Larry Bird Was So Competitive That He Turned a Dream Team Autograph Signing Into a Race Against the Clock

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Boston Celtics great Larry Bird signs an autograph at the 2001 Celebrity Basketball Challenge

While every professional athlete is competitive, Larry Bird took things to the next level. While a quick glance at his Boston Celtics star’s resume will confirm, the forward was both a talented individual performer and a proven winner, there was more to Larry Legend’s game than just skill. The forward also had supreme confidence in his own abilities and could crush the competition with some brutal trash talk.

Bird’s winning ways weren’t limited to basketball, though. During his time with the Dream Team, he channeled his competitive spirit into a new arena — high-speed autograph-signing — and unsurprisingly took the top spot.

Larry Bird wasn’t short on competitiveness or confidence

If you ask an NBA fan about a player who was willing to do whatever it took to win, Michael Jordan will be the first name they’ll mention. Larry Legend, however, wasn’t a slouch in the trash-talking department.

Over the years, plenty of stories have emerged about Bird’s fusion of competitiveness and confidence. Most follow a fairly standard pattern — the forward tells a defender exactly how he’ll score, then does just that en route to victory — there are a few more colorful tales. On one occasion, for example, he told the Phoenix Suns’ bench that he was tired of playing against them before nailing a game-winning three-pointer. On another occasion, the Celtics star even went as far as saying that it was disrespectful when other teams tasked “a white guy” with defending him.

Even when he stepped away from the hardwood, Bird had had plenty of confidence. After a night of partying, for example, he decided he wasn’t going to join the Celtics for their post-championship trip to the White House. “If the president wants to see me, he knows where to find me,” he told his teammates before heading home.

Those anecdotes, combined with his on-court resume, paint a very specific image of Bird. Not only did the Celtics forward know how to win, but he also possessed more than enough confidence to pull off whatever it took to claim the top spot.

Larry Bird even turned autograph-signing into a chance to be the best

Boston Celtics great Larry Bird signs an autograph at the 2001 Celebrity Basketball Challenge
Boston Celtics legend Larry Bird signs an autograph in 2001. | Chitose Suzuki/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

When the Dream Team headed to the 1992 Olympics, the squad included some of the greatest NBA players ever to hit the hardwood. While that reality led to some famously intense scrimmages, it also provided a natural opportunity for stars to assert their dominance in a variety of competitions. One of those, it seems, was signing autographs.

In a GQ oral history about the Dream Team, NBA vice president of public relations Brian McIntyre shared that unique story.

 I had about eighty basketballs in my room in Barcelona and had to get the players to sign them all. Bird was the last guy, and he says, “What’s the quickest anyone’s done it?” I said, “Anywhere from eight minutes to twenty.” And Bird said, “I’m going to be the fastest. Time me.”

Brian McIntyre

Unsurprisingly, given Bird’s competitive nature, he did just that. While it probably didn’t make for the highest-quality signatures, he did leave McIntyre’s room with a Dream Team record.

“So he signs them, and he throws me the last one,” McIntyre continued.”‘Okay, what is it?’ ‘Whoa, four and a half minutes!’ And he goes, ‘Yes!’ Competitive right to the end.”

Michael Jordan also had some competitive moments during the 1992 Olympics

While the Dream Team didn’t face much adversity en route to the gold medal, they still found ways to flex their competitive muscles away from the court. Beyond Bird’s high-speed autographs, Michael Jordan also did battle on the ping-pong table and the golf course.

In regard to the former, the general narrative is that Christian Laettner beat MJ, and His Airness set out for revenge. He reportedly had a ping-pong table delivered to his hotel room and spent two days practicing before beating the Duke Blue Devil in a rematch. While Laettner said that couldn’t recall losing in a rematch, it’s safe to assume there were still some high-stakes table tennis games going down.

During his time in Barcelona, Jordan also lost a round of golf to Chuck Daly. Unable to stomach that defeat, His Airness challenged the coach to a rematch at the next available time; according to Rick Reilly, that meant knocking on Daly’s hotel room door at 4 a.m the following morning and refusing to leave until he agreed to return to the course. During that second round, Jordan won.

During the prime of their respective careers, Larry Bird and Michael Jordan were two of the most competitive men around. Unsurprisingly, putting them together on the Dream Team yielded plenty of high-stakes battles, in addition to a gold medal.

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