Larry Bird is nicknamed Larry Legend for a reason: He did legendary things on the basketball court. And yet in the time since he retired in 1993, many have forgotten how mean a baller he was. Yes, he would drain jumpers with perfect form and rock no-look passes with finesse, but he also made defenders crumple with step-back jumpers and embarrassed opponents with fake passes. Bird will go down as one of the best ever, but as a recent highlight video by the NBA reminds us, he’ll also go down as one of the most savage. Here are six of his gnarliest moments.
Dominated the Portland Trail Blazers With His Left Hand
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When you’re as good as Larry Bird, sometimes you get bored. In 1986, on the second night of a back-to-back, the Boston Celtics were in Portland to take on the Trail Blazers in the last game of a nine-games-in-11-days West Coast swing—one of the most brutal road trips an NBA team endures.
So Bird decided to spice things up a bit.
“At the end of one of the trips, he had accomplished every goal, we hadn’t lost a game on the trip,” teammate Bill Walton said.
“And Larry told all of us players and the media too—we were all standing around waiting to leave—he said, ‘Tomorrow night’s the last game of the trip, I’m going to play this one left-handed, at least through three quarters.'”
Bird wasn’t lying. He hit his first two shots with his left hand, and by the time the game was over (an OT win for the Celtics on a last-second shot by Bird, albeit right-handed), he’d scored 20 of his 47 points with his non-dominant hand. That’s just rude.
RELATED: Larry Bird Thinks the NBA Should Add a 4-Point Line
Hit Two Game-Winning Shots in a Row From the Exact Same Spot
In a game against the Washington Bullets, Bird rose up and drained a 3-pointer from the right corner at the buzzer, which appeared to give the Celtics a last-second win. Except just before Bird began his shooting motion, the ref blew his whistle to grant Celtics head coach K.C. Jones a timeout. The shot didn’t count.
“Larry comes back to the bench and he’s a little upset,” Jones would say later. “He looks at the bench and says, ‘Hey guys, when I come back after the timeout, I’m going to go right back to the same spot and I’m going to put it in.'”
Guess what? Bird hustled back to the very same spot, received the inbounds pass and drilled the shot again. Celtics win.
His Filthy Step-Back Jumper
When you think about Larry Bird, you think about the short shorts, the mustache and one of the purest jump shots in the game. What you might not think about is his vicious step-back jumper, a move so filthy that it consistently made his defender fall to the floor like Bird was on the And 1 Mixtape tour. To pour extra salt in that embarrassing wound, when Bird realized that you’d fallen to the floor, he’d pause for dramatic effect before burying a jumper. That’s when you’ve got to take off your shoes and jersey and go home.
His Iconic Fake Pass
Rajon Rondo is probably the modern king of the fake pass. He uses it often when driving to the hole. He fakes like he’s going to throw a behind-the-back pass, then brings the ball back around for a layup. It’s left plenty of defenders looking like they’re out on a search party.
But Bird sold the fake pass better than anyone in NBA history. He would put so much oomph into it that it was a miracle the ball didn’t come flying out of his hands. But much like Peyton Manning executing a perfect play-action pass, Bird’s ball fakes were so good they sometimes made defenders spin around in a 180 to find out where the ball went. Of course, it was still in Bird’s hands as he waltzed to the hoop. Savage.
Won the 1988 3-Point Contest Without Taking Off His Warm-ups
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You know you’re a savage when you ask, “which one of you guys is finishing second?” out loud in the locker room before a 3-Point Contest and it’s only the second most savage thing you did over All-Star Weekend. Two years later, Bird capped off his third straight 3-Point Contest victory by going through all three rounds without removing his warmups. Then, tied with Dale Ellis at 15 with one money ball left for the win, the Celtics legend began walking toward the winner’s circle at halfcourt with his finger in the air before the ball splashed through the net, because he knew it was going in. It was lit.
Returned From a Broken Cheekbone to Bury the Indiana Pacers in the 1991 Playoffs
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It was Game 5 of the first round of the 1991 Eastern Conference Playoffs, and the Boston Celtics were tied 2-2 with the Indiana Pacers and facing elimination. Things got bleaker when Bird slammed his face to the floor with 4:23 left in the first half after diving for a loose ball. He was immediately escorted back to the locker room.
“When I hit the floor, I thought I broke my jaw, because I couldn’t move my mouth,” Bird said. “I was in a lot of pain, but I could hear the crowd out there and I thought, ‘I can’t leave those guys out there all by themselves.'”
With the Celtics up 73-71 midway through the third quarter, Bird came trotting out of the locker room. The crowd went bonkers. Still, the Celtics found themselves down 3 late in third, until Bird went to work. In the blink of an eye, the Celtics went from down 83-80 to up 112-96. The Pacers fought back to make it a one-point game with a few seconds left, but the Celtics escaped with the win and the series. Bird finished with 32 points, 9 rebounds and 7 assists. His performance after suffering a severe injury was so stunning that Pacers players flooded
the Celtics locker room after the game to congratulate him.
“It was a great moment for me,” said
the Pacers’ Chuck Person. “It’s something I’ll remember for a long, long time. It’s such a great story.”