The Greatest Trash Talker Ever: Larry Bird

From a story on by Jayson Jenks headlined “‘You wouldn’t believe what he said: The greatest trash talker ever, Larry Bird”:

Michael Jordan once said, “Larry Bird is the greatest trash talker and mind-game player of all time. He taught me everything I know about getting in folks’ heads.”

That was reason enough to call 17 of Bird’s former teammates and opponents and ask for their best trash-talking stories about Larry Legend.

Leo Rautins, opponent: I say this in the utmost complimentary way: Larry was a prick.

Kevin Gamble, teammate: He would run by you and say, “I told you, motherfucker. I told you I was going to do that.” Or he’d smack you on the butt and say, “Nice try.”

Earl Cureton, opponent: He pump-faked a lot so you’d be running at him, and as you went by, he’d slap you on your ass and then shoot the ball.

Xavier McDaniel, opponent: You had to get up to play him because he was one of those guys that would torch you and talk shit until the end.

Lon Rosen, Magic Johnson’s agent: Earvin used to tell me, “I’ve never heard anybody talk more trash than Larry.” Now, Earvin talked a lot of trash, too, but he said there was nobody better than Larry.

Clark Kellogg, opponent: He was very discreet, almost like a ventriloquist.

Butch Carter, opponent: But the guy guarding him fucking knew he was talking shit to him. He was talking lots of it.

Joe Kleine, teammate: I’d get in the car with my wife after the game and go, “Remember when he hit that shot? You wouldn’t believe what he said.”

Terry Porter, opponent: My rookie year in Boston. He had the ball in the deep corner. I was sprinting to close out and he was in his famous form, and he shot it and as I was running out he said, “Too late, rookie.” I didn’t even know he was a trash talker. I got to the bench and told Clyde (Drexler) and he was like, “Yeah, he does that all the time.”

Mike Gminski, opponent: He’d drive down the lane and I’d try to go up and block his shot, and he’d say, “What are you jumping for? You’re not going to get this.”

Jeff Judkins, teammate: He really thought he could do anything he wanted at any time.

Kevin McKenna, opponent: His confidence level was as high as anybody I’ve ever seen.

Stan Kasten, opposing executive: Every player in the NBA is competitive, but Larry was otherworldly. And he was playful and smart and funny, so that’s where the trash talking came from.

Gamble: And he backed it up.

Rosen: He would actually tell you where he was going to go. I heard him say that during games. I heard it.

McDaniel: We’d been going at it all night. It was tied or they were up one. He just told me, “Xavier, I’m going to get this ball right here and I’m going to shoot it in your F’in face.” And I said, “I know. And I’m going to be sitting right here waiting.”

Carter: X was a shit talker, too.

McDaniel: He went to the spot and got it. He nudged me back with his shoulder a little bit to clear space. I jumped to try to block it. He hit it, looked at me and said, “Fuck, I didn’t mean to leave nothing on the clock.”

Judkins: We were roommates for eight weeks at the World Games. There was a big 7-foot-2 center from Russia. He was a really good player, and I’m sitting on the bench with Larry and he said, “When I get in the game, I’m going to tell this guy I’m going to dunk in his face.” As you well know, Larry doesn’t jump that well, so that was a little interesting. He gets in the game and starts talking to this guy. He told him he was going to dunk in his face, and by dang it, he got the ball, drove down the lane and dunked right in his face.

Rosen: The Lakers were playing the Celtics at home and Magic wasn’t playing that game. Larry came up to Magic before the game and said, “Sit back, I’m going to put on a show tonight.” He scored 40.

Jerry Sichting, teammate: Shortly after he won the 3-point contest, we were playing the Knicks. We were out shooting around way before the game, and Mike Saunders was the trainer for the Knicks and at the All-Star Game. He’s out there on the bench, talking to a couple players. He says something to Bird: “You’re not going to make any of those tonight.” Larry turns around and goes, “Shit, Mike, I’m going to bank one against you guys tonight.” I hear it and I’m just laughing.

Hubie Brown, opposing coach*: Now this is a big game. And now the score is something like (Celtics) 106-104 with about 15 seconds left. We put on the press. They inbound the ball. We trap Dennis Johnson and he throws a pass to Bird. Before we can trap him, Bird dribbles across halfcourt. All he has to do is hold the ball and the game is over. He goes off to the right side. We rotate to get him. Now he’s about 27 feet away from the basket.

