Larry Bird Was Spared Early Retirement After His Boston Celtics Finally Contained Michael Jordan

Larry Bird put it out there. He said he would retire if Michael Jordan continued his trend against his Boston Celtics in the 1986 playoffs. Bird had already praised the young Chicago Bulls star, saying he was “God disguised as Michael Jordan” after he scored 63 points in Game 2 of their playoff series. Bird told reporters he’d retire if Jordan remained consistent in Game 3.

Larry Bird and the Boston Celtics survived Michael Jordan’s impressive playoff run

Larry Bird sits on the sidelines in front of the scorer’s table during a game in Hartford, Connecticut in 1991. | Bob Stowell/Getty Images

Bird has gone on record as saying he’d put up his 1986 championship team with any other team. The starting five featured four Hall of Famers, and the team addressed their bench problems by adding veteran Bill Walton to the mix.

The Celtics won 67 games during the 1985-86 season and faced Jordan and the Bulls in the first round of the playoffs in a best-of-five series. Although the Celtics swept, Jordan made things very difficult.

Jordan had 49 points in Game 1 as the Celtics won at home 123-104. It was Game 2 when Bird put Jordan and God in the same sentence.

Led by Jordan’s 63 points, the Bulls took the Celtics to double overtime before Boston eked out a 135-131 victory. After that game, Bird offered the highest of praise to the young Bulls star with his now-famous “God disguised as Michael Jordan” comment.

“He was hitting outside shots, driving to the hole,” Bird added, according to NBA.com. “We had about everyone on the team guarding him. He obviously was in a zone. He kept them in the game with big basket after big basket. We couldn’t stop him. We tried to shade him to help, everything. You were talking about a different type of talent.”.

Larry Bird threatened retirement if Michael Jordan kept pace in Game 3

The Celtics headed to Chicago to try and close the series. Jordan stayed on the minds of the Boston players after going for 49 points in the opener and then 63 in Game 2. Could he keep the trend going and add another 14 points to his previous total again and hit 77 in Game 3?

If so, Bird promised he would retire.

“I couldn’t believe anybody could do that against the Boston Celtics,” Bird said after Game 2 about Jordan’s 63 points, according to The Chicago Tribune. “He won’t get 77 points on Tuesday. I’ll retire if he scores 77.”

Boston fans breathed a sigh of relief when the Celtics locked in on Jordan, holding him to 19 points in a convincing 122-104 victory.

“They were prepared for me,” Jordan said, according to United Press International. “It seemed like every time I got the ball, before I could make a move, they would send someone else at me. They played very good defense.”

Jordan earned the respect of the Boston Celtics and everyone watching the game

Jordan wowed Bird. He earned the respect of everyone on the Celtics in that series. He also earned the respect of his teammates and Bulls fans.

“It was a phenomenal performance, what Michael was able to do against a team like that,” Walton said, per NBA.com. “That team could win any type of game, a speed game, a power game, a shooting game, a defensive game, a physical game, a cerebral game. It had balance, depth and talent, coaching experience, great leadership, top management with Red (Auerbach), a great legacy as a franchise on top, and a legend in Larry Bird.”

“Boston threw everyone and everything at him,” said Jordan’s teammate John Paxson. “They loaded up their defense to stop him, and he scored on every double and triple team he saw.”

In Game 3, Jordan fouled out, giving everything he had, but he finished with 19 points and a loss to one of the best NBA teams ever assembled. He picked up that sixth foul with 5:24 remaining and left to a standing ovation from his hometown fans.

“It almost brought tears to my eyes,” Jordan said, per UPI.

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