NBA

Larry Bird Received a Death Threat Mid-Game, and K.C. Jones Added Humor to It

During the 1985 NBA Finals, Larry Bird was warming up at halftime as his Boston Celtics were taking on the Los Angeles Lakers. While shooting around, head coach K.C. Jones informed Bird that a threat was made on his life. Bird was given the option of heading back to the hotel under security or finishing the game. He finished playing. An antsy Jones found a way to joke about the matter during the second half.

Larry Bird never enjoyed the spotlight

Head coach K.C. Jones of the Boston Celtics is with Larry Bird #33 against the Washington Bullets during an NBA basketball game circa 1984 at the Capital Centre in Landover, Maryland. Jones coached the Celtics from 1983-88. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)

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Larry Bird never liked being the center of attention. He came from a small town in Indiana and then went to a small college in the same state, enrolling in Indiana State. After a stellar career playing for the Sycamores, he was thrown into the big city. The Boston Celtics drafted him, and he spent 13 years in one of the country’s biggest markets.

When injuries caught up to Bird, he retired after the 1991-92 NBA season. For five years after his retirement from the game, he kept a low profile. According to Sports Illustrated, he spent his retirement between Florida and Indiana. He was never in the public eye unless he was seen at a charity event or when he made appearances on behalf of Miller Lite for its campaign against drunk driving.

Bird returned to the public eye a few years later. He took over as head coach of the Indiana Pacers for the 1997-98 season. The Pacers had just missed the playoffs for the first time in eight years. Bird saw it as a challenge, and it was right in his own backyard.

Death threat against Larry Bird led to some humor from K.C. Jones

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While Larry Bird always tried to keep a low profile, he was just too much to overcome. Playing in Boston on some excellent Celtics teams, he was always in the spotlight. His three MVPs and three championships, along with his trash-talking ability, didn’t help keep him out of the news.

During halftime in the 1985 NBA Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers, Bird was warming up, and Celtics coach K.C. Jones came over to Bird to inform him of some disturbing news. According to Sports Illustrated, Jones pulled Bird aside and told him a threat had just been made on his life. NBA security was positioned throughout the venue. Bird was given the opportunity to leave under security or remain in the game.

Bird went back to warming up. “Larry, I see you’re still out here,” said Jones.

“Of course, K.C., it’s the Finals,” Bird said.

Jones then threw some humor into the mix. “Great,” Jones said. “But do me a favor. When we go back to the huddle to start the second half, could you stand at center court? I’m afraid this guy might be a bad shot.”

Bird also had another death threat in 1986

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The death threat in 1985 wasn’t the only one Bird faced. One year later, he faced another one when the Boston Celtics were on the road against the Milwaukee Bucks. According to Sports Illustrated, this threat was more direct and happened as Bird was walking out of the team hotel.

Bird walked out with off-duty Indiana state trooper Tom Hill when a man jumped out from behind a parked car wielding a hunting knife. The man cursed at Bird and threatened to cut him up. Hill, a personal friend of Bird, jumped in and talked to the man, who thought better of it and took off.

Bird brought up the first death threat during his Hall of Fame speech. With K.C. Jones in the audience, the two shared a laugh. Death threats aren’t meant to be funny, but Bird and those Celtics back in the ’80s had a way of letting things roll off their backs.