It Took Some Convincing to Get an Injured Larry Bird to Join the 1992 Dream Team: ‘All You Have to Do Is Shoot It’
Thanks to Magic Johnson, the 1992 Dream Team featured the NBA’s biggest talents. The Los Angeles Lakers legend was able to convince Michael Jordan and Larry Bird to join the team after receiving his own invite from NBA Commissioner David Stern.
At the time, Magic was in early retirement following his HIV diagnosis. However, he badly wanted to play and would only do so with Larry Bird and Michael Jordan.
Both superstars had reasons for not joining the team. For Bird, he was nursing a back injury — no longer the invincible athletic forward he used to be. Eventually, though, Johnson convinced him.
Larry Bird’s history of back injuries
Larry Bird played 13 seasons against some of the most physical wings in NBA history, as well as two additional full seasons worth of playoff games. All of this aggravated his back injury, which doctors had to “unlock” at the end of his career just to get him on the court.
This ultimately forced the star to retire early at age 35.
Bird’s injury caught his fans by surprise. Initially, he deemed it a minor sore back, but the information confused fans even further as he missed 22 of the next 48 games. The back injury greatly affected his scoring.
Despite the damage, he helped the Celtics advance in the 1991 NBA Playoffs, spending time in the hospital afterward instead of celebrating the win. At the end of that season, Bird’s back injury had led to a career-low field-goal percentage of 45%.
The 1991-92 campaign wasn’t much better. The Celtics star played just 45 games in what would become his final NBA season, and the team would go out in the second round of the playoffs.
In the summer of ’92, Bird was about to call it quits on his basketball career. However, his old rival Magic Johnson called and convinced him to give it one more run.
Magic Johnson’s phone call to Larry Bird
The 1992 Dream Team assembled a group of NBA icons into the best Olympic basketball team the world had ever seen. It was an incredible balance of abilities and influence. Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, and a young Michael Jordan set the example, creating a “big three” of the most prominent players of all time to that point.
However, before they came together, both Jordan and Bird announced they wouldn’t participate in the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, Spain. That’s when Johnson got to work, determined to play with both Jordan and Bird.
Magic knew better than anyone that the way to get Bird was to challenge him and stoke his legendary competitive fire.
“All you have to do is go stand in the corner or stand at the top of the key. You don’t have to do nothing else,” Magic recalled on his Apple TV+ documentary, They Call Me Magic (h/t Mirror). “I’m going to get you the ball, all you have to do is shoot it and make it. You can still do that, can’t you?”
Ultimately, that convinced Bird to accept Magic’s invitation to join the team.
Johnson admits he had to work harder to get Jordan, but the ultimate NBA salesman eventually got his man from the Chicago Bulls as well, and the Dream Team was born.
The 1992 Dream Team’s performance and Bird’s retirement
To this day, the original 1992 Dream Team is still the most incredible collection of basketball talent to play on a court at the same time.
The team cruised through the tournament, winning its games by an average of 43.8 points per contest. Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Michael Jordan, and company went 8-0 and beat Croatia 117-85 to win the gold medal.
Jordan led the Dream Team in minutes played (23.1 per game) and was second in scoring (behind Charles Barkley), averaging 14.9 points.
Bird and Magic both played just 18 minutes per game, but they were effective when on the court. Magic was second in assists per game with 5.5 (behind Scottie Pippen), and true to his word, Johnson also fed Bird standing on the perimeter.
The Celtics icon led the team with 27 3-point attempts in the tournament, and he knocked down 33.3% of those shots from behind the arc, bad back and all.
When Larry Bird returned to Boston in August 1992, he promptly held a press conference announcing his retirement from the NBA. That run in Barcelona with the living legends of the game would be the last time basketball fans ever saw Bird play a competitive game.