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Friday, December 08, 2006

Larry Bird Turns 50, Suns and Nets Each Score More Than 150

It looked like "typographical error Thursday" but the numbers are in fact correct: Larry Bird celebrated his 50th birthday and the Phoenix Suns defeated the New Jersey Nets 161-157 in double overtime.

NBA TV devoted a whole day's worth of programming to chronicling Bird's extraordinary career. For those of us who grew up watching Dr. J, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, it is hard to believe that Bird is really 50 years old. TNT added some nice touches in its opening segment before the Detroit-Dallas game, as Magic Johnson, Charles Barkley and Kenny Smith offered their recollections of playing against Bird. Of course, TNT had to have a little fun, juxtaposing highlights of Smith stealing the ball from Bird with ones of Bird getting the best of Barkley on several occasions. Barkley joked that you could never get a referee's call in the Boston Garden before turning serious and saying that Bird and Magic belong on the "Mt. Rushmore" of sports figures from their era. He added that they saved the NBA and brought it to new heights and that every time he sees either one of them he thanks them for making him the person he is today.

Johnson admitted that he had a "distaste" for Bird until they had an opportunity to spend an afternoon together shooting a commercial for Converse; then they realized that they actually have a lot in common and could forge an off-court friendship despite their fierce on-court competition. Smith added, "They (Bird and Magic) showed what competition is all about...if you had a distaste (for your opponent), as Magic put it, you still competed fairly." That is such an important point. Playing hard and trying to win does not have to involved cheating or being disrespectful to your opponent. What is the value of a victory that is achieved unfairly or that involves disrespecting your competition? If you disrespect your opponent then you are also disrespecting the game and your own victory. That is something that the steroids cheaters, the taunters and the cheap-shotters (the Tennessee Titans football player who stomped on another player's head, to name just one of many) don't understand.

I didn't get to see the Suns-Nets game but, as Suns' Coach Mike D'Antoni suggested afterwards, it probably will be on ESPN Classic pretty soon. Just looking at the boxscore is fun: Steve Nash had a career-high 42 points, 13 assists and six rebounds; four Suns scored at least 23 points and Boris Diaw added 16 points and 14 assists; Jason Kidd had 38 points, 14 rebounds and 14 assists, his 78th triple double, which tied him with Wilt Chamberlain on the career triple doubles list; Vince Carter had 31 points and nine assists, while Richard Jefferson had 25 points and eight rebounds; the teams combined to launch 224 field goal attempts and made 121 of them (.540); despite the frenetic pace and the two extra sessions, the teams combined for only 29 turnovers. That was truly a throwback game to cap off a throwback day during which NBA fans looked back to the 1980s, when Larry Bird was in his prime.

posted by David Friedman @ 1:06 AM



At Friday, December 08, 2006 6:40:00 AM, Blogger vednam said...

Bird's legendary trash talking doesn't qualify as being disrespectful towards oponents?

At Friday, December 08, 2006 7:45:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

You make a valid point there. Bird may not have treated all players with the same respect that he accorded to Magic. The larger point is that the Bird-Magic rivalry, despite its intensity and duration, was conducted in a clean manner. Another thing to consider is that Bird's trash talk was often delivered under his breath and was basically between him and his opponent. Nowadays athletes really seem to make a point of showing up their opponents.

One of the classiest of the truly great athletes was Julius Erving, who did not trash talk at all and rarely was involved in confrontations with other players. Ironically, his one NBA fight was against Larry Bird, who allegedly said "42-6, Doc" to him, the numbers representing their point totals at the time (Bird was at the height of his career and Doc was a couple years away from retirement). The two legends traded blows and were ejected; when the NBA issued the resulting fines, Bird was docked a greater amount as the instigator (not so much for his alleged words but for some of the physical contact leading up to the fight).

At Friday, December 08, 2006 8:57:00 AM, Blogger illest said...

Bird's trash talk was not under his breath. He let you know loud and clear what he was going to do.
Talking trash is part of the game.

At Friday, December 08, 2006 2:49:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I was thinking of the occasions when Bird would walk up to an opponent and almost whisper in his ear, "I'm going to catch the ball right here and nail a jumper on you to win the game" (or something to that effect). Xavier McDaniel told a story of that nature on one of the old NBA Entertainment videos from the late 1980s.

Yes, trash talk is part of the game, but it can be done in a good natured way to spur competition or in a bad natured way that just fuels enmity. Bird crossed the line at times, as vednam suggests, but I think that current players cross the line much more frequently. An analogy would be the effect that MJ had on the way that the game is played. His game featured fundamentals and flashy moves but, unfortunately, a lot of young players simply imitate the flashy moves (or try to imitate them) but neglect to work on the fundamentals that truly formed the basis of his greatness. Trash talk has always been around but it seems to me that it is more vicious and less good natured today (I am not speaking solely about the NBA in this regard).

