This is an article from the Dec. 7, 2009 issue
Larry Bird HOOPS LEGEND
The Pacers president and former Celtics great is the subject, along with Magic Johnson, of Jackie MacMullan's When the Game Was Ours
Dan Patrick:If I gave you one mulligan, what would it be?
Larry Bird: Well, I'd like to have the college one [the 1979 NCAA title game, which Bird's Indiana State lost to Magic Johnson's Michigan State], because we won three championships in Boston. Starting out and playing for Indiana State, a mid-major school, and being 33--0 and having a chance to win a national championship, that was pretty big for me.
DP:What would you do differently in that title game?
LB: I don't know. I didn't play well. I knew I had to score over 30 points for us to have a chance to win, and I didn't do it.
DP:LeBron said we should retire Michael Jordan's number 23. What do you think?
LB: That's fine with me. As long as it's not 33.
DP:You don't want them to retire your number?
LB: No. I enjoy watching Danny Granger play in it. And I remember when I first got in the league, Jabbar had 33 on. That made me feel good.
DP:What number would you have taken if not 33?
LB: I like 3, 7 and 33.
DP:Three makes sense—you shot the three.
LB: No, I didn't shoot the three that much. I didn't like the three. The only time I liked to shoot the three was in that three-point shootout [at the All-Star Game], because you could win some extra money [laughs].
DP:How much did you win?
LB: I think the first time it was like 10,000. And I said, "I ain't doing it anymore unless you raise it."
DP:What's one thing you learned about Magic while working on this book?
LB: Just how he felt. He had a lot of the same things happen that I did, with players being jealous. You just had to ignore it and move on and push your teammates to the ultimate goal.
DP:Was there jealousy on the Celtics?
LB: Oh, yeah.
LB: I don't know. I know I was tough to play with, because I demanded a lot and I wanted to win. I did a lot of extra [work] to put myself in position to take the shot at the end of the game.
DP:Did you ever feel a rivalry with Jordan similar to the one you had with Magic?
LB: No. You've got to understand, Michael came [into the NBA] in '84--85. We were at the top of our games, and he was just getting started. By the time he got really good, we were on our way out, so there wasn't really a rivalry there. I only played against him [twice] in the playoffs.
DP:He did well in that first playoff series.
LB: He scored a lot of points [laughs].
DP:You see these clips where Jordan is going through his legs and you're trying to guard him....
LB: You're right—trying.
DP:Were you wondering, What's going on? Why am I on an island with Jordan?
LB: That's exactly what he asked me that day. He said, "What are you doing out here?"
DP:What did you say to him after the game?
LB: Nothing after the game. But we were in Chicago [later in the series], he was down there in the post trying to guard me. And I said, "You better get out of here. Get back out on that perimeter."
DP:If we play H-O-R-S-E, what's your go-to shot?
LB: Probably the one behind the backboard, right behind it. You haven't got the strength to get it over.
DP:If I give you 10 shots behind the backboard, how many do you make?
LB: Now? I don't know if I could get it over now.
Before he threw for 387 yards in a win over the Cardinals, Titans QB Vince Young was taking heat for his middling numbers. But even before Sunday's explosion, Deion Sanders told me that the only number that mattered to him was Young's perfect winning percentage. "Some of those statistics we throw out to validate a point—they're just ludicrous," Sanders said. "[Young] wins."
As impressive as Tim Tebow has been in four years at Florida, former college and NFL coach Jimmy Johnson doesn't think he'll be a successful pro QB unless a team is willing to tailor an offense around him. "If somebody's going to draft Tebow," Johnson said, "they're going to do one of two things: make him an H-back, blocking and receiving some; or, if he's a quarterback, hire a coach who's going to run a spread offense."
Line of the week
Marv Albert knocked down the rumors that he got into a scuffle with 50 Cent at a recent taping of Jimmy Kimmel Live. Albert said the story was "made up and embellished," and he joked that things were fine with the rapper: "We're getting together a little later for a brunch."
Now Hear This
Listen to the podcasts at danpatrick.com/interviews
1. Coach Jeff Fisher discusses the Titans' recent hot streak.
2. Texans QB Matt Schaub on recovering from a tough loss.
THE FINE PRINT: Smart move by TCU. The Horned Frogs hired Michaele and Tareq Salahi to help them crash the BCS title game.
Go to danpatrick.com for more on-demand interviews
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