When Larry Bird joined the 1992 Dream Team, he was nursing a back injury that prevented him from performing to his full powers. He was also on the tail-end of his career, meaning he played more of a mentor role than anything. Despite this handicap, Larry Legend tried to beat his contemporaries in any way he could — even if it involved the most trivial matters.
Brian McIntyre, then NBA vice president of public relations, shared a Bird story involving basketballs and autographs. It’s one of those chores stars like Bird had to do for fans. Interestingly, Bird turned this boring little ritual into a competition between him and his Dream Team teammates.
“I had about eighty basketballs in my room in Barcelona and had to get the players to sign them all. Bird was the last guy, and he says, ‘What’s the quickest anyone’s done it?’ I said, ‘Anywhere from eight minutes to twenty.’ And Bird said, ‘I’m going to be the fastest. Time me.’ So he signs them, and he throws me the last one: ‘Okay, what is it?’ ‘Whoa, four and a half minutes!’ And he goes, ‘Yes!’ Competitive right to the end,” McIntyre said, per GQ.
McIntyre’s story should be added to the many iconic Bird stories we’ve heard. Perhaps the most popular is when he told his fellow 3-point shootout contestants that he hopes they’re thinking of taking second place because he’s about to win it all. There’s also a legendary story where Bird played left-handed for three quarters against the Portland Trail Blazers.
Cut from the same cloth
This story proves how special the Dream Team really is. Phil Jackson once said that the difference between Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant is that the Black Mamba’s competitive chops begin and end in basketball. Meanwhile, Jordan was competitive throughout. Bird is also that guy who wanted to win at everything.
Perhaps it’s about time Bird gets his own documentary. The only time young fans hear Bird’s name is when the discourse turns to Dallas Mavericks star Luka Doncic, whose playstyle and basketball smarts are like the Celtics legend.
It would be great to see how Bird guided the Celtics to championship glory multiple times in the 80s. His rivalry against Magic Johnson should be revisited, too. Of course, it wouldn’t be complete without those classic Bird trash-talking narratives, and we all know there are so many more stories left unpacked.