Throughout the years, countless stories resurfaced that prove Larry Bird is a trash-talking genius. Unlike some players that only talk, Bird always backed up his trash-talking by doing what he said he was going to do, and usually, that meant scoring buckets at will from almost any position on the floor. Bird didn’t care who was guarding him, and most of the time, the opposing teams would put their best guys to try and stop Bird, and most of them usually failed in doing so.
Gary Payton, who is known as one of the greatest perimeter defenders in NBA history and the only point guard to win the DPOY, talked about one of his first encounters with Bird in the early ’90s. Remember at that time, Bird was already at the end of his career, struggling with back injuries, being a shadow of his former self. However, that didn’t stop him from schooling Payton on the court by telling him exactly what he would do before he did it.
Right at the Garden on his last leg, we are playing them, and he told me, ‘young fella, let me tell you something. I’m going to jump anywhere I want to. You are supposed to be a great defender. I am going to make sure I tell you where I am going to shot the ball at. I was like, come on, man; you are not going to shoot the ball. So he said I will take you to that corner there, and I will give you something, and it’s going to be this jumper.Gary Payton
That statement by Bird fired up Payton, who didn’t think there is a chance Bird would do what he said he would do on offense. Payton was still young and inexperienced at the time; while Bird had so many tricks up his sleeve, he could hurt you in numerous ways on offense. Payton tried to slow down Bird by playing pesky defense, but Bird took his time and got to the spot he wanted to and did exactly what he said he would do – drain a jumper in Payton’s face.
So all of a sudden, we are playing, and I am d-ing him up, and he slow balled me. He went right to that corner, and I am up on him; I am under him. He said, young fella, what did I tell you I was going to do? He turned around, raised up, and it was all net. I said s**t, I am not going to mess with you no more. That is a veteran knowing he can play and what he can do. He knew I was smaller than him, he could shot over me, and he can create space. He knew how to neutralize me by turning his back and make me have to go through him. If I reach on him, he would turn and spin and get away from me. That is just being smart about the game.Gary Payton
From that moment, Payton understood why Bird was considered the best player in the NBA for a long time and an ultimate trash-talker who doesn’t back down from a challenge he sets for himself. Even when he was at the tail end of his career, no longer at 100 percent, Bird had a mindset of a champion and was an ultimate competitor ready to take on any challenge. Payton himself had a very similar mentality throughout his career, and even though he was often the smallest player on the court, his impact was tremendous, which he proved numerous times in his HOF career. He probably learned a thing or two from Larry Legend himself during those times they played each other at the end of Bird’s career.