Larry Bird Was Convinced That David Stern Rigged the 1984 NBA Finals: ‘The League Needed the Money’

Sports have brought us some of the most inspirational moments in human history. They’ve also been the site of many controversial scandals. According to basketball great Larry Bird, the 1984 NBA Finals may well have been one of the latter. 

Nearly 40 years have passed since the iconic matchup between the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers. The league itself was in flux with David Stern recently stepping into the role of commissioner. A tight Game 7 certainly adds to the drama and excitement for fans. But would Stern go so far as to tell officials to make it happen

Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers went head-to-head in 1984 NBA finals

Both the Celtics and Lakers had legacies on the line when they faced off in the 1984 NBA Finals. Boston had clinched the title in 1981; LA had answered with a win of their own in 1982. 

With a better record, the Celtics were given home-court advantage, but it didn’t seem to help. The Lakers were running away with the series. The Celtics narrowly took the win in Game 2 when a steal sent them into overtime. But the Lakers answered back with a definitive win the very next game.

Larry Bird, one of the Celtics’ driving forces and most famous faces, lambasted his own team as “soft.” It’s safe to say that Game 4 had a lot riding on it for Boston. If they couldn’t regain some momentum, the series would be over fast. They pulled out a win, and Game 5 started with a tied series: 2-2.

Game 5 was once again in Boston. The sweltering heat caused problems for some of the players, but not for Bird. Boston won, giving them an edge in the series and sending them to Game 6, which made the Celtics head back on the road. This is where things took an interesting turn — at least according to Bird. 

Larry Bird suggested Game 6 was rigged

Boston Celtics forward Larry Bird shoots a free throw during a game
Celtics forward Larry Bird shoots a free throw in 1984 | Bettmann/Contributor

As the Celtics Blog reports in retrospect, the 1984 NBA Finals was one for the ages: “For sheer extended thrills, tension, great play, and drama, no championship series that I have witnessed can match the 1984 title series, which actually exceeded the hype and build-up, a rarity in championship round sports.” It’s possible, though, that it had a little nefarious help in getting such dramatic flair. 

Digging into journalistic archives, Basketbawful investigated the rumors that Bird thought Game 6 was rigged to help the Lakers win. Eventually, an old newspaper clip from the Boston Globe turned up, and it did make such a suggestion. “Stern told a fan that the NBA needed a seven-game series, that the league needed the money. When the commissioner makes a statement like that to a fan, you know it’s going to be tough,” the paper quotes Bird as saying. 

The implication, of course, was that Stern threw his weight around to ensure the Lakers would win and that the series would go to a nail-biting and money-making Game 7. Ultimately, the Lakers did win. It was in a sharp turn late in the game that some say was helped along by officials who seemed to be making calls in the Lakers’ favor.

Game 7 was definitely a thrill ride for Celtics and Lakers fans

Stern declined to comment on Bird’s accusations. But whether he had a hand in arranging the outcome or not, he had to be excited to see the series go to Game 7. On top of that, the final game was especially thrilling. 

The back and forth kept both teams within striking distance right up until the bitter end, but when the Celtics ultimately came out on top, Bird was ready to party. He was riding high on the wave of having bested rival Magic Johnson and hitchhiked to a bar where he celebrated before taking off on a run to start preparing for the next year’s season. 

RELATED: Larry Bird Got Most of the Credit for the Boston Celtics in the 1984 NBA Finals, but It Was Dennis Johnson Who Made the Difference