Larry Bird‘s illustrious NBA career is filled with numerous career-defining moments. One of which is his 1984 NBA title over rival Magic Johnson and the Los Angeles Lakers. Bird helped catapult the Celtics over the Lakers after his uncharacteristic stern comments toward his teammates after the Game 3 blowout loss.
Larry Bird-Magic Johnson rivalry elevated the NBA
Bird entered the NBA highly motivated to guide the Celtics back to prominence.
It quickly transitioned to a budding rivalry against Johnson and the Lakers. The two all-time greats dominated the 1980s, winning eight NBA championships with 13 NBA Finals appearances. The two faced each other three times on the grandest stage, with the Lakers great coming out on top twice.
The intense rivalry featured 37 meetings, with the Lakers winning 22 contests, including an 11-8 edge in the three NBA Finals matchups. Johnson has the edge over his longtime rival. Still, it was a defining moment from Bird off the court in the 1984 Finals that provided the emotional uplift to propel the Celtics to earn the championship.
Angry Larry Bird uncharacteristically called his teammates ‘Sissies’ after the Game 3 loss of the 1984 NBA Finals against the Lakers: ‘I wanted to fight every teammate I had’
In Bird‘s first opportunity to one-up his rival in the 1984 NBA Finals, things quickly began to slip away.
The Lakers dominated Game 3 to grab a 2-1 series lead after a 137-104 blowout win. Los Angeles controlled the glass holding a 63-44 rebounding advantage, while a 47-point third quarter put it in cruise control for the rest of the game.
The embarrassing loss led Bird to uncharacteristically publicly lay into his teammates.
“Until we get our heads where they belong, we’re in trouble,’ Bird said via Jackie MacMullan’s book titled When The Game Was Ours. “We’re a team that plays with heart and soul, and today the heart wasn’t there. I can’t believe a team like this would let LA come out and push us around like they did. We played like sissies.”
Bird’s stern remarks motivated his teammates to win games 4 and 5, eventually leading to a Game 7 win at home. Bird led the charge, averaging a double-double with 27.4 points and 14.0 rebounds while shooting 48.4% from the floor.
Although it was out of the norm to publicly call out his teammates, it showcased his leadership and accountability. Beyond that, it finally gave him the satisfaction of winning a championship against Johnson.
“I wanted to fight every teammate I had after Game,” Bird said. “I did everything I could in the papers to get them fired up. I knew if something didn’t change, we were going to lose. So I called them sissies, told them they played like girls. I didn’t know if there would be some backlash, but I didn’t care. I was not going to watch Magic celebrating in front of me.”
Illustrious NBA legacy remains forever cemented
Bird may not have gotten the upper hand over his rival, but he cemented himself as an all-time great behind his sustained success.
He transformed the Celtics into a powerhouse in the 1980s while earning three NBA titles in five Finals appearances. Bird served as a massive part of making the league into the international sports juggernaut it’s become.
Alongside Johnson, the two saved the NBA from a disastrous fate, which only lifts his legacy and impact on the game to another stratosphere. Beyond all that, Bird’s place in league history is forever set in stone.