Larry Bird had heard enough from Moses Malone. Then the Houston Rockets center, Malone ripped into Bird and the Boston Celtics before Boston knocked off the Rockets in the 1981 NBA Finals. Bird got the last laugh during a victory celebration dubbed Boston Celtics Day.
Neither Malone nor media crews were laughing, however, as Bird mentioned Malone during the parade that featured tens of thousands of screaming fans. Bird’s mention of the Rockets’ big man included a four-letter word that didn’t sit well with television crews.
Larry Bird won his first NBA title against Moses Malone and the Rockets in 1981
It was just his second year in the NBA, and Bird had already helped the Celtics achieve greatness. As a rookie, Bird averaged 21.3 points and 10.4 rebounds and helped turn around a struggling franchise. The following season, the Celtics finished with a 62-20 mark.
The Rockets qualified for postseason play despite finishing with a 40-42 record. They stunned the Los Angeles Lakers in the opening round of the playoffs, winning 2-1 in the best-of-three series. The Rockets then knocked off the San Antonio Spurs, who won the Midwest Division with a 52-30 mark, in seven games.
Meanwhile, the Phoenix Suns, who had the best record (57-25) in the Western Conference, were stunned by the Kansas City Kings in a seven-game series. The Rockets then faced the Kings in the Western Conference Finals that featured a pair of teams that finished with a 40-42 record. Houston defeated Kansas City in five games to reach the NBA Finals.
Boston and Houston split the first four games of their series. The Celtics then crushed the Rockets 109-80 in Game 5 behind Cedric Maxwell’s 28 points and 15 rebounds. Boston closed things out in six games, winning Game 6 102-91 behind Bird’s 27 points.
Larry Bird ripped Moses Malone on Boston Celtics Day
The Celtics were supposed to beat the Rockets in the 1981 NBA Finals. Malone didn’t think the Celtics should’ve been in the championship series. He believed the Philadelphia 76ers, who tied the Celtics with 62-regular-season wins, were the better team. He let the Celtics know he felt that way.
“I could take four guys off the streets of Petersburg (Malone’s Virginia hometown) and beat them,” Malone had said of the Celtics, according to United Press International. He also referred to the Celtics as “chumps.”
That apparently didn’t sit too well with Bird.
During Boston Celtics Day at Boston’s City Hall, Bird responded to an anti-Malone sign in the crowd.
“I think after all the hollering and screaming, I look out in the crowd and see one thing that typifies our season,” he said to the crowd. “Moses does eat s***.”
While the crowd erupted with cheer, TV crews doing live coverage of the event weren’t overly pleased. Bird later apologized for his choice of words.
“There were signs in the crowd saying the same thing,” Bird said, “and I guess I was just so naturally happy with everything that I wanted to agree with the fans. I got caught up in the atmosphere. I had no desire to offend anyone.”
Malone responded to Bird’s comments
While Bird’s comments may have angered some, Celtics head coach Bill Fitch wasn’t one of them. He said he had no problem with what his player said.
“I don’t think it’s any big thing,” Fitch said. “We listened to it (Malone’s comments) for a week and a half, so if that’s the way Larry wanted to respond, that’s fine with me.”
UPI reached Malone by phone shortly after. The Rockets’ center didn’t seem fazed.
“I have no feelings at all about it,” Malone said. “It doesn’t matter to me what he says.
“Larry Bird is certainly entitled to his feelings. He didn’t seem to have those feelings when we were playing, but that’s all right.”
Although Malone won his lone NBA championship two years later as a member of the 76ers, Bird and the Celtics won two more titles, winning in 1984 and 1986.