I’m the best fucking shooter in the league. Of the entire League, do you understand? So are you trying to tell me some fucking thing?”.

“Merry fucking Christmas”

In a game at Christmas, also against the Pacers, Bird told Chuck Person before the opening jump that he had a present for him. Then, at a time when Person was on the bench, Bird hit a 3-pointer in front of him and with the ball still in the air he turned and said “fucking Merry Christmas” (Merry fucking Christmas). The shot came in clean right after, of course.

“Ben Poquette? Are you fucking kidding?”

At a game in Chicago in 1987, Bird had problems with the free tickets he should have received from the Bulls. Before playing, he communicated this situation to the rival coach, Doug Collins. And he also asked him what the pavilion’s point record was because his intention was to beat it. The game began with Ben Poquette, a white forward, defending Bird, who did not like being placed white defenders because it seemed disrespectful. So he turned to Collins and said, “Ben Poquette? Are you fucking kidding?” Then he scored 33 points in the first half alone and finished the game with 41.

“Give me a defender or I’ll put 60”

In a duel against the bad boys From Detroit, Bird scored four baskets in a row against Dennis Rodman and told Chuck Daly, the legendary Pistons coach: “Who’s defending me, Chuck? Is there someone defending me? You better put someone or I’ll score 60 points”. Rodman himself recalled it like this: “I was glued to him, trying to keep him from receiving and he was dedicated to telling his teammates to pass the ball to him, that he was alone, to hurry up before the rival noticed and covered him. And he would receive, elbow me in the jaw and score the shot right in my face. And he told my coach ‘take this guy out and get someone to defend a bit because it’s very easy when I play so liberated’”.

“Do you realize?”

In a game in Dallas in 1986, Bird told the entire Mavericks bench what was going to happen after a timeout: “Do you realize? I’m going to stay here, not moving. The ball will be passed to me and the next thing you will hear is the sound of the ball going through the net.”. And so it happened, exactly. Bird scored and winked at the Mavs dugout as he came back to the other side of the track to defend.

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