At Sunday, December 10, 2006 12:23:00 AM, Blogger illest said...

Bird was asked in the New York Post last year who was the best trash talker and he said it was Micheal Ray Richardson. Thats crazy considering his speech problems back then.

I remember that Xavier clip.
Everyone thinks Mike started shooting jump shot after his comeback. He always shot jump shots....his dunks and double pump layups just overwhelmed everyone and thats what the youth remember him by.

If you look at all the greats, its the fundamentals that make them great.
You are correct about the trash talk of now days David. The problem is these guys of today dont back it up.

At Sunday, December 10, 2006 4:36:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Micheal Ray may not have enunciated clearly but he was a very confident player and I think that others besides Bird have mentioned that he would talk a little (or more than a little) from time to time.

He did a real number on the defending champion Sixers in the '84 playoffs before he ended up getting banned for life. Such a talent--he was still playing in Europe after he was 40 and, as people are seeing now, those Euroleagues are no joke.

That series is one of the few documented instances that I know of Julius Erving talking trash, albeit somewhat mildly. He declared before the final game that the Sixers would win and that all that needed to be determined was the final stats (that's not a direct quote, but he said something of that nature). That was not a statement that I remembered him uttering, so it was a surprise to read it in archived newspaper articles years later; it was unlike Doc to talk that way and it was unlike him not to be able to deliver in the end as well.

At Sunday, December 10, 2006 8:15:00 PM, Blogger vednam said...

I have an old video of 1984 playoff highlights which has a clip of Dr. J making his statement about the Nets/76ers series. He says: "They've had success in Philadelphia, that should be a confidence factor for them. But they're not gonna win in Philadelphia, so you can mail in the stats."

It's strange how quickly that great 76ers team declined after their title. Cheeks and Toney were in their mid 20s, Malone was only 28. I think that despite his relative youth, and despite still putting up good stats, Malone started to fall off after 1983. He got outplayed in 1985 by Robert Parish and in 1984 by (ironically) Darryl Dawkins. Then there were the stress fractures in Toney's feet. I also think that the Sixers lost some of their depth after 1982 when Malone came, but Caldwell Jones, Dawkins, and Lionel Hollins all left. Also, it seems like the 76ers management has been doing its best to screw up the team ever since the championship season, even to this day with the current Iverson mess.

At Sunday, December 10, 2006 8:21:00 PM, Blogger vednam said...

Certainly, not all rivals had as much admiration for each other as Bird and Magic. Still, it's hard to think of rivalries which have been "unclean".

I guess the type of rivalry that everyone has in the back of their minds when thinking of a disrespectful one is the Pistons/Bulls rivarly. I always thought it was really low of MJ to keep Isiah Thomas off the dream team (even though Isiah was more qualified at that point than everyone on the team outside MJ, Magic and Bird). I've also wondered if there was any trouble between Dennis Rodman and MJ or Pippen when Rodman joined the Bulls stemming from the rivalry, and if not, how they managed to just put it all behind them so easily.

At Sunday, December 10, 2006 8:42:00 PM, Blogger illest said...

Haha mail in the stats.

At Monday, December 11, 2006 2:47:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

During my interview with Bobby Jones he talked a little bit about the Sixers' rapid decline, calling it one of the big disppointments in his career. Here is the link:


Unfortunately, links in the comments section are not clickable, so you will have to cut and paste it into your browser; there is also a link to the article on the right hand side of 20 Second Timeout's main page.

Toney's career was destroyed by foot injuries; Cheeks remained an All-Star level point guard for several seasons after the championship season and an above average one for some time after that. Hollins was pretty close to the end of the line by the end of his Philly career. Dawkins had the one good year in New Jersey but then he had back problems. Losing Caldwell Jones was definitely a disappointment to the Sixers but that was part of the Malone deal.

The Sixers have had multiple owners since that time but each owner/ownership group has made its share of mistakes. Trading away Malone and the number one pick (which ended up being Brad Daugherty) for Jeff Ruland, Roy Hinson and Cliff Robinson (not the guy who is with the Nets now but an earlier one) was not a great move. Ruland had to retire because of injuries, Hinson also had injury problems and Robinson was a one dimensional journeyman. None of them made an All-Star team with the Sixers, while Malone was still an All-Star level player and Daugherty soon became one.

At Monday, December 11, 2006 2:55:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Steelers-Raiders was a dirty rivalry. After a vicious George Atkinson hit on Lynn Swann, Steelers coach Chuck Noll said that Atkinson was part of a "criminal element" in the NFL. Atkinson filed a law suit against Noll. When Noll testified he was forced to admit that his own player, Mel Blount, played the same way; Blount ended up filing suit as well. You can read more about this here:


Bulls-Pistons is a good example of a rivalry that had its unsavory elements, as is Celtics-Pistons. Some of the NBA rivalries in the 50s got nasty at times; the legendary Red Auerbach once cold cocked Hawks owner Ben Kerner on the court before a game started.

