Larry Bird Hated Being the Center of Attention Off the Court and Needed Inspiration From Dr. J to Get Through It
Larry Bird and Julius Erving are known for their heated battles when Bird’s Boston Celtics faced Dr. J’s Philadelphia 76ers in the 1980s. The Celtics and 76ers were bitter rivals early on in the decade, and the two superstars were involved in an infamous fight in 1984.
Bird was a hyped-up rookie who came into the NBA after taking Indiana State to the NCAA title game in 1979. He helped turn around a franchise that won 29 games the previous year into a team that won 61 in his rookie season. With success, came fame for Bird, who never was comfortable being in the spotlight. He learned how to deal with it after speaking with Erving early in his NBA career.
Larry Bird never enjoyed being in the limelight with the Boston Celtics
Bird knew the attention would come. He was a young star coming into a big market. Not only did he win Rookie of the Year with the Celtics, but he guided them to the first of three titles in the 1980s the following season.
After his rookie season, the Celtics pulled off arguably the best trade in franchise history. They traded the top pick in 1980 to the Golden State Warriors in a franchise-altering move. They also added the 13th pick and got center Robert Parish and the third overall pick in return. With that No. 3 pick, they selected Kevin McHale, forming what might be the best frontcourt in NBA history.
Bird, McHale, and Parish helped Boston win championships in 1981, 1984, and 1986. Bird was the quiet leader of the Celtics. He never sought attention but always found it. When you’re the star of a championship team in a big market, you can’t hide.
Bird enjoyed his privacy but never saw much of it. The media always hounded him, whether he had a big game or not.
“(Bird) loved his privacy, but people were always around him,” Fred Roberts, a former teammate of Bird’s, told Sportscasting in May. “His private time was on the basketball court.”
Bird took some advice from Dr. J and ran with it
Bird didn’t mind being the center of attention while he was on the court. With the game on the line, he’d gladly take the ball. He never shied away from taking the game-winning shot. It was all the other stuff that came with it that he could do without.
He said he didn’t need to be the captain of the team. He wasn’t crazy about the pregame and postgame interviews. Back in 1985, he said his job was to play basketball and not be a spokesperson for the league.
“I can never see me as Mr. Spokesman for the NBA or for this or that,” Bird said, per United Press International. “That’s not my job. My job is to go out and play the best I possibly can for the Boston Celtics and win basketball games. After that, it’s over, and I can go home.”
He struggled with having to do everything else until he had a conversation with Erving. Dr. J told him he had gone through the same thing. He told Bird that being a star in a big city comes with all that other off-the-court stuff. You can’t control it.
“Doc once said something that was the best quote I’ve heard from someone in the game,” Bird said, according to UPI. “He said, ‘I didn’t want to be the team spokesman. I didn’t want to be Mr. Everything. People put me in that situation.’
“Well, Doc had no control over that. My philosophy on anything is that you do what you do the best you possibly can, and after it’s over with, you’re on your own.”
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