During the early 1980s, Larry Bird and Julius Erving sat at the center of an intense Eastern Conference rivalry between the Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers. The two franchises engaged in several tension-filled on-court battles with NBA title contention hanging in the balance. Despite that, Bird shockingly revealed he never engaged in his infamous trash talk with the fellow Hall of Famer.
Larry Bird shared intense rivalry with Julius Erving
Early in Bird’s career, he engaged in intense on-court battles with Erving that created many highly memorable moments.
In the early 1980s, the Celtics and 76ers competed as the top teams in the Eastern Conference vying for NBA title contention. Philadelphia faced Boston in three consecutive postseasons, getting the edge twice (1980, 1982) before falling to the Los Angeles Lakers in the Finals both times.
Meanwhile, Bird led the Celtics to the 1981 NBA title over the Houston Rockets after topping the 76ers. The two teams faced off one last time in the 1985 conference finals, with Boston grabbing the edge in five games before falling to the Lakers in the Finals.
The frequent matchups led the divisional rivals to engage in a few on-court fights, most notably the physical altercations featuring Bird and Erving exchanging punches during a regular-season game in November 1984.
The incident only lasted a few seconds, but it was enough to underline the heated nature of the competition. Despite the fierce rivalry, Bird made a surprising reveal concerning his on-court interactions with Erving.
Larry Bird surprisingly revealed Julius Erving was exempt from his infamous trash-talking: ‘Believe me, I never said a word to Dr. J’
Bird developed a notorious reputation for his infamous trash-talking.
Although there are numerous stories regarding his legendary banter, Bird revealed in his autobiography entitled
Drive: The Story of My Life that he never attempted to engage in back-and-forth on-court chatter with Erving.
“Some people said, ‘You should just give him the outside shot”. Well, when the good doctor was on the left side he had a very good bank shot, and I was scared to death of that, so that wasn’t necessarily the answer either,” Bird said via Basketball Network. “Julius Erving also was a much better defensive player than most people gave him credit for. We never spoke on the court. It was said I yelled things at him one night, but that was M.L. talking trash from the bench, not me. Believe me; I never said a word to Dr. J on the court.”
The physical altercation between Bird and Erving certainly suggested otherwise. However, the Celtics great held tremendous respect for his opponent, anchored by his fear of guarding the former 76ers star.
Bird knew when to pick and choose his spots to trash-talk opposing players, and Erving didn’t fall into that window. The Celtics great engaged in that banter with many fellow Hall of Famers such as Patrick Ewing, Magic Johnson, Charles Barkley, and Bernard King.
The relationship between Bird and Erving simply never ventured down that route.
Larry Bird and Julius Erving lifted each other to NBA greatness
Although it’s a bit of a shocker to hear that Bird didn’t engage in trash talk with Erving, it doesn’t diminish the memorable rivalry.
The two competed at the highest level when the 76ers star was still playing at an elite level. The competition only brought the best out of each other, as it should for two of the game’s greatest talents.
Their illustrious NBA careers will ensure the two remain forever intertwined.