“I thought Laimbeer's foul was a lot more flagrant than it should be," Michael Jordan said about the Pistons' big man foul on Larry Bird that prompted a fight between the two. "I understand you don't let a player get an easy layup, but you don't do a flagrant foul where the individual might be injured for the rest of their lives.”
Most people would agree with MJ -- Laimbeer, one of the dirtiest players in the league's history, was the one who initiated one of the NBA's most infamous brawls during Game 3 of the 1987 Eastern Conference Finals. But John Salley, Bill's teammate at the time, sees the incident differently.
"It's not what happened"
Your average NBA fan would describe it like this -- Larry Bird got the ball, pump-faked, and Laimbeer delivered a WWE-style bodyslam that started a bench-clearing brawl. Dennis Rodman was also involved, but he did nothing to provoke Bird's reaction.
But Salley, who was the one who tried to get Larry off his teammate, has a different version of the story.
"It's not what happened," Salley said. "Larry pump-faked, Dennis went in the air, Dennis' foot got caught and he caught Bill. So they all twisted and went to the ground and then Larry started punching him. And I was pulling Larry off and he was trying to get away."
"He hit him very legal"
Laimbeer and Bird had their fare share of fights and on-court altercations. But on this specific occasion, Bill himself said it wasn't his intention to hurt the Celtics forward.
"Bird went up for the shot, and it looked like Rodman was going to undercut him. I grabbed hold of Larry to break my fall."
Bill Laimbeer, Sports Illustrated
As expected, Bird wasn't buying it. "Yeah, right, he was trying to break his fall," he said about Laimbeer's comments. "And when I threw the ball, I was just trying to get it to the ref."
There's no doubt in Larry's mind that what Laimbeer did was a dirty play. And most people agree with him. But Salley doesn't. According to the former Piston, the backlash on Laimbeer was a consequence of his reputation as a dirty player. And Salley might be alone in this one, but he doesn't believe the big guy deserved to be perceived as such.
"It literally was Dennis' leg got caught in Larry and Dennis fell and Bill got caught in it," Salley added. "I promise you, I've watched it a thousand times."