During his visit to Indianapolis last week, Grantland's Bill Simmons got a chance to sit down and talk with the "Basketball Jesus" himself, Larry Bird. In the latest BS Report, they discuss the Celtics' glory years, the changes in NBA basketball, which current players impress the Celtics legend the most and more. To listen to the podcast, click HERE.
Here are some of the highlights:
On the possibility of Bird ever leaving the Celtics (and touching on the Peyton Manning situation in Indy): "Red [Auerbach] knew I wasn't going anywhere. ... I would have never left Boston, unless they traded me. I like to see guys come in, especially the elite players, and stay in one place. I think it's very important for the city, because we don't have a lot of great ones come through here, and Peyton Manning is by far the greatest athlete to ever come through [Indianapolis]. If he's healthy, hopefully he stays and finishes out his career.
"If you have an elite player come through, especially a small market, you've got to hold on to them players. They're not born every day."
On whether it would be prudent to break up the current Big 3 or even the original Big 3 of Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish -- as current Celtics president Danny Ainge has suggested: "I would have kept them [referring to himself, McHale and Parish]. The one thing about Red was loyalty. And that's why I never wanted to leave there, because I always knew he had my back, he cared for me, he wanted me to do well. Obviously, he wanted me to play at a high level.... Danny [Ainge] did tell Red he should trade us right now because we don't have much left in the tank... I was there with Danny and Red and McHale the day we were talking about that. The one thing that Danny threw in there was players’ names. The whole time I was in Boston I never heard Red mention any other players on other teams. I heard him talking about draft picks, but I never heard anything about, ‘Larry, I can trade you for this, this and this.’ He just never did that... Kevin McHales don't come around very often. ... you know, in 1987 Kevin played through a broken foot -- it was actually broken and he tried to play and he's still paying for it. So, you don't find those types of guys anymore. Very few of them out there probably. Kevin gave his heart and soul to the Celtics and Red knew that."
On how he would have retired in 1988 if the Celtics' top pick in the 1986 NBA draft, Len Bias, hadn't died from a drug overdose: "I would have left in '88. ... Because I started having the ankle problems ... if he was there, I would have just shut it down right then [at age 32].
On whether the '86 Celtics team was the best of that era: "There's no question. With Bill Walton coming in as your backup, Scotty Wedman, Jerry Sichting, I mean we were loaded. And if you remember, Jerry shot like 55 percent from the field that year ... Scotty played behind me, and Bill played behind me, it was just a stacked team."
On the '87 team, with all the Celtics' injuries: "I was the healthiest one on the team."
On playing approximately 43 minutes a game that year: "It's all right, I got paid for 48."
On why it was difficult to stay healthy for him and other Celtics players: "The one thing that people don't understand is, if you look at our teams, four years in a row we went to the finals. And playoff basketball is completely different. I played two years of playoff basketball, but our bodies don't have time to recover when we had injuries. So when you go 2 1/2 months and you start again, you feel better but you're not recovered healthwise. And that just kept adding on, and adding on, and adding on. Kobe [Bryant] is one of the toughest human beings I've ever seen because I know what he's been through. And he's played a hell of a lot more minutes than me."
On the Celtics' dominance in the '80s: I really felt that, when we won our first championship, I told our team 'We've got to win at least four or five of these things or we didn't do our job. I always thought that we left them on the table."
On the NBA becoming less physical due to new rules: "They needed to put a stop to a lot of it. In the '80s, when I played, there were a lot of cheap shots. If you go back and watch the Pistons... Scotty [Pippen] getting pounded... a lot of it happened after the whistle. ... Guys where getting hurt, and it takes a toll on your body. They had to clean it up some, but they've taken it too far, especially with the flagrant fouls and stuff."
On his -- and the Celtics' -- ongoing feud with the Detroit Pistons' Bill Lambeer, on and off the court: "It's because he was a dirty player. He had to do what he had to do, I understand that, but -- like Ricky Mahorn, he'd hit you and all that... but he didn't try to maim you. Bill tried to hurt you. He was one of them guys who, you'd shoot a jumper and he'd slide his foot under your ankle so you'd twist your ankle. That's why Parish always went down. If you watch any of our old games, Parish was always twisting his ankle against the Pistons."
On how -- and why -- the concept of team basketball has changed, with individual players dominating the court: "AAU... I'm a firm believer it all starts back there. The colleges... it's all about 'How many did you get? What kind of dunk did you have? If you look at our game, the mid-range game is almost gone. ... Everybody gets caught up on these dunks. I mean, if somebody dunked on you, and you go down and hit a three, who's ahead? [laughs] I never did get that. But, I think it will come back, but we're really missing the overall game. We're just seeing great athletes out there running and jumping."
On LeBron James and the enormous attention he's received: "I think he should sit back and enjoy [it]. I think he's one of the greatest that's ever played our game. We all make mistakes, you know, I did a lot of things I sorta regret. Whether he regrets [anything] or not, I don't know. He made some decisions -- the 'decision' was a bad decision -- but you gotta enjoy this guy. If you're a basketball fan, you gotta sit back and go 'Wow, how'd he do that.' I always said 'Boy, I wish I had his speed." ... You know, Kobe [Bryant] was always my favorite since I got out, but LeBron James is by far our best player is this league. I don’t really think there’s anyone next to him. I think he’s there, and then you go down the list."
On which current player he would want to play with: "Probably Kobe. Of course he wouldn't be shooting as much as he does now [laughs]. But just his desire to win, his dedication in the offseason to get better, and he's just tough. He's just a tough cat.
"But if you want to have fun like I did with Bill Walton, you play with LeBron."
On Simmons' admission that out of the top 25 greatest moments in his life, Bird was involved in seven of them: "You need to get a better life."