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Wednesday, March 23, 2022

Robert Parish Declares that Larry Bird "Earned" What He Received From Julius Erving in the Infamous Bird-Erving Fight

The NBA's biggest rivalry in the early to mid 1980s was Julius Erving versus Larry Bird:

Erving's Philadelphia 76ers played Bird's Celtics six times in each regular season and faced off in four Eastern Conference Finals between 1980 and 1985. Erving and Bird frequently guarded each other, while Magic and Bird played different positions and only guarded each other on defensive switches.

The Erving-Bird rivalry captured the public's imagination. In 1983, Electronic Arts produced Julius Erving-Larry Bird One-on-One, the forerunner of NBA Live and all the other sports video games; it would have been unimaginable to choose any other matchup at that time. Erving and Bird actively participated in the creation of the game and as a result the final product incorporated real life aspects of each player’s style.

The two Hall of Fame superstars generally played cleanly against each other, but an infamous exception happened during a November 9, 1984 game. The soon to be 28 year old Bird--in the prime of his career and in the midst of the second of three straight MVP seasons--outscored the 34 year old Erving--in his 14th season, and less than three years away from retirement--42-6. When Erving ascended to the top of pro basketball in the early to mid 1970s, he never demeaned his opponents or showed them up in words or deeds, but during this early season encounter Bird reveled in his dominance over Erving, and--despite Bird's later denials--he engaged in trash talk that at least one of his Hall of Fame teammates found to be distasteful. 

In a recent "Icons Club" podcast, Jackie MacMullan interviewed Robert Parish, who described his recollections of what Bird said to Erving prior to the Bird-Erving fight: "Larry started saying he was done, he was washed up, that he was a better player, that there was only one man who can guard me and that was God. He laid it on real thick. I'm surprised that the Doctor restrained himself for as long as he had, because I knew I would have thrown a punch and he wasn't even directing it at me." Parish felt so strongly that Bird was out of line that Parish--a martial arts practitioner who did not shy away from on court confrontations--did not intervene on Bird's behalf during the fight: "Larry earned that ass-whupping, Jackie. He earned it from his words. He earned it, no question about, and that is one of the reasons why I did not do anything about it, even though Moses (Malone) was holding Larry back. Because some things, Jackie, you just do not say to another person, (even) in the heat of the moment, and I felt like Larry crossed the line. Being that Moses did not throw a punch, that is why I did not intervene."

Bird engaged in several physical altercations--on and off the court--during his NBA career, but Erving had never been in a fight during his pro basketball career prior to November 9, 1984, and he was never in a fight after the Bird fight.

Think about what that fight says about Bird, Erving, Parish, and the tremendous respect that even players from an archrival team felt for Erving. Erving's on court accomplishments, his off court accomplishments as an endorsement pioneer and successful businessman, and the level of respect that he earned are not now recognized to the extent that they should be. 

MacMullan described Erving as "a redoubtable mentor for a litany of players past and present." Bill Walton declared, "The way that you can tell that Dr. J is the single most beloved, respected, and admired player is that when we go to the Hall of Fame every year, Dr. J gets the most presentations--by far," something that I have previously discussed

MacMullan noted that there is no Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, or modern NBA without the foundation that Erving laid (though Erving, in his modest manner, would be quick to say that whatever he did was made possible because of the great players who came before him, including his all-time five of Elgin Baylor, Wilt Chamberlain, Oscar Robertson, Bill Russell, and Jerry West, with Connie Hawkins as the sixth man). MacMullan said that multiple generations of NBA legends--from Magic Johnson to Charles Barkley to Jason Kidd to Shaquille O'Neal to Allen Iverson to Kobe Bryant to Dwyane Wade--received direct mentoring from Erving, while countless others were influenced, inspired, and motivated by Erving. 

When Erving is questioned about his all-time five, he states that the five players who inspired him as a youngster will always be his all-time five, regardless of the all-time fives selected by other people. The way that Erving feels about his heroes is the same way that I feel about him, and about his permanent place in pro basketball's Pantheon.

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posted by David Friedman @ 11:14 PM



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