At Monday, December 11, 2006 4:38:00 AM, Blogger vednam said...

That's an interesting interview with Bobby Jones. It sounds like he is talking about Andrew Toney when he mentions guys being more concerned with their "minutes, points, and contracts". Doc and Moses presumably had big contracts already, and Cheeks never looked to be a big scorer. That leaves Toney as the only other guy of any substance.

Digression: it's a shame what happened to Andrew Toney. He's one of the most explosive and deadly scorers I've seen. In an interview, Charles Barkley was asked to pick a team to play a street-style winner-stays-on tournament, and Barkley said the shooting guard was a toss-up between Michael Jordan and Toney. When the interviewer pressed Barkley to pick just one, he picked Toney. I've heard that the management treated Toney very poorly once his injuries started to set in, questioning his integrity, and speculating he had drug problems (which turned out to be bogus).

I think that another big problem for the 76ers was a lack of depth. Outside of their top five guys, they really didn't have anyone else (maybe Clint Richardson, but that's it). I think the teams they had in the 80s before Moses came were deeper, if less talented at the top.

In addition to the Malone/1st pick trade, I've heard that the 76ers managment was trying to trade Julius Erving to the Jazz and the Clippers toward the end of his career! Imagine the Celtics trying to trade Larry Bird or the Lakers trying to trade Magic Johnson.

At Monday, December 11, 2006 9:59:00 AM, Blogger illest said...

Vednam, Andrew Toney.........wow. He was definitely unbelievable one of the most underrated ever. No one could stop him. His crossover dribble was simple and very effective. His game was all fundamentals. He scored on guys in the post who were 6 to 7 inches taller than him. He would average 30 plus today shooting 54-55 percent. The racist Philly management treated him very poorly as they did with Moses and Barkley.

At Monday, December 11, 2006 4:34:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Jones never specified who he meant but he implied that he was talking about more than one player. Keep in mind that in that era no NBA champion repeated (after the '69 Celtics, no one won back to back titles until the '88 Lakers), so whatever criticisms can be offered of the '83-'84 Sixers apply to a lot of other teams, too. Of course, the Sixers fell a bit farther than most since they lost in the first round but that Nets team was pretty strong and might have remained a viable contender in the East if Dawkins had stayed healthy and Richardson had not been banned for life.

Toney could score from anywhere on the court and was also an excellent passer. He had plantar fasciitis (and I think that he may also have had stress fractures) at a time when there were no MRIs to diagnose such things. He'd say that his feet hurt and he couldn't play and the team would accuse him of malingering as a negotiating ploy. It got real ugly.

The Sixers did try to trade Doc to the Clippers for Terry Cummings. A few years later, when Doc's contract ran out, he was unsatisfied with what they offered and considered signing with the Jazz before the Sixers signed him to his final deal.

At Tuesday, December 12, 2006 1:37:00 PM, Blogger illest said...

The Sixers are a joke of a franchise. Just look how they have treated their superstars.

At Tuesday, December 12, 2006 3:29:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Very few of the Sixers' greatest players ended their careers with the team: Chamberlain, McGinnis, Barkley and Cheeks are just a few Sixers All-Stars who finished their careers elsewhere. Iverson is about to join that list. As noted above, even the great Dr. J was almost traded to the Clippers.

At Wednesday, February 04, 2009 11:36:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is one of the most thoughtful, intelligent blogs I have ever read. And yes, Andrew Toney was one of the best and was treated unfairly. I grew up in Philly and witnessed the mistreatment of many of its stars. Maurice Cheeks found out he was traded from the Sixers when he returned home from practice and the press met him at his front door, and said How does it feel to be traded?" Can you imagine the insult?

At Wednesday, February 04, 2009 11:44:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

On another note, isn't it time that Artis Gilmore be inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame. He was a standout in college, the ABA and the NBA, and still holds several records. It is an utter travesty that he has been overlooked for so long, considering that others who never even the played the game have gotten in for simply their "contributions." Mr. Freidman, if you agree, can you please shed some light on this travesty given your writing influence?

At Wednesday, February 04, 2009 5:11:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Thank you for your comments.

Regarding Gilmore, I have written several articles strongly making the case that his HoF induction is long overdue. You can find one of them in the right hand sidebar under the heading "NBA/ABA History" (the article is titled "Artis Gilmore: Still Waiting for Hall of Fame Call").

I have no explanation for why Gilmore has been snubbed but in my opinion he is the greatest athlete in any of the major sports who is eligible for HoF induction but has not received that honor (MLB changed the rules so that Pete Rose is not eligible unless/until he is reinstated by the Commissioner).


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