Coming into the league, Shawn Kemp was ready for NBA’s physicality and athleticism. Still, the 20-year old ‘got schooled’ here and there. Coming into the legendary Boston Garden on December 13th, 1989, Kemp was looking forward to facing the greatest player in the history of Indiana basketball, Larry Bird. He knew that the Celtics superstar would trash-talk him and his teammates.
“Here you have this young kid coming out, trying to be the next big thing out of Indiana, and he (Bird) did exactly what he was supposed to do. He trashed talked me to death. He told me exactly what he was going to do to me before the game started. Then we went out, and he did exactly what he told me what he would do. A true introduction to the NBA.”Shawn Kemp, Basketball Time Machine
But, no one could have predicted that Bird would score 40 points on 17-27 shooting from the field, and add 11 boards and ten assists for a classy triple-double effort, backing his pregame trash-talk with the actual numbers!
“Back then, we took things pretty seriously. When the guy scored that many points on you, you took it personally and tried to do something about it. At that time in the 1990s, the NBA was a defensively driven league. Guys who played a really good defense got a lot of respect.”Shawn Kemp, Basketball Time Machine
After spending his rookie campaign on learning the pro game and continuously improving his game, Kemp was ready to make the 1990-91 NBA season his breakthrough year. And from early on, he let no one standing in his way while also leaving no one in the stands disappointed. The segment in which Kemp showed dramatic improvement from his rookie year was his mid-range game.
“If you ask me the one thing that I took the great pride on a basketball court, I would definitely say my midrange game. To be able to shoot the ball anywhere from eighteen feet on in. It’s something that you just don’t see even in today’s game.”Shawn Kemp, Basketball Time Machine
Playing with a great deal of self-confidence, for a team coached by the Celtics legend K.C. Jones, the Supersonics young power-forward, suddenly emerged as one of the league’s brightest young stars. Still, in Kemp’s mind, a game in which Bird went off for 40 points presented a bad memory from his rookie year. He was looking forward to an opportunity to sort matters with the aging Celtics star.
“It bothered me so bad that I took a picture of him and put it in my bathroom. And every morning, I would get up just to look at him. The next year, we played Larry Bird and the Celtics, I told a team ‘I’m going to give him back what he did there to me.‘ So, I wouldn’t even shoot a jump shot. Everything I would do would just be a dunk!”Shawn Kemp, Basketball Time Machine
Kemp faced the Celtics twice during his breakthrough season. On December 3rd, 1990, the Celtics smashed the Supersonics by 33 points in the Boston Garden, but Kemp held his own by scoring 19 points on 9-20 shooting. On February 12th, 1991, in Seattle, the Celtics again came away with the win. This time, Kemp scored 16 points in 21 minutes of action.
“So, halfway during that game, Larry Bird said something to me that stuck with me forever. I’m still teasing about this one when I see him. He told me: ‘I think I’m ready for retirement.’”Shawn Kemp, Basketball Time Machine
The last time two basketball greats squared off against each other in a regular-season game was on December 27th, 1991, in Seattle. It was the Celtics and Bird who again prevailed by convincingly winning the game by 110-87. That time, Bird scored 25 points on 10-15 shooting from the field, while Kemp came off the Supersonics bench to score only 5 points on 2-7 shooting in 17 minutes of action.