Larry Bird is far from a media recluse. You can’t get away with that as the President of an NBA franchise. But he’s still fairly judicious about which media appearances he agrees to. That includes radio spots, which I’m sure he gets an avalanche of requests each week. But on Wednesday, Larry Legend took a good 15 minutes to chat with ESPN Radio Dallas about the NBA Finals, his good friend and former teammate Rick Carlisle winning a world championship, his own playing days, this year’s Finals MVP Dirk Nowitzki, and other fun and insightful topics. Great stuff.
Bird joined ESPN Radio Dallas to talk about his good friend and former teammate and coaching colleague Rick Carlisle winning an NBA title, what he thought of Carlisle when they played together, if he had an inclination back then that he might make a good coach someday, the ’86 Celtics team that he and Carlisle played on, why he thinks that was the greatest team he’s ever seen, how he’s always been impressed by Dirk Nowitzki as a player and person dating back to his high school days and continuing all the way through their dinner together several years ago and, of course, this year’s playoffs, all the trash talking that the Mavericks did early on in the Finals, his own storied history of talking the talk and walking the walk as a player, one of his more famous episodes of trash talking when he jabbed at Cleveland Cavaliers fans during the pre-game by jogging in the stands, if he feels sorry for the criticism LeBron is taking, and it it’s good for basketball that a team beat a group of individuals.
On good friend Rick Carlisle coaching his Mavericks team to championship glory:
“Well I know how Rick coaches. I coached with him, I played with him, I know his demeanor, I know what he’s thinking. And he’s in a perfect situation. He’s got a group of guys — most of them are veteran guys — and they’ve got a goal in mind. And they play the game the way he wants it played. They play together, they play smart, they don’t get caught up in all that other stuff, and they’re coachable. If you have a team like that and you’re able to coach them, you’re going to have success.”
What he thought of Carlisle when they were playing together, specifically if he thought he might go on to be a coach some day:
“Well he asked a lot of questions, I know that. but Rick was a guy that was very astute to the game and was always an individual that was always studying whatever it was. Rick can play piano, Rick’s a good golfer, I mean everything he does he goes all out. And coaching was pretty natural for him and it’s great to see him have the type of team he always wanted, and they proved they are the best team in the world.”
On the ’86 Celtics team that he and Carlisle both played on:
“We were gooood. It was the best team I have ever seen. We were strong; we had a lot of big guys; we had guards; we felt we were a smart team. And it was all because of Scotty Wedman, Jerry Sichting and Bill Walton coming off our bench. We were deep. It was just a good team, it was easy to play for, and I knew when we started training camp if we stayed healthy we were probably going to win a championship. I never had that feeling before. We won a lot of games and we took care of business when the playoffs came around.”
On what he’s been most impressed by and taken notice of with Dirk’s game since he entered the league:
“Well I can see a lot of the same things that he does that I did — we’re both tall, we was able to shoot from outside, we rebound the ball pretty well, we was both pretty dedicated to the game — so there’s lots of similarities between us. I watched Dirk play in high school also, and I go ‘wow, this kid does everything.’ He had 38 points, 21 rebounds, 7 or 8 assists, I mean, he does everything. And that’s why they sort of compare us, because we’re big, we can shoot from outside, we’re not only scorers, we try to do it all.”
On if he remembers the dinner that he had with Rick Carlisle, Dirk Nowitzki, and several other Mavericks players during the preseason of Carlisle’s first year as head coach in Dallas:
“Yeah, it was just a couple of years ago. I’ve always been impressed with Dirk. You know him a lot better than I do because you’re around him a lot more than I am, but he’s a gentleman, he knows the history of the game, and he wants to do everything he can to get better. Whether it’s something someone says or anything to motivate him, he’s listening. Jason [Kidd] has been around a long time and knows the ins and outs, but it was a lot of fun because I got to meet him and actually talk to him for an hour, an hour and a half. I’m very impressed with the young man.”
On Carlisle’s comments about not minding Jason Terry and others trash talking earlier in the series, and then his similar story of playoff trash talking greatness:
“Well I had a problem with my elbow and it kept swelling. We win the first two games at home and I couldn’t extend it. After shootaround we go back and KC Jones says you’re not playing tonight. And I says ‘oh yeah I’m playing tonight.’ And he says ‘this is a long series, I can’t let you play; the doctors don’t want you to play.’ So anyway, I stayed back at the hotel and was watching the game, and they started chanting my name and they beat us. So the next day at shootaround I told them they’re going to get both barrels tonight coming out a blazing. And when I got to that arena, it was unbelievable. They had security all over me. Luckily we won the game.”
Did he not jog around the Cavs court pre-game staring into the stands?
“Oh yeah. Jogged around the court before the game. That wasn’t good. That really got them riled up.”
If he feels at all sorry for the rash of criticism that LeBron has faced:
“He brought a lot of it on himself, but here’s what I feel about LeBron: he’s as good as anyone that’s ever played this game. I think he’s going to win a lot of titles; I think he’s going to continue to get better. To me, he’s an amazing athlete, he’s never been hurt, he’s got the body of a football player and he’s got skill. I just think he’s off the charts good. And I think his time is going to come. I think they did a remarkable job in Miami this year bringing that team together and getting where they got. They’ll get better next year. Their time is going to come if he stays healthy, and he’s going to have a lot of success in this league and win championships.”
Whether he thinks it’s good for the league that the ‘team’ beat the ‘individuals’ in this year’s Finals:
“I think team basketball always beats individuals if you stay together. You’re never going to have the perfect games, but when it comes down to the end of games, ball movement always beats individual scoring one-on-one. I just thought Dallas played as well as they could possibly play, and they were led by Dirk. When they couldn’t score, he scored for them. I mean, that had to have been a joy for Rick to coach that team.”
If he can add on to the story Carlisle shared about Bird and other players stuffing his bag with Celtics gear during his rookie year in an attempt to frame Carlisle as a locker room thief to the Celtics’ cranky equipment manager:
“Well, actually in Boston you’d think they give you a lot of gear, but they didn’t give us anything. We had an equipment manager that was there when the building opened back in ’32, and he didn’t like rookies, and especially Rick. I don’t know why, but he didn’t like Rick. So he left his door open and the guys went in there and got socks and jerseys and everything else and stuffed them in his bag. And after the game we told Walter that we think Rick’s stealing stuff out of the locker room. And he goes up and opens that bag in front of all the reporters. It was not pretty, and Rick did not know what the heck to do.”
So how long did the gag last before they let Carlisle off the hook:
“Well it stunned him because Walter was mean. He was brutal. The things he was saying to him — ‘we’ve got a thief in the locker room, you’re a thief, you’re a stealer, they should throw you out.’ Right in front of the press. It was not pretty. It was not pretty.”