Eddie Johnson has a piece about how players nowadays are too friendly with each other. In it, he includes two stories about Larry Bird, who he considers to be the epitome of a player who kept his opponents at a distance. (HoopsHype)
That’s why I loved Bird – because he had no fake in him. He was an assassin and he took pride in destroying your confidence on the court if he could.
I had two memorable run-ins with him. The first was my first start as a rookie in the Boston Garden. He walked out for the jump ball and asked out loud who the (expletive) was going to try and guard him that night? Once he realized it was me, he immediately walked over and told me that he was going to destroy me – which he did with ease.
The next encounter was the following year, but I was a different player and was having a breakout year. I happened to be in one of my zones and was berating Bird all game long when he told me all I could do was score. The next play I gave him a head fake, popped him in the mouth and drew a foul. While I was shooting the free throw, I said out loud, “I can make you bleed too.”
He tried like heck to get me back the rest of the game, but didn’t succeed.
I thought it was over when I was in the safe haven of the locker room, but to my amazement I looked up and Bird had come in to hand me his hotel room key. He looked at me and said, “Why don’t you come over and we can finish what you started?”
I said I wasn’t going to do that so him, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish could beat me up. He started laughing and said, “We will finish this next year and I will not forget.”
I knew right then that Bird could have played on any playground where I grew up in Chicago and hold his own. Why? Larry Bird knew how to talk trash. I remember when he was wearing out Julius Erving and talking smack. Dr. J got upset and started to choke him. Bird responded with a right-handed punch.
That boy was bad.
Whatever you think about Larry Bird’s bravado (personally, I loved it), you can’t help but come to the conclusion Johnson did.
That boy was bad.