Larry Bird played in an era where a fistfight was nothing special. Back in those days, the NBA was a lot more like hockey. Guys would throw some punches, cool off, and play on. But, there's one guy Bird still isn't on good terms after all these years - Bill Laimbeer.
The Pistons embraced their Bad Boys identity but always pointed out a lot of teams threw punches and punished everyone that came in the paint. Isiah Thomas has the stitches to prove it. So why are they the only ones still carrying the reputation of a dirty team? This is what Bird said about their main enforcer, Bill Laimbeer.
He had to do what he had to do; I understand that. Rick Mahorn, he'd hit you, and you know you were going to get hit. But he didn't try to maim you. Bill tried to hurt you.
Larry Bird, YouTube
Back in 1987, the Celtics and Pistons played one of the greatest conference finals series in NBA history. It is marked by Bird's incredible steal and assists to Dennis Johnson after Isiah Thomas made a bad inbounds pass in Games 6. A few games earlier, in Game 3, Bill Laimbeer and Larry Bird got into a fight.
Bird pump-faked Dennis Rodman and slid underneath him while Rodman was in the air - a dirty move. Laimbeer had none of it and tackled Bird like it's a rugby match. After the players were separated and the situation seemed under control, Bird grabbed the ball and threw it at Laimbeer. Here's how a young Michael Jordan answered when asked ”Considering the thuggery the Celtics always get away with, do you think Laimbeer's foul here was excessive?"
“I thought it [Laimbeer's foul] was a lot more flagrant than it should be. 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.”
MJ completely ignored the "Boston thuggery" part and didn't address the fact Bird started it all with a dirty play. Rodman could've easily been seriously injured. Both guys got fined, and the question was, is it fair for Bird, who started all this with his dirty move and threw the ball once everything cooled off, to get the lesser fine?
MJ was smart enough not to answer that question. The last thing he needed to give Larry Bird extra motivation the next time they faced each other.