Larry Bird’s First Fight With the 76ers Included Red Auerbach Telling Moses Malone to ‘Hit’ Him

Larry Bird and the Boston Celtics have a pretty storied history with the Philadelphia 76ers. The two teams battled through the early part of the 1980s, with the rivalry including heated playoff showdowns and physical altercations.

One of the most famous fights between the two teams brought Bird and Julius Erving together, though Dr. J said the scrap actually was overblown. However, a different incident between Larry Legend and the Sixers got so heated that former Celtics executive Red Auerbach tried to bait Hall of Fame center Moses Malone.

Larry Bird’s animosity for the Philadelphia 76ers ran deep even during the preseason

Larry Bird and the Celtics had plenty of experience playing against the Sixers. Boston overcame a 3-1 deficit during the 1981 Eastern Conference Finals, with Philly winning the rematch one season later.

The Hick from French Lick also had roots with Moses Malone. After the 76ers center called the Celtics “chumps” ahead of the 1981 NBA Finals, Bird responded by saying, “Moses does eat s**t.”

Those two dynamics fully bore themselves out during a preseason game between Boston and Philly in 1983.

Malone got into it with Cedric Maxwell early in the contest. Tempers flared shortly thereafter, as Bird butted heads with former 76ers big man Marc Iavaroni. The fight ultimately resulted in three ejections, including Bird. Larry Legend and Iavaroni also received fines.

Former Celtics general manager Red Auerbach also received a fine for supporting his players. For the legendary figure, that meant trying to incite physicality from Malone.

Red Auerbach came onto the floor and challenged Moses Malone

Boston Celtics great Larry Bird (R) answers questions next to Red Auerbach
Red Auerbach (L) and Larry Bird answer questions during a press conference in 1984 | Stan Grossfeld/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Red Auerbach grew sick and tired of his players getting thrown about. He thought he’d engage in some of the physicality himself.

Once Bird got ejected, Auerbach got out of his seat and walked onto the floor. He strolled right up to Malone and attempted (h/t UPI) to bait the 76ers center into throwing a punch.

“Hit me, you big SOB. Go ahead. I’m not big, hit me you SOB.”

–Red Auerbach to Moses Malone (1983), via UPI

Auerbach thought Sixers players got away with murder. He especially took exception to Malone’s apparent attempts at bully ball, in addition to Philly’s brute antics with Bird.

“First, they knock (Cedric) Maxwell down, and then that other guy (Iavaroni) is doing a job on Bird and all that kind of stuff is going on. I couldn’t help it. I just got mad,” Auerbach said, via UPI.

The Celtics general manager issued his belief that the conflict happened because Philly lacked respect. By the end of the season, though, Bird and Auerbach left Malone and the Sixers in the dust.

Bird, Auerbach, and the Celtics often got the better of the 76ers

If, as Auerbach suggested, the preseason brawl occurred because the 76ers thought too highly of themselves as defending champions, then such a mindset could only have been fleeting.

Bird and the Celtics won their second title of the decade during the 1983-84 season. Boston also typically got the better of Philly in the playoffs.

After the two teams split series victories in 1981 and 1982, the Celtics beat the Sixers in five games during the 1985 Eastern Conference Finals. Bird struggled to score the ball during that series, but he dominated defensively, averaging 2.6 steals and 1.4 blocks in the five games.

That effectively put a capper on the rivalry. The Celtics went 4-2 against the 76ers during the 1985-86 season en route to a championship. Those C’s are considered among the best teams ever.

Both teams desperately struggled to gain superiority in the bravado department, and that attitude extended to the front office in the form of Auerbach. On the floor, however, Bird’s Celtics generally won out.

Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference.

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