Larry Bird played in some memorable games during his 13-year professional basketball career. He was a member of three championship Boston Celtics teams and played in the NBA Finals — three times against the rival Los Angeles Lakers. On August 18, 1992, Bird announced he was retiring from the NBA after back problems and various injuries took their toll.
During his announcement, he reflected on his Hall of Fame career. He mentioned the one game where he was “fired up” more than any other. Surprisingly, it wasn’t any game against those Lakers.
Larry Bird said he put his body through ‘living hell’
It was a sad day for the NBA when Bird announced his retirement from the league. He had just returned from winning an Olympic gold medal with the Dream Team, but he knew it was time to call it a career. Injuries caught up with him, especially his back problems which had plagued him the last two seasons.
He made his retirement announcement at the Boston Garden. He said he wanted to make it clear he was finished.
“This is enough. I’ve had enough to last me a lifetime,” Bird said, according to United Press International. “Whatever you hear from now or next year, or whatever, I will not be playing basketball.
“The pounding and the pain made my decision for me. I gave my heart, my body, my soul to the Celtics. For the past 17 years, I have put my body through living hell.”
Bird missed 37 regular-season games in the 1991-92 season. The year before, he sat out 22.
Larry Bird revealed the one game in his career he really was ‘fired up’ for
The Celtics went to four straight NBA Finals from 1984-87. Three of those meetings were against the rival Lakers. The other one, in 1986, was against the Houston Rockets, a team Bird defeated in the 1981 NBA Finals.
That 1986 series against the Rockets was intense, especially after Game 5. In that fifth game, played at The Summit in Houston, things got ugly. Houston’s Ralph Sampson and Jerry Sichting were part of a brawl that fired up the Houston crowd. The Rockets face elimination in that game, trailing 3-1 in the series, but the brawl put some electricity into the environment and Houston cruised 111-96 to force Game 6 in Boston.
“We lost our composure,” Bird said after the game, according to the Los Angeles Times. “We fell apart and we unraveled. It was one of those games when they got up, we sort of said, ‘The hell with it,’ and now we’ll have to come back the next game.”
That next game was the one that had Bird ready to go.
“I can never remember being that fired up for a game,” Bird recalled at his retirement announcement.
He showed it. Bird took charge, and the Celtics took care of business with a convincing 114-97 victory. He finished with a triple-double, collecting 29 points, 12 assists, and 11 rebounds. That was Bird’s third and final championship.
Red Auerbach couldn’t say enough about Bird
Bird made his Celtics debut in 1979 and played all 82 games as a rookie. He finished his initial season by averaging a double-double with 21.3 points and 10.4 rebounds.
“Thirteen years ago, he looked like a little old country bumpkin,” Celtics President Red Auerbach said at Bird’s announcement, according to UPI. “When you looked into his eyes, you knew you weren’t talking to any dummy. He knew what he wanted in life, and he knew what it would take to get there.
“Nobody has ever been more self-motivated. Nobody in my 42 years played hurt the way this guy did. He did it for his love of the game and his love of the people.”
Bird was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1998.