Weekly Countdown: Bird talks shooting, takes aim at his legacy
"Yeah, it's all they talk about,'' he said of his ability from the three-point line. "Everybody looks at me as a three-point shooter, but I didn't shoot a lot of them.''
Bird attempted a scant 1.9 threes per game in 13 seasons. In 1990-91, the year before he retired, his long-range attempts peaked at 3.3. But that's still a low rate by today's standards: There are 72 players attempting more than 3.3 threes this season alone.
"I felt like the game is won down in the paint,'' Bird said. "I didn't shoot them until the end of the game. If I shot one early, it was probably on the road.'' When he wanted to make a dramatic impact in an opponent's gym, he means to say.
Bird is aware that his views may be seen as contrary to those of his coach,
"I believe in the three-point shot at the right time,'' said Bird, who is president of the Pacers. "I got a coach who loves it, and I back him on it with the type of team we have. We have to play different. We don't have a big man who can score down low. But I see this game as if you want to win and win big, the game is won down in the paint until somebody proves me different.''
Bird believes the three-point shot is overrated.
"If somebody hits two or three earlier in the game, it don't bother me at all,'' he said. "But if a team hits a three-pointer with 18 seconds to go to put them up by three, you're sitting there going, Come on. You know the game ain't over, but at the end of the game I think it does something to you mentally.''
It makes him laugh to think that he's so closely associated with a shot he attempted so rarely.
"People [remember] me at the three-point contest, but I didn't practice going into that contest,'' Bird said. "If I was going to waste my time shooting, it was going to be inside that line because that was where I shot from during the game.''
"See, I was just the opposite,'' Bird said. "The three-point shot is a long shot. That's for guys like [6-1 Pacers guard]
"I think everything's got to be in the flow of the game, no matter where you shoot it from. My whole game was a mid-range type of thing, off-balance shots around the post and coming off picks, fading away. That's the way I was taught to play. But there's a lot of guys in this league who have fallen in love with that three-point line.''
I asked Bird about shooters like
"It's unbelievable,'' he said. "I don't know how they do it. They must be very powerful in their upper body is all I can say. Because I always tried to get my legs into every shot, even the three-point shot. I didn't jump, but everything came from my legs. People don't realize that. I had a guy the other day tell me, 'You went around there [during the three-point contest] and you could do it without getting tired because you didn't jump.' But every shot came from my legs -- it started once I bent all the way up through.''
It's funny how a few enduring highlights have skewed the reputation of one of the league's great players.
"They might show some [highlights] at the end of the game I hit to win games or tie it up,'' he said. "But I was never really a three-point shooter, and I never wanted to be known as a three-point shooter.''
"You always see guys dribble, bend way down, go up, then start moving their arms back, then shoot,'' Bird said. "I think it all should be one motion. It should be started in the center of your body and go from there up through. Keep it as simple as you possibly can.
"I used to watch Charles and say, 'What are you doing?' " Bird said. "He'd get to the line, take his dribble and fall back to shoot it. He was going away from the basket instead of to the basket. So I know if he had just changed them little things, he'd have been a much better free-throw shooter [than his career mark of 73.5 percent].
"It's completely different than a jump shot. When you're in a game, you might be shooting this way [to the side], you might be shooting back, you might be shooting forward -- and it all comes from your legs. Whereas in a free throw, it's get yourself set up and through.''
"If you ever got a kid to start [practicing underhanded] at a young age, he could really learn to shoot it because you get the backspin on the ball,'' Bird said. "If you ever notice Rick or anybody who ever did that, when it hits the basket it kills the momentum of the shot and it's got a chance to roll in. Because of the backspin.''
It drops like a putt that dies at the hole.
"It gives you a better opportunity to get the ones that you're probably going to miss if you shoot it upright,'' he said.
But kids today would take too much abuse if they grew up shooting granny style, I say.
"I don't understand that,'' Bird answered. "I remember Rick Barry saying everybody should do it. I've shot them like that, and you can get in a groove where you can make 20 or 30 in a row.
"I don't know what Rick aimed at, but when I shot upright I'd aim almost to the back of the rim. When I went underhand, I threw it just to get over the rim. It's a different mind-set, but Rick is right -- a lot of these guys who can't shoot them, if they'd get into the underhand they would shoot the ball a lot better. I'm sure of that.''
"There are guys who have got the funniest [shooting] forms you would ever see, but they're good at it. I can remember my coaches saying [to teammates], 'Well, if that's the way you're going to do it, you might just need 300 shots, when Larry shoots 100 to perfect it.' That's what always stuck with me. At this stage you don't want to change too much. But free-throw shooting is completely different from all the other shooting.''
Let's put it this way: Iverson isn't all things to all people. He was excellent for the East-winning 76ers in 2000-01 because they surrounded him with the equivalent of a big offensive line and he gained all of the yardage behind them. But that approach -- as I
The best example of what I'm talking about is
Iverson, 33, doesn't have his old quickness, and it's been a long time since he was successful in the playoffs. But he can score -- he averaged 26.4 points without missing a game for Denver last season -- and you can't ignore what he accomplished as league MVP with that Philadelphia team. He was a 165-pound scorer who willed his team to an NBA Finals, and it's not fair to forget about the good he accomplished while focusing on the troubles he's having now.
The Pistons do look more cohesive without him, but they can't afford to simply waive him. That would be an act of disrespect that would hurt the reputation of their franchise, as Iverson remains one of the league's most popular players among his peers and fans.
It's a good point you're making, Marcus. But I don't think they would have come close to winning a Finals for Toronto, as neither has the kind of aggressive, Type-A personality you often find in championship leaders. I'd also point out that McGrady left Toronto to return home to Florida and play alongside
I've rated them as a second-tier contender behind the Lakers and Spurs in the West, but maybe this year they're big enough up front thanks to
Utah's injured stars have been reunited, and
The good thing about this incident is that it happened on the court. Anthony didn't want to come out of the game, which is not all bad. But the bottom line is that the best player and the coach need to be on the same page. NBA teams don't win championships without a stable relationship between the coach and the star.
The 34-year-old Lakers point guard relates last year's loss in the Finals to this year's challenge -- taking
"Even though it looks like the same game, until you're out there it's hard to understand the differences in terms of the physicality and the intensity, the focus that it requires every possession to try to win a playoff game. Particularly as you escalate round to round and get to an NBA Finals. It's so important to remain composed and poised and in control of your emotions. Those are things that you have to learn how to do, and we do have a number of guys who learned how to do it last year and will be much better this year. I think back to Kobe and I in our younger years and having the experience of what it means to suffer defeating losses in the playoffs or go through times where you have bad games and you have to bounce back. You grow from it, and I think a lot of our guys will do that.''