There's already a pool of unforgettable Larry Bird practice stories out there, but surely, a handful is still not yet told. Most of these stories give us an insight into how savage and, at the same time, incredibly talented Larry Legend was in his prime.
In a nutshell, it's safe to say Bird was a bully. But if you think he only came at his fellow NBA stars, former Boston Celtics journeyman Wayne Kreklow will prove you wrong.
Prospects were not excused
For sure, even some of the Celtics faithful have not heard of Kreklow's name. We can't blame them because even though Kreklow won a championship with the C's, he only played for 25 games in his lone season with Boston in 1980/81. Even more interesting, Kreklow was one of the few NBA players who decided to pursue a career in a different sport. In his case, he found a new lease on life with volleyball.
While winning the chip with one of the most celebrated NBA teams in history is undoubtedly an unforgettable moment for Kreklow, the other thing he will never forget was his first encounter with Bird.
According to Kreklow, he was still a prospect for the Celtics at the time, and there was a practice game against official Boston players. Bird was there.
His team was running a specific play where he would get the ball at the top of the key and could either pull up for a shot or take it all the way to the basket. The very first time they ran the play, Bird popped out of nowhere and fouled the living lights out of him.
"It was in practice. I think I was on the scout team. We were running some play where there was a high ball screen at the top of the key," Kreklow told Columbia Missourian in 2019. "I'm going, 'There's an open lane to the basket.' So I took it the first time, and Bird came from the weak side and just destroyed me. I mean, not just blocked the shot. It was like Brian Urlacher coming at you. It's like, you just fouled the living crap out of me."
At first, Kreklow thought Bird was just being Bird as he was also talking trash. But when "The Hick from French Lick" did it to him over and over again, he knew he was being bullied.
Seemingly aware and kind of used to Bird's attitude, then-Celtics head coach Bill Fitch finally yelled at Kreklow and suggested that he just go for a jump shot than "get killed" by Larry Legend down the lane.
"The third time it happened, I went down and I'm starting to get kind of pissed," he continued. "And he's talking, of course, he was famous for that. Finally Bill Fitch goes: 'When are you going to stop and pull up and take the shot, rather than get killed?' I'll never forget that. Because this was in practice. And that's why those guys won."
Why was Larry Bird so competitive?
The era where Bird played is considered to this day as the most competitive in all NBA. At the time, guys didn't only rely on their God-given talents; they gave it all they got to stop the opposing team regardless if they were underdogs.
Bird was one of them, as he admittedly knew he wasn't the most skilled and the most athletic player of his generation. However, he made sure that he beat them through impeccable hard work. And apparently, he applied that mentality all the time, even in practice.
"You can have all the speed in the world, all the quickness, and be able to jump out of the gym, but I think the one thing you have to have is the desire to make yourself better every day," Bird said of his game. "I wasn't able to run fast or jump high, so I had to come up with another gimmick to get me through… I am a better athlete than people give me credit for. I am good at pretty much anything that I do. There is no question I have to work a little bit harder than someone with gifted ability."
Those were the days
Bird's legacy is about being tough and physical but, at the same time, a winner. But surprisingly, he's not one of those NBA Hall of Famers who doesn't appreciate the evolution of the game. In fact, he loves watching the new era of the game as players can now show their skills, something they weren't able to do back then as everyone was roughing them up.
"I love the game now, I like where it's at," the three-time NBA champion admitted. "I like where it's going. A lot of people say, 'Well, they don't have to guard, you can't touch anybody.' Well, yeah, that makes a difference because you can show everybody your skills."
Indeed, Bird has done some wild things due to his extreme competitiveness. However, we can also agree that it's one of the things why we love Larry Legend.