Larry Bird Was Convinced That David Stern Rigged the 1984 NBA Finals: ‘The League Needed the Money’
There are few words as dramatic as “Game Seven.” Whenever the NBA playoffs roll around, those events become must-see TV. If you’ve got skin in the game, though, those occasions can be quite a bit more stressful; there’s no time to enjoy the spectacle when your season is on the line. In 1984, Larry Bird found himself facing that exact situation.
In 1979, Bird faced off with Magic Johnson in the final game of that year’s NCAA tournament. Now, the old rivals were facing off again in the NBA Finals. And if that wasn’t dramatic enough, the series headed into a winner-take-all seventh game.
Larry Legend, however, seemed to suspect that larger forces were at play. After Boston lost Game 6, he suggested that the NBA wanted to push the series to a decisive seventh stanza and reap the financial rewards.
Sound unbelievable? Well, let’s hop in the time machine and check it out.
Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers split the first 6 games of the 1984 NBA Finals
Over the years, both the Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers have been involved in plenty of iconic NBA Finals. At the tail end of the 1983-84 season, both of those clubs met on the biggest stage.
Boston entered the series with home-court advantage, but it didn’t help in Game 1 as the Lakers posted a six-point victory. It then looked like the Celtics were going to fall into a 2-0 hole until Gerald Henderson’s late steal forced Game 2 into overtime. In that extra frame, Boston secured a three-point victory to tie the series.
As the series shifted to the West Coast, the drama only continued to unfold. The Celtics were embarrassed in Game 3, with Bird publicly ripping his teammates after the ugly defeat. Boston responded in Game 4, however, taking advantage of some Lakers’ mistakes to seal a 129-125 overtime victory.
Game 5, which took place in Boston, was somewhat overshadowed by the sweltering heat; the Celtic notched a comfortable win, putting them within touching distance of an NBA title. When Game 6 arrived, though, Larry Bird and company couldn’t close the deal. In a physical contest, the Lakers prevailed, pushing things to a Game 7.
Bird, however, wasn’t too pleased with that outcome. And his objections went beyond annoyance at having to play an extra game.
Larry Bird suggested Game 6 was rigged by the NBA
When a team loses a playoff game, it’s understandable if the players make some frustrated comments when speaking to the media. After losing Game 6 of the 1984 NBA Finals, however, Larry Bird took things a bit further than normal.
As seen in an old Boston Globe clipping, the forward pointed the finger at then-NBA commissioner David Stern.
“Stern told a fan that the NBA needed a seven-game series, that the league needed money,” Bird said. “When the commissioner makes a statement like that to a fan, you know it’s going to be tough.”
While most players would stop short of suggesting that the league was conspiring against their team, Larry Legend kept going.
When Stern makes a statement like that, things are going to happen. … You don’t make statements like that and expect anything out of it. He’s the commissioner, and he shouldn’t be saying things like that.
The NBA wanted a seventh game because they wanted to make more money, and they got their wish.Larry Bird, as quoted in the Boston Globe
And what did Stern have to say about Bird’s suggestion that he had placed his finger on Game 6’s scale? He didn’t address the comments — he was flying when the Globe reached out for comment — but the league unsurprisingly denied any wrongdoing.
“I think it’s ridiculous,” spokesman Brian McIntyre said in Stern’s stead. “If he [Stern] said it, it was a throwaway line. I’ll try to reach him tonight, but he’ll laugh.”
The Celtics came out on top in Game 7, avoiding an eternity of ‘what ifs’
Had the Boston Celtics lost Game 7, things could have become a public relations nightmare for David Stern and the NBA. Thankfully for everyone in the league offices, though, Larry Bird and his teammates managed to seal the deal.
Behind 24 points from Cedric Maxwell, the Celtics won the deciding game and clinched the championship. As you might expect, that result brought about both the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.
Bird hitchhiked to a bar and, the following morning, started preparing for the new season. Elsewhere in Boston, Magic Johnson forced himself to watch the city celebrate before breaking down into tears.
And, somewhere, David Stern was probably breathing a major sigh of relief.