NBA players, especially the greatest ones, have always been under a lot more pressure, and often, that pressure comes from passionate fans who want to help their team win in any possible way. Players have seen it all, either positive or negative. Even though things are usually civilized, some fans overstep their boundaries and therefore cause dangerous situations for them and the players, especially those rowdy fans that think they can send threats of any kind to the opposing players.
NBA legend Larry Bird has experienced numerous types of stressful situations from the fans, mainly because everyone knows you are the best player on the opposing team, which Bird definitely was throughout his career with the Boston Celtics. Some fans are imaginative and creative in setting up distractions and try to throw players out of their game but in an unharmful way. Unfortunately, Bird experienced the ugly side of the sport and the opposing fans when one fan called him on the phone and gave him death threats.
Receiving death threats during his rookie year
That happened during his rookie year with the Celtics, and despite being a rookie, Bird was already one of the best players in the NBA, and the fans already had tremendous respect for him. His presence alone frightened some of the opposing teams and fans so much that they used every tactic possible to throw him out of the game. The book "Bird Watching" by Larry Bird details what happened before the game against the New York Knicks when one crazy fan decided to give him a phone call before a game in hopes of scaring Bird and giving any edge possible to the Knicks.
"I remember during my rookie year we played an exhibition game in New York City. I was rooming with Tiny Archibald, and the phone rang and I picked it up, and somebody was on the other end telling me they were going to kill me."
Tiny Archibald came to Birds defense
Interestingly enough, at the time, Bird was a teammate with another legend of the NBA in, Tiny Archibald, who was already an experienced veteran with plenty of knowledge of handling these situations. Since Archibald was the veteran in charge of Bird, he immediately took matters into his own hands. He answered the phone and immediately started obliterating the hackler, trying to terrify Bird. Unfortunately, Bird got used to receiving death threats throughout his career, and even though most of them were never going to happen, it's definitely not pleasant when you hear something like that just because of the sport you play.
"I hung up, and Tiny said, "Who was that?" I told him, "Some guy that's going to kill me." The phone rang again, and this time Tiny picked it up. He chewed that guy out for a good ten minutes, but I really wasn't upset about it. I just went on. I knew the guy wasn't really going to kill me. You have to get used to that kind of thing when you are in the public eye. I've received so many death threats I've lost count. But I understand everyone deals with it differently. I read that Karl Malone decided he needed to start carrying a gun after he received threats"
Things in that regard have definitely changed in today's game, where the league and the whole environment are more convenient and pleasant for the players. The hecklers are eliminated from the games for the most part, with only some isolated situations happening every now or then when things escalate. One example is when LeBron threw out a heckling couple out of the game against the Indiana Pacers, which obviously raised many controversies.
Even if some fans wanted to call the players on the phone, that is a bit harder nowadays, and they would get caught easier than before, which could also mean some severe repercussions and possible jail time. Bird was bold and definitely the type of player that doesn't get scared quickly and is not afraid of the big moments, which he proved countless times in his HOF career.