Larry Bird Once Publicly Questioned If 2 NBA Franchises Even Deserved to Exist
By and large, Larry Bird wasn’t one to pull punches or moderate himself. If he thought you couldn’t defend him, for example, he was going to let you know. The same could be said for more personal choices, like his wardrobe. If Larry Legend was on vacation, nothing was going to get him out of his summer attire.
That candor also extended to talking about other teams. During his time with the Indiana Pacers, Bird went on the record as questioning if two other franchises even deserved to exist. Could that have been viewed as an insult? Sure, but the famous forward-turned-coach wasn’t ever one to be anything less than genuine.
With that in mind, let’s take a trip back to the 1990s and see which two franchises found themselves on the wrong side of the living legend.
Larry Bird took a shot at the Sacramento Kings and the Los Angles Clippers in his book
In pro sports, there isn’t much middle ground when it comes to public comments. You’re either talking trash or playing things safe to avoid providing bulletin board material. Larry Bird, who was never afraid of a bit of verbal warfare, falls into the first category. That was even true after he traded in his sneakers for a suit and tie.
Consider his 1999 book, Bird Watching. Despite being affiliated with the Indiana Pacers — Larry Legend coached the team from 1997 through 2000 and would later join the club’s front office — he didn’t have any problems making some critical comments about the Association.
“Having been on both sides of it, I think it’s time to realize that things aren’t like they were before,” he wrote after discussing the Larry Bird exception. “It was time for both parties to agree on what is best for the league, not what is best for themselves. You keep hearing how certain teams are losing money. I’ve been hearing that since I came into the league.”
While the fact that he had been hearing those sorts of comments since before the Bird exception existed somewhat contradicts his own point, Bird’s comments don’t sound that unreasonable or pointed. He wasn’t done there, though.
“There’s something wrong when the same teams have the top five draft choices, year after year,” Bird continued. “It’s ridiculous. Teams like Sacramento and the L.A. Clippers, do they really deserve a franchise?”
While that comment wasn’t the kindest, you can understand where Bird was coming from
As anyone in Seattle can confirm, franchise relocation can be a touchy, if not downright painful, topic. But, since we know that neither the Clippers nor the Kings have left California, we can assess Larry Bird’s comments without sentimentality.
Since Bird Watching was published in 1999, we can assume that Larry Legend was putting pen to paper a year or two prior. And, as you might expect, the Clippers weren’t too good at the time,
In the early 1970s, the Buffalo Braves reached the Eastern Conference semis three years in a row. They then relocated to San Diego and became the Clippers in 1978 before heading to Los Angeles in 1984. The franchise didn’t reach the postseason during any of those years; the drought lasted from the 1976-77 campaign until the 1991-92 season; the Clippers would lose in the first round on three separate occasions before Bird’s book was published.
The Kings had a bit more postseason success, but it’s important to consider when the famous forward was writing. There were postseason victories in Kansas City, and the Kings reached the playoffs for their first season in California, but things stagnated after that. Sacramento only made it past the regular season once between 1986 and 1998. Things changed during the 1998-99 campaign, but Bird had presumably already made his statement by then.
It’s also worth looking at the NBA drafts in the years leading up to Bird Watching. Larry Legend’s comments about the same teams picking at the top of the list seem to be a bit more perception than reality.
- In 1993, the Kings snagged Bobby Hurley in the seventh spot. The Clippers found themselves in the middle of the pack, taking Terry Dehere at number 13.
- In 1994, the Clippers and the Kings picked seventh and eighth, respectively.
- In 1995, the Clippers selected Antonio McDyess with the second-overall pick but traded him to Denver. The Kings sat in the 13th spot.
- In 1996, the Clippers had the seventh overall pick; the Kings took Peja Stojakovic at number 14.
- In 1997, the Kings and Clippers both picked in the double-digits.
- In 1998, the Clippers selected Michael Olowokandi first overall. Sacramento sat just outside the top five, taking Jason Williams with the seventh pick.
These days, though, things are a bit different. The Clippers are a consistent postseason team, even if they seem unable to make it over the hump, and the 2022-23 Kings seem to have turned a corner. Thankfully for everyone involved, Larry Bird was just a head coach and an author; if he was the NBA commissioner, those franchises could be long since relocated.