Sichting: He’s over by their bench and banks one in, right in front of their coaches and trainers. He just turned around and started laughing at Mike all the way down the court.

Brown: Do you know the guts it took to do that?

Kleine: I heard this one. It was late in the game, and Hubie Brown was on the bench, motivating, flames coming out of his neck. Larry is taking the ball right out in front of him late, and he looks over at Hubie and goes, “Kevin is going to post up right there, I’m going to throw him the perfect pass, he’s going to throw it back to me and I’m going to make a three.” And he did.

Carter: Bernard King is guarding Larry and Larry said, “Bernard, the next one is coming from right there.” And then he’d catch it, shoot it, make it and he’d run down the court and Larry would talk cash-shit to Bernard King: “Hey, B, how you like that jumper? Ain’t that the prettiest thing you’ve ever seen in your life?”

Carter: Bernard King is guarding Larry and Larry said, “Bernard, the next one is coming from right there.” And then he’d catch it, shoot it, make it and he’d run down the court and Larry would talk cash-shit to Bernard King: “Hey, B, how you like that jumper? Ain’t that the prettiest thing you’ve ever seen in your life?”

Gminski: I was with the 76ers at the time. We go up by one with about four seconds to go. They call timeout, get the ball at half court. Barkley is guarding Larry. Bird comes up to him and says, “You know who’s getting the ball, don’t you?” Charles kind of nodded his head. Larry said, “I tell you what I’m going to do: I’m going to get the ball, take two dribbles down the baseline and shoot a fadeaway jump shot.” I’m on the weak side. I’ve got McHale. Bird takes two dribbles down to the baseline, fadeaway jump shot, and the ball was halfway to the net and I just started walking to our locker room. I knew it was good.

Rautins: He took no shit from anybody.

Michael Cooper, opponent: That guy was fearless.

Judkins: Back in the old days, every rookie had to carry bags on the road. I’ll never forget our first road trip. He stood up in front of all the guys on the bus and said, “I want you guys to know: I’m never going to get you any water, and I’m never going to carry one bag ever.”

Carter: We’re playing the Boston Celtics at the end of the season. It’s the year I set the NBA record for most points in an overtime. We were beating the Celtics the whole game. The coach, Jack McKinney, takes out the starters with eight minutes left in the game and lets the Celtics come back. So now I’ve got to go back on the court. I was so mad and locked in. I’ve got like six or eight points in the first minute of overtime. M.L. Carr is up waving his towel, telling Dennis Johnson, “He can’t fucking keep that up against you, D.J.” And I told M.L. Carr, “Fuck you, you bring your broke leg ass out here.” And I’ll never forget this. Larry Bird looked at me said, “Leave him the fuck alone.”

George Karl, opposing coach: I played him my first year coaching in a playoff series. We scared them a little bit. I remember, in the game, his eyes. He had the eyes of an assassin. They didn’t have a lot of emotion to them other than you knew he was focused on beating you, embarrassing you, destroying you. … In that playoff series, I was a young coach. I was jumping all over the place, so I’m on the court. He ran by me and elbowed me. I really respected that.

Rautins: I was with the Nets in preseason. I’m covering Larry for a couple possessions. He comes off this screen and curls up from the baseline to the top of the key. He catches the ball and I’m way back. I’m doing everything I can to fight through these screens and catch up to him. He didn’t say a damn word, but I swear to God he was thinking, OK, come on, keep coming, keep coming, you’re almost here, jump … OK, I’m shooting the ball. It was the weirdest feeling I’ve ever had with nobody saying a word. I’ve played this game long enough to know: He waited for me. He waited for me to make that a tough shot.

Cooper: Robert Reed told me a story where Larry was saying, “Come on, come on out here, get out here.” He would catch the ball and Robert’s still trying to get off this screen to get out there to him and Larry would wait.

Rautins: I 100 percent know he was screwing around with me.

Cooper: He would wait until you got out there to toy with you.

Cureton: I was in Detroit and I was guarding him one game. He was coming up with the ball and Chuck Daly was yelling at me. “Get up on him, Earl, get up on him!” Larry stopped, pulled up, shot the ball, looked at me and said, “You heard what Chuck said. He told you to get up on me. Get up on me!”

Kleine: We were playing the Knicks. Stuart Gray comes in for Patrick Ewing. