December 7th, 2006 - A unique day in history - Larry Bird turns 50 during my Larry Bird year. Coincidence? I think … so. Yes, probably. But notable, nonetheless. So this gives me the perfect opportunity to do my VTK Bird post, the second half of my obligation to comment on the two halves of the Jesus-LarryBird moniker of this year.
Larry Bird was not my first sports idol. That honor goes to Reggie Jackson, the Yankees’ slugger from the late 70’s and early 80’s (When I got my glasses and Yankees hat at age 8, I ran up to Father Callahan, who used to come to my house to give mass to my grandfather, and yelled, “Father Callahan, don’t I look like Reggie Jackson!?!?” That’s not really funny unless you know that Reggie was a mustachioed black man with an afro and I was a pale faced dork with a bowl cut). So, Reggie was my first sports idol, but Larry was unquestionably my biggest childhood sports idol. I idolized him in the true sense of the word – he was like a god in my mind. Hyperbole? Maybe a little, but not a lot. There were definitely times when he appeared ordained to make the big shot. To the point where it was shocking when he missed one with the game on the line. The best example of that was the shot he missed in the Garden against the Lakers in the 87 Finals after Magic’s mini-skyhook. The crowd, the teams, and the basketball world was stunned. The Lakers ran off the court like giddy bank robbers. Of course, context is everything, and that moment came at a point in time when the C’s were the reigning champs, Larry Legend had won the NBA MVP 3 years in a row, and he was one playoff series (10 days maybe?) removed from The Steal.
The Steal was probably the single greatest sports moment in my life. It came against the hated Detroit Pistons in game 5 of the best of 7 Eastern Conference Championship. The Pistons were up by 1 with possession of the ball, 3 seconds on the clock, poised to send the series back to Detroit with a 3-2 series lead. It seemed pretty hopeless to me as your 14 year old future VTK scribe lay awake in bed, in the dark, headphones on, listening to the iconic Johnny Most call the game. And then:
Now imagine that radio call in the dark. I nearly shit myself. I started yelling and jumping up and down. I didn’t see it until later, but that call by Johnny, that gravely voice. Wow. I’ve got goosebumps right now. “OH MY, THIS PLACE IS GOING CRAZY” I’m seriously getting choked up over here… Ok, I’m ok. Anyways, just an insane play by Bird in a seemingly hopeless situation.
There are also great stories about his game winning shots. My favorite is the one that Xavier McDaniel told about a game in which the Celtics were tied and had the ball coming out of a timeout with a few seconds on the clock. Larry Bird walked up to him and told him what he was going to do and where he was going to shoot the game winner from. He then proceeded to do exactly what he told him and hit the shot from where he said he would, in XMan’s face, to win the game.
And then there was the Three Point Contest in which Larry walked into the locker room beforehand and asked the other contestants “who’s playing for second?” Then he went out and, needing one more basket to win, he shot the last ball on the rack, put his finger in the air and walked away as the ball fell through the net:
That's why they call him Larry Legend. I mean, in your fucking face, walking away with his finger in the air. Bam. Quintessence. He didn't even take his warm-up jacket off!
What else to say about # 33, Larry Bird? So many memories: the 60 point Atlanta game (called by current Yankees radio announcer John Sterling, btw) where the Hawks were falling off the bench in awe; the playoff game against the Pacers when he left the game with a concussion after smacking his head against the floor and then ran down the aisle ala Willis Reed and torched them in the 2nd half; the 92 Olympics Dream Team game when he grabbed a rebound threw the outlet pass to Magic who drove the ball to the hoop before throwing a no-look pass behind him to a trailing Bird who nailed the 3 pointer. That’s Larry Legend, or Basketball Jesus as the Sports Guy calls him. I guess I’ll leave it with his career stats for the VTK record (Career averages of 24.3 ppg, 10.0 rpg, 6.3 apg, .496 FG%, .376 3P%, .886 FT%; 3 rings, 3 MVPs, 9 All-NBA first team selections) and a youtube clip of the NBA Superstars music video from back in the day.
Happy 50, Larry.