Most every basketball fan has a favorite Larry Bird memory.
For some, it's the play in the 1981 Finals where Bird, knowing his shot was short and to the right, followed the shot, caught it with his right hand, switched it to his left as he went flying out of bounds and floated in a finger roll.
Or, maybe it was Bird, needing the money ball on the final rack to win the Three-Point Shootout at the 1988 All-Star Weekend, let it fly, raised his index finger and walked off the court as the ball fell through the net.
Or maybe it was one of his many game-winners from one of many angles to take one of the many games the Celtics won in his 13 seasons with the team. Or maybe it was a no look pass or him diving into the first row of spectators for a loose ball or his towel slapping antics after a teammate made a big hoop or the image of Bird shooting jumpers hours before game time with only the Boston Garden rats watching.
The self-described Hick from French Lick was a three-time MVP and three-time NBA champ with the floor burns to prove it.
But for me, the image of Larry Bird that stands out most also reminded me of a story another American sports legend after his playing days, Joe DiMaggio.
After his retirement, Bird eventually found his way to the sidelines as head coach of the Pacers, who, in this case, were down two games to one to the Bulls in the 1998 Eastern Conference Finals. In Game 4, the Pacers found themselves down one with 2.9 seconds left. In a moment of high drama, Pacers legend Reggie Miller frees himself, gathers the inbounds pass, turns, fires and drains a three with 0.7 seconds on the clock to give the Pacers a 96-94 lead. Conseco Fieldhouse erupts. Miller sprints down to the other end of the floor and jumps and spins like a madman.
Moments later, NBC shows the replay and splices in Bird's reaction, which was ...
Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Bird didn't smile, didn't do a subtle fist pump, didn't even blink. His "been there, done that" reaction reminded me of Gay Talese's great Esquire Magazine piece on Joltin' Joe.
Seems that when Joe was married to Marilyn Monroe, Marilyn took a trip to see the troops in Korea. Thrilled by the reception she received, Marilyn excitedly told Joe after returning to the States, "You never heard such cheering."
"Yes I have," DiMaggio answered.
You see, Larry Bird, had heard such cheering. And with 0.7 seconds left on the clock, the man who seemingly beat the clock on a nightly basis during his playing career knew there was work still to be done.
Or at least, that's my memory of it.
Now, on his 50th birthday, we cheer him again, with photos, with video, with trivia and with exclusive interviews.
And here's hoping when his friends and family cheer Larry after he blows out the candles on his birthday cake he at least cracks a smile.
-- By Rob Peterson
Coaching Larry Legend
We'll let K.C. Jones tell what it was like:
"We are playing in Seattle. Five seconds left on the clock and the score is tied and it is our timeout. In the huddle, I am thinking Xavier McDaniel is guarding Larry.
"So I said, 'Now Kevin, you take the ball out and get it to Dennis and Dennis you can finish that.'
"Larry said, 'Why donít you just give me the ball and tell everybody else to get the hell out of the way?'
"So I said, 'Larry you play, and Iíll coach.'
"And he said, 'All right.'
"So I said, 'Dennis, you take it out and you get it to Kevin. Kevin you get it to Larry and everybody else get the hell out of the way.'
"That is communication. Before the timeout was over, he leaves the huddle, and I said to myself, where is he going.
"And Xavier was right there and Bird said, 'Xavier, Iím getting the ball. Iím going to take two dribbles to the left. Iím going to step back behind the three point line and stick it.'
"And that is what he did. So when he stepped back behind the line and released the ball, as soon as he released it, his arm was still in the air going to the dressing room. Game over."
More on what it was like to coach Larry Legend
All Bird, All Day
NBA TV will celebrate NBA Legend Larry Birdís 50th Birthday on Thursday, Dec. 7, when the network dedicates a full day of programming to one of the greatest players in NBA history beginning at 9 a.m. ET. The highlight of this all-day celebration will be The Legend at 50, an exclusive interview by Hall of Famer and ESPN analyst Bill Walton
with his former Boston Celtics teammate and current Indiana Pacers executive at 7:30 p.m. ET.
NBA TV also will present Larry Birdís 50 Greatest Moments at 6:30 p.m. ET. Hosted by Rick Kamla, this one-hour special will feature a countdown of the 50 greatest moments from Birdís legendary basketball career and will include commentary from the men who played with and against the native of French Lick, Ind. In addition, Andre Aldridge will go into the NBA video vaults for Larry Bird: Through the Years at 5:30 p.m. ET. This special presentation will showcase vintage interviews and features on Bird conducted throughout the years, beginning with his early playing career with the Celtics to his present role as President of Basketball Operations for the Pacers.
In addition, NBA TV will air documentaries and NBA Hardwood Classic specials, such as Birdís 60-point performance against the Atlanta Hawks during his 1985 NBA MVP season (1 p.m. ET). The network also will present rarely-seen home videos from Bird throughout the day as well as his mesmerizing performance in the 1988 NBA All-Star Three-Point Shootout (11 a.m. ET) and his emotional retirement ceremony (10 p.m. ET).
To complement the networkís comprehensive coverage, NBA.com will blanket the site with extensive Bird video highlights and features on his classic playoff duels against Magic Johnson and Dominique Wilkins as well as comments from his former teammates on NBA TV Broadband. The site also will feature special retrospectives from his former coaches, rare photos and the ultimate Bird trivia game. In addition, NBA Radio on SIRIUS Satellite Radio will present live interviews with Birdís teammates.
Among the highlights, NBA TVís Larry Bird birthday celebration will feature:
5:30 p.m. ET
Larry Bird: Through The Years
This special will present the best-of-the-best from the NBA video library, featuring historical interviews and profiles conducted throughout Birdís NBA career.
6:30 p.m. ET
Larry Birdís 50 Greatest Moments
This one-hour special will count down the 50 greatest moments from Birdís career featuring insights from legendary NBA players, coaches and executives as well as never-before-seen home video from his personal collection.
7:30 p.m. ET
The Legend at 50
Old friends and teammates reunite when Bill Walton visits Bird at his home to discuss the life of one of the most important figures in the NBA modern era.