Boston Celtics legend Larry Bird was competitive with everything he did. Whether he was playing a round of golf or signing autographs with the Dream Team, Bird wanted to win at everything. This competitive streak extended to the NBA Three-Point Contest as well.
Bird won his fair share of the All-Star Weekend events, but toward the end of his career, injury kept him away from the shooting exhibition. Even hurt, Bird still had the perfect trash-talk comeback when new winner Craig Hodges tried to challenge his long-distance shooting.
Larry Bird won the first three NBA Three-Point Contests
The NBA put in the 3-point line in the 1979-80 season, or, as it is better known, Larry Bird’s rookie year. It wasn’t until the 1986 NBA All-Star Game that the league added the Three-Point Contest, then called the Long-Distance Shootout.
The inaugural competition featured Bird and Hodges, as well as Dale Ellis, Sleepy Floyd, Kyle Macy, Norm Nixon, Trent Tucker, and Leon Wood.
Bird faced off against the then-Milwaukee Buck Hodges after he beat the Dallas Mavericks’ Ellis in a shoot-off. The former Cal State Long Beach guard only managed 12 in the final round while Bird scored 21.
In the 1987 version, Bird again made the finals against the Mavericks’ Detlef Schrempf. He started hot, hitting eight in a row, but finished with just 16 points. Schrempf wilted against the Legend, though, and only managed 14.
Bird’s greatest 3-point shoot-out performance came in the 1988 finals. Against Dale Ellis, now with the Seattle Supersonics after one of his seven career trades, Bird struggled in the final round. Needing 15 to win, the Celtics great only sunk five shots in the first three racks. But he hit seven shots in the last two racks, including the second-to-last ball to tie and the final money ball to win.
After releasing the last shot, Bird walked off with his arm raised in victory before the ball even hit the net.
Craig Hodges won his first NBA Three-Point Contest in 1990 and talked trash about it
Bird missed almost the entire 1988-89 season after surgery to remove bone spurs in his heels and, hence, the 1989 Three-Point Contest. He was back in 1990 to go for his fourth title. Unfortunately for him and NBA fans, the Legend was experiencing some of the back problems that would ultimately end his career, and he didn’t make the finals.
Without Bird in his way, Hodges finally broke into the win column after the Indiana Pacers’ Reggie Miller’s last ball went begging.
After the contest, a reporter asked Hodges if the victory was diminished by Bird’s injury, according to Complex. The guard, who averaged 22.7 minutes per game that season — the high mark for his time in Chicago — replied by saying when Bird was healthy, “He knows where to find me.”
That quote got back to Bird, whose body might have been diminished, but not his quick wit. The former Indiana State star let reports know that he did indeed know where to find Hodges, answering, “Yeah, at the end of the Bulls’ bench.”
Bird and Hodges are the only three-time NBA Three-Point Contest Champions in history
Despite the trash talk between the two sharpshooters, Bird was congratulatory toward Hodges after he won in 1990. “You’d have to say Craig Hodges is the three-point king,” Larry Bird told the Chicago Tribune. “It just wasn’t in the cards for me.”
Beyond the banter, the three-point specialist and the all-time great have something else in common. They are the only NBA players ever to win three (and three consecutive) NBA Three-Point Contests. Mark Price, Peja Stojakovic, and Jason Kapono all have two in a row. Stephen Curry and Jeff Hornacek both have two non-consecutive wins, although Hornacek didn’t get a chance between his two victories due to the NBA lockout in 1998-99.
Other Three-Point Contest records of note include Hodges sinking an incredible 19 shots in a row in 1991 and Curry scoring 31 points in a round in 2021. That number broke Hodges and Kapono’s record of 25 points, but he did it with a full rack of money balls, which was a recent innovation, per USA Today.
The worst Three-Point Contest performance occurred in the 1990 event at which the Bird/Hodges dustup took place.
Who’s the player who only managed five total points? Michael Jordan.