You might have heard of my All-Star memory before … once or twice. The 1988 All-Star Weekend featured some of the best moments the NBA has ever seen, including Michael Jordan and Dominique Wilkins going head-to-head in an amazing dunk competition. (It was fellow editor John Schuhmann’s favorite memory.) But that’s not what sticks out for me.
It’s cliché, it’s bandwagon and I don’t care, I’m picking this moment anyway because when Larry Bird pulled off one of the most confident moves I’ve ever seen. He was the coolest person a 10-year-old could ever imagine.
Know what I’m talking about yet? Let me set the scene.
It’s 1988, All-Star Saturday in Chicago. Bird had won the first two three-point contests and is looking for the three-peat.
Now you have to understand what Bird meant to so many people around my age growing up. The first video game I remember playing was Dr. J vs. Larry Bird. My brother was always Dr. J. Bird … he was mine. So when Larry put his skills on display, I was glued to the TV.
The NBA introduced the 3-Point Shootout competition during the 1986 All-Star Weekend and for the first two years of the competition, Bird was dominant. He proved himself to be the best long-distance shooter in the league – this much was clear.
Before the shootout began Bird walked around the locker room and posed the most cocky of questions: "Who's finishing second?"
After his previous domination, it seemed as if he had everything under control – but in ’88 the Silent Assassin was lurking.
Dale Ellis had one of the sweetest shots the league has ever seen, and he was poised to give Bird almost all he could handle. I watched as Ellis smoothly knocked down shot after shot in the final round, leaving a score of 15 – the road would not be easy for Bird. Would it be possible? Would somebody best the "Basketball Jesus" from beyond the arc?
No, this was Larry Bird, he would back up his words – something that meant a lot to a young basketball fan. It sticks with me to this day. After running tying Ellis with 15 points and with the last ball, the money ball, in his hands Larry Legend fired and a second later with the ball barely off his fingers, turned and walked away with his index finger in the air.
Behind him the money ball splashed in and Bird remained the Man, not just of the 3-Point Shootout but of basketball for many of us.
If that ball doesn’t fall, Bird’s gesture becomes a joke that would live to this day. But that was part of Bird’s charm, there no way that red and white money shot was going astray.
Does the legacy of this contest last the test of time? Last year we asked Vladimir Radmanovic if he had any memories of the 3-Point Shootout.
"Somebody told me that Larry Bird came out in the lockerroom and said, ‘Okay, who’s going to be second here?’ So I think that’s kind of cool; a little cocky, but cool,” Radmanovic said.
Cocky but the coolest, that was Larry Bird on that February night in 1988.