Larry Bird Hitchhiked to the Bar After Winning the 1984 NBA Title but Refused to Let the Driver Join in the Celebration: ‘Sorry, Champions Only’

Whenever a team wins a championship, it’s safe to assume that a major celebration will follow. While that was the case when Larry Bird and his Boston Celtics captured the 1984 NBA title, the evening ended up hitting an unexpected snag. Faced with a massive traffic jam, a couple of players had difficulty getting to their own party.

Larry Legend, however, wasn’t going to let the crowded streets of Boston keep him from celebrating with the squad. With that in mind, he managed to hitchhike to the bar to join the revelry. At the door, though, he told the driver that he couldn’t join in on the fun.

Larry Bird and the Boston Celtics defeated the Los Angeles Lakers to claim the 1984 NBA championship

As players who failed to ever win a ring can confirm, every championship is significant. The 1984 NBA title, however, was a bit more meaningful for Bird and his Boston Celtics.

In 1981, the Celtics made it to the top of the NBA mountain, defeating the Houston Rockets without breaking a sweat. That victory didn’t kick off a dynasty, though. Boston fell in the 1982 Eastern Conference Finals, then was swept by the Bucks in the Second Round of the 1983 postseason. 1984, it seemed, was the club’s chance to reassert itself.

Two additional factors gave the 1984 NBA Finals a bit of extra juice. In that championship series, the Celtic met their famous rivals, the LA Lakers. The Western Conference squad was also headlined by Magic Johnson, who had handed Bird a painful defeat in college. Opportunities for revenge abounded.

While the series went seven games, Bird and his Celtics eventually came out on top. According to an excerpt of When the Game Was Ours (H/T Boston.com), Larry Legend particularly enjoyed the moment.

“I finally got him,” the forward reportedly said while celebrating. “I finally got Magic.”

Larry Bird hitchhiked to the bar, then refused to let the driver join the fun

Larry Bird sleeps next to the Larry O'Brien Trophy on the Boston Celtics flight.
Larry Bird sleeps next to the Larry O’Brien Trophy after leading the Boston Celtics to the championship. | Frank O’Brien/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Given the momentous occasion of defeating a rival and winning a championship, it’s understandable that Bird and his Celtics teammates wanted to celebrate. As the party moved from the locker room to a local watering hole, though, a problem surfaced.

“In a team van driven by the Celtics’ assistant equipment manager, Joe ‘Corky’ Qatato, Larry Bird and teammate Quinn Buckner were mired in the celebratory traffic,” Jackie MacMullan explained in the excerpt. “Their plan was to ride in the van to Hellenic College in Brookline, where their cars were parked, then drive back downtown to join the team celebration at Chelsea’s, a watering hole in Faneuil Hall. But the traffic wasn’t moving, and Bird was impatient. He reached across the driver’s seat and thrust the van into park.”

Bird decided to get out of the van and walked down the side of the road. Before long, he encountered a car containing three Celtics fans. “Listen, you got any room in there for Quinn and me?” he asked. Unsurprisingly, the passengers quickly accommodated their conquering heroes.

Eventually, the car reached Chelsea’s. At that point, the driver made a request: As a token of thanks, could he head inside with the Celtics?

“Sorry, champions only,”  Bird replied before heading past the security guards stationed outside.

Elsewhere in Boston, Magic Johnson suffered through an awful evening

While the Boston Celtics enjoyed a night on the town, Magic Johnson wasn’t in a celebratory mood. Having seen a championship slip through his fingers, the guard headed back to his hotel, biding his time until he could leave Beantown the next morning.

“He could have shut the curtains and cranked up the volume on the television. Instead, Magic Johnson acted on his perverse need to witness the revelry that was unfolding around him, staring blankly out of the window of his hotel, fixated on the sea of green below,” MacMullan explained elsewhere in her excerpt. “Thousands of fans clogged the streets, many wearing shamrock-colored T-shirts, creating a gleeful gridlock of traffic in the already historically congested city. Car horns honked, fireworks crackled, and grown men danced Irish jigs in celebration of the Celtics’ Game 7 victory over the Lakers to capture the 1984 NBA Championship.”

While Mark Aguirre and Isiah Thomas joined Magic in his room and tried their best to offer a distraction, the crestfallen guard couldn’t bring himself to look away from the scene outside.

“It was bedlam,” Johnson explained. “I made myself watch it. It made me feel worse, but I deserved to be miserable.” He also admitted to crying after his companions left.

As the cliche says, “You can’t win them all.” That reality, however, doesn’t do anything to lessen the thrill of victory or the agony of defeat.

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