While it’s been quite a while since Larry Bird hit the NBA hardwood, he still stands tall in the collective consciousness of basketball fans everywhere. Those in the stands weren’t the only ones left with lasting memories of Larry Legend, though. Just ask Marques Johnson about that.
During his time in the Association, the small forward took on the challenge of defending Bird and left the court feeling a bit frustrated by some soft foul calls. With that in mind, Johnson headed back to his room and decided to take out his frustrations in a rather unconventional way: He penned a poem.
Larry Bird earned the title of ‘legend’ during his time in the NBA
As sports fans can confirm, plenty of nicknames are given ironically. Larry Legend, however, was a fully deserved title.
Although his college basketball career almost ended before it truly began, Bird found a home at Indiana State and quickly carried the Sycamores to relevance. While they couldn’t win the 1979 NCAA title — Magic Johnson and his Michigan State Spartans came out on top — the forward would only continue to shine.
Bird, of course, joined the Boston Celtics and helped return the historic franchise to the top of the NBA pyramid. During his time in Beantown, Larry Legend proved to be a dynamic offensive player, a ruthless trash talker, and, perhaps more importantly, a serial winner. He claimed three NBA MVP titles and won three championships, earning himself a place in basketball history.
Along the way, the forward also tortured his fair share of opponents. Just ask Marques Johnson.
Larry Bird frustrated Marques Johnson to the point where he had to write a postgame poem
While it might not be exactly fair, star players tend to get the benefit of the doubt from the referees. If Johnson is to be believed, that’s exactly what happened in one of his showdowns with Larry Bird.
“Our game plan with me was always to try and play [Bird] physical,” the former Milwaukee Buck explained in a Bally Sports Wisconsin clip. “Bump him off his game. Try and deny him the basketball. And Larry told [referee] Jesse Kersey like, ‘Red, Red. Get him off me. Get him off me,’ and Jesse Kersey like hit me with two quick fouls.”
As you might assume, that experience frustrated Johnson, who felt like Bird was dictating the terms of engagement. In an attempt to channel those emotions, he went back to his room and penned a poem.
It’s outta my hands, no control, no say. Acquiesce to someone’s demands. It’s outta my hands. Rule of thumb is to act real dumb & pretend there’s nothing wrong. But if your senses are real, your mind’s intact, it’s hard to go along. It’s outta my hands. Acquiesce to someone’s demands. You play the game, perform the role. Then you try real hard not to console Yourself too long after you’re through. For it’s not really the test of a man. Cause only when the scale is grand, do you find out who’s really who. It’s outta my hands.”Marques Johnson
While writing a poem might not be a part of every NBA player’s postgame routine, it helped Johnson move on.
“It was a release of frustration and just trying to remind myself that there are bigger things than basketball,” the forward explained. “And not to get so wrapped up into what was going on on the basketball floor that it caused me to be bitter and to be angry and to be frustrated. That was just kinda part of my growth process.”
Marques Johnson did manage to trash-talk Michael Jordan, though
While being frustrated by Larry Bird might not have been an ideal experience, Johnson wasn’t a perpetual whipping boy. In fact, he got to one-up Michael Jordan on the set of Space Jam.
During the summer of 1995, the UCLA basketball team paid a visit to the Jordan Dome. Since he was a former NBA player with a son on the Bruins squad, Johnson tagged along and found himself on the court against His Airness.
“Game point. I think I catch it inside, and I do a little dunk,” Marques explained on The Rich Eisen Show. “So, Michael’s like, ‘Hey old man, hey old man. Don’t be trying to dunk out here. Don’t be trying to dunk out here. You’re too old. You never did that when you played. You never did that when you played.’”
Rather than wilting under the pressure, Johnson had a comeback ready to go. “I looked at Michael. I said, ‘Man, whatever I did when I played, you had my poster on your wall in college, brother,'” the veteran continued. “‘So I must be doing something right.’”
In a rare turn of events, His Airness even admitted defeat. According to Johnson, Jordan blushed and acknowledged that he did admire the veteran’s game.
It’s unclear, though, if MJ headed back to his room and composed any poems that night.