Larry Bird Was Brutally Honest About His Reaction When He Saw Magic Johnson and Isiah Thomas Kiss Before Their Finals Matchup
The Detroit Pistons ended the Boston Celtics reign in the Eastern Conference in 1988. The Celtics had been to four straight NBA Finals, but the Pistons prevented a fifth when they ousted Boston in the conference finals after coming up short to the Celtics the previous season.
Detroit’s win put them into the NBA Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers. Celtics star Larry Bird admitted to watching the series from his home, and he had quite the reaction when he saw friends Isiah Thomas and Magic Johnson kiss before the opening tap.
After Larry Bird stole one against Detroit in 1987, the Pistons exacted revenge on the Boston Celtics in 1988
While Boston’s dominance in the Eastern Conference ended in 1988, it nearly ended during the 1987 Eastern Conference Finals. The Celtics and Pistons met for Game 5 at Boston Garden with the series knotted at two games apiece.
The Pistons appeared to be on their way to a victory, leading by a point with five seconds left and in possession of the ball. Isiah Thomas hurried an inbounds pass intended for Bill Laimbeer, who was positioned just outside the paint near Boston’s basket.
Anticipating the pass, Larry Bird picked it off and delivered a perfect pass to a cutting Dennis Johnson, who laid it in for the game-winning basket.
“If a guy’s taking the ball out of bounds, you want to put some pressure on him to make him throw a lob pass or a soft pass out there,” he said. “Once I seen the ball being lobbed over Sichting’s head, I thought I had a chance at it. I got my hand in there and stole it. And just as I got it, I seen a white jersey streaking down toward the basket, and I turned. It was DJ, of course. He gets it and lays it in.
“It’s just one of them plays that happens so quick, you didn’t have time to react.”
Bird was honest about his reaction to Thomas and Magic kissing before the NBA Finals
Bird wasn’t used to being home for the Finals. He guided the Celtics to a pair of championships during their run of four straight Finals appearances from 1984 to 1987.
Now he found himself sitting in his Brookline, Mass., home watching the championship round. Surely, it was tough for him to watch his rival Magic Johnson make another trip to the Finals. What was even more disturbing to him was how Magic and Thomas kissed before the opening tap.
“I wanted to throw up,” Bird said, per Jackie MacMullan’s book When the Game Was Ours. “It was all a show. I knew how bad they both wanted to win.”
Lakers coach Pat Riley also wasn’t thrilled with the display of affection. According to MacMullan, Riley was concerned he wasn’t going to get the proper focus from his star.
In the series, Magic took out Isiah, who was driving in for a layup in Game 4. He needed to put Riley’s worries to rest.
“Pat Riley had questioned me in front of the guys whether I’d take him out,” Johnson said. “I needed to show them I was willing to do it.”
Even Magic’s hard foul didn’t prevent another pregame kiss before Game 5.