Larry Bird looked like a chill guy that only wanted to have some fun while playing basketball, but the Boston Celtics legend was much more than that, showing fierce competitiveness whenever he stepped on the court, dominating rivals not only with his game but also with his mental tricks, getting on their nerves more than once.
Bird always wanted to win and was ready to do whatever to get Ws, and when people didn't show that same desire, he didn't hesitate to call them out and make it clear that they needed to perform better.
This was very visible during the 1984 NBA Finals, where the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers gave fans another taste of the biggest rivalry in league history. Game 3 of that series was a field day for the Lakers and a nightmare for the Celtics, and Larry wasn't having any of that.
Following a humiliating 137-104, Larry Legend did something odd for him, lashing out against his teammates and calling them out for putting up such a poor performance against the Lakers.
“Until we get our heads where they belong, we’re in trouble,’ Bird said in Jackie MacMullan’s book titled When The Game Was Ours. “We’re a team that plays with heart and soul, and today the heart wasn’t there. I can’t believe a team like this would let LA come out and push us around like they did. We played like sissies.”
In the end, the Celtics took revenge, winning a close Game 4 in OT, taking the 3-2 advantage in Game 5, and then winning it all in Game 7 to secure another championship for the city of Boston. After everything was said and done, Larry reflected on his Game 3 words, revealing he didn't want to see Magic Johnson celebrating in front of him.
“I wanted to fight every teammate I had after Game,” Bird said. “I did everything I could in the papers to get them fired up. I knew if something didn’t change, we were going to lose. So I called them sissies, told them they played like girls. I didn’t know if there would be some backlash, but I didn’t care. I was not going to watch Magic celebrating in front of me.”
That was one of the memorable duels we saw between Bird and Johnson. Fortunately for the small forward, he was the one who won it, taking home a huge win against his archrival. Boston would lose to the Lakers the next season before returning to the glory in 1986 against the Houston Rockets.
Larry could be tough on his opponents, but there's no doubt that when he wanted to get the best out of his teammates, he was ready to push some buttons.