Larry Bird Paid a Young Reggie Miller a High Compliment Before Putting Him in His Place
In each era of NBA history, certain players loom larger than life over the entire game. During the 1980s and early 1990s, one of those men was Larry Bird. The forward could shoot the lights out, talk trash, and, perhaps most importantly, win.
With that in mind, let’s travel back to 1987. Reggie Miller was a rookie, and, only a couple of games into his professional career, he had received a high compliment from Larry Legend.
While that put the young guard on cloud nine, Bird wasn’t one to inflate an opponent’s ego. Later that year, the pair met again, and the veteran made sure to put Miller in his place.
Reggie Miller saw both sides of Larry Bird during his rookie year
When Reggie Miller entered the Association in 1987, Bird had just won the 1986 NBA championship, NBA Finals MVP title, and NBA MVP crown. His tongue was also as sharp as ever, even if he did slip in a compliment from time to time.
“The one boost of confidence I got was after my second game in the league, which was at the Boston Garden,” Miller wrote in his 1995 book, I Love Being the Enemy. “The Celtics were about ready to beat us — there was maybe a minute or so left — and I was standing back there as someone was shooting a free throw. Standing nearby was Bird, but I wasn’t saying a thing. I mean, this was Larry Bird, and I was only playing my second game. But he took a couple of steps over and said, ‘Reggie, keep working on your game. You’re gonna be a great player.'”
Despite that praise, Bird still managed to put Miller in his place later that season. The rookie made the foolish decision to try and distract Larry Legend while he was shooting a free throw. Needless to say, the Celtics star wasn’t pleased.
“I was standing on the line — and being the rookie dumbass and not realizing this was one of the best free-throw shooters to ever play the game, I tried to throw off his timing. As he went to shoot, I kind of said out of the side of my mouth, ‘Hey! Hey!'” Miller recounted. “He stopped right before he shot, looked at me, and said, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me. Rook, you got to be kidding me.'”
Unsurprisingly, Bird drained that free throw. Then, as only he could do, he returned to Miller to keep flexing his metaphorical muscles.
Bird got the ball again, and before he shot, he said, “I’m the best shooter in the league right now. In the league. Understand? And you’re up here trying to say something?Reggie Miller, I Love Being the Enemy
The forward made that foul shot, officially icing the game. To add insult to injury, Miller remembered feeling like a “dumbass” while Kevin McHale and Danny Ainge laughed at him.
Bird, for all of his bluntness, was pretty accurate on all accounts
When you consider the incredible scope of Larry Bird’s trash talk, it’s easy to write off any one story as the famous forward being an overconfident jerk. In this case, though, Larry Legend wasn’t saying anything untrue.
In regard to his claims about being the best shooter around, Bird didn’t really stretch the truth. While his overall field goal percentage during the 1985-86 season wasn’t in the top 20, he did lead the league in free-throw percentage. He also finished the campaign with the fourth-best three-point shooting percentage, and both attempted and converted more threes than any other player.
Could you argue that, by the official numbers, Bird wasn’t the best shooter in the league at the time? Sure, but that would be missing the forest through the trees.
The other claim that the Celtics star made was that Miller would grow into a great player. Again, the exact definition of greatness is subjective, but it’s pretty safe to say that Bird was accurate.
Miller, during his 18 seasons in the Association, proved to be a lethal shooter and a lock-down defender. He averaged a shade over 18 points per outing across his career, made five all-star appearances, and earned a place in the Basketball Hall of Fame. He also proved to be a potent trash-talker, which Bird probably would have appreciated.
And, we do know that Bird did eventually circle back to pay the shooting guard another compliment. During the 1998 postseason, Miller battled through a foot injury to keep his Pacers alive against the Chicago Bulls. Larry Legend, who was coaching Indiana at the time, said that his player “put everything on the line and stepped up and hit the big shots. But that’s just Reggie.”
So, Larry Bird could shoot, talk trash, encourage rookies, and identify talent? Was there anything that guy couldn’t do?
Stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference.