Dennis Rodman talks about the mistake he made when he said Larry Bird would be just an average player if he was black, which happened during the ECF in 1987. It was a controversial statement at the time because it only fueled additional hate in the rivalry between the Detroit Pistons and Boston Celtics.
Tough matchups against Bird
Right before game 6 in the 1987 ECF, Dennis Rodman made a controversial statement about Larry Bird adding another element to the whole series and rivalry between the Pistons and Celtics. Rodman's words caught a lot of attention from the media when he said Larry Bird gets more favorable coverage than all the other superstars in the NBA because he is white, and how other players like Magic should get the same recognition. That statement from Rodman took place right after game 5, in which Larry Bird had the infamous steal that won the game for the Celtics.
Now looking back at it 35 years after, Rodman talks about his rivalry with Bird since his main goal was to slow him down any way he could. He remembers the trash-talking between them, which was often instigated by Bird, who knew he could get the best out of the rookie trying to prove he belongs in the NBA.
"So I am guarding him, and every time I turn my head he is over there at the three-point line saying 'I'm over here rook'. I have to go and run over there like a dumba** and trying to contest that three."
Admitting he made a mistake
Rodman admits he made a rookie mistake when he said those comments calling Bird overrated simply because he was white.To make things even worse, it happened in Boston, which led to an even greater form of rivalry and even hate between these two teams.The Pistons were trying to dethrone the Celtics as the best team in the eastern conference, and they knew they had a chance if they could get Bird out of his game.
"Game 6 at Boston I made the most wrong decision that a person can make. I was young and stupid so after the game, I said If Larry Bird was black, he would be an average basketball player. That is what I actually said back then, and I was in Boston."
Rodman remembers how Isaiah Thomas stood behind him and showcased what a great teammate looks like when he took a lot of that criticism on himself. Thomas immediately realized Rodman made a stupid mistake like that calling out Bird in the media, but he also knew Rodman was an essential part of their team. Rodman thinks that series brought a lot of attention to the Pistons and himself as one of the premier defenders in the league.
"What was so cool about our team is that Isaiah Thomas came to my defense. He took all that heat from me and said Dennis, just go to your car and drive back home to Oklahoma and stay there. I made a mistake but those times were different, its a different era these days, but my career escalated from that point on."
The Boston Celtics would win that series after seven games, but that season marked the start of a dynasty that later resulted in back-to-back championships for the Pistons. For Rodman, on the other hand, it was a great learning experience how to talk with the media even though there were countless situations later on in his career where he was far more controversial than after that game. Rodman did numerous wild things throughout his career, but this one situation with Bird is something he wishes he had done differently because it was uncalled for and unnecessary.