Larry Bird Earned Michael Cooper’s Ultimate Respect Thanks to a City Bus in Boston
Larry Bird is often considered one of the greatest players in NBA history for a multitude of reasons. He was an elite scorer, averaging 20 or more points in all but two of his 13 seasons. He was also a gifted playmaker and a tenacious defender. But the Boston Celtics great also had a motor that ran harder than nearly every other player who ever suited ’em up.
Michael Cooper, a longtime member of the rival Los Angeles Lakers, knows all about Bird from their three NBA Finals against one another. A top-notch defender, Cooper knew just how hard it was to contain Bird on the court. But Larry Legend ultimately earned the respect of his foe thanks to a well-timed advertisement off the court.
The Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers rivalry dominated the 1980s
Few rivalries in all of sports, let alone basketball, come close to the Celtics versus the Lakers. The two franchises battled in the Finals starting all the way back in 1959 and met multiple times throughout the next 10 years. After a lull in the ’70s, Bird and Magic Johnson helped bring Boston vs. LA back to center stage in the 1980s.
From 1980 through 1989, eight of the 10 NBA Finals were won by the Lakers or Celtics. Three of those matchups were decided directly against one another: in 1984, 1985, and 1987.
1984 was the first championship matchup between Bird and Magic since the Indiana State and Michigan State stars went head-to-head in the NCAA National Championship in 1979. Unlike in college, it was Bird who came out on top this time. The league MVP averaged 27.4 points and 14.0 rebounds to win Finals MVP in the seven-game Celtics victory.
Bird once again impressed in ’85, averaging 23.8 points. But Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and James Worthy were too much for Boston as LA won the title in six games. The Purple and Gold would also be victorious in ’87 thanks to a near triple-double average from Johnson. In the losing effort, Bird still put up a team-leading 24.2 points and 10.0 rebounds per game.
Michael Cooper pinpointed the moment he gained a ton of respect for Larry Bird
After a disappointing loss to Bird and the Celtics the year prior, the Lakers arrived in Boston seeking vengeance in 1985. One of the Lakers was Cooper, who would go on to be selected to eight All-Defensive teams across 12 seasons in the NBA.
Cooper recently shared a particular moment in which he gained respect for Bird, the superstar he fell to in ’84. Yet it wasn’t a moment the two shared together on the court … or even in the arena (h/t AllBasketballTV):
“We had just got into Boston and there was a bus going by. And on the bus, they had this huge, long picture of Larry diving out of bounds and the ball was just right at his fingertips. And the quote was, ‘I hate it when players watch the ball go out of bounds.’ That there tells you who that guy was, man. This guy played the game — the entire game — to the outer limits, sideline to baseline, and that’s what I respected the most about him.”Michael Cooper
When he saw the picture of the outstretched Bird, Cooper knew he was going against a player who was more than just a dynamic scorer. He and the rest of the Lakers were going to have to match 33’s effort in order to dethrone the reigning champ.
Larry Bird is one of the NBA GOATs
Thanks to his neverending hustle and willingness to play through the whistle, Larry Legend finished his career as one of the greatest players to ever put on a uniform.
In 13 seasons, Bird was a 12-time All-Star. His lone miss came in 1988-89 when a procedure to remove bone spurs in his heels cost him all but six games. He also made 10 All-NBA teams, nine of which were first-team selections.
The Hick from French Lick won Rookie of the Year in 1980 and three MVP awards in a row from 1984-86. He also won three titles in Boston as well as a pair of Finals MVPs. Even with debilitating back problems hampering him down the road, Bird still managed to end his career averaging an impressive 24.3 points, 10.0 rebounds, 6.3 assists, and 1.7 steals per game.
Yet despite all the stats and accolades, Bird is still a symbol of diving for loose balls and hustling on every play. They’re things that won’t show up on the stat sheet, but things that will earn the ultimate respect of his peers.
All statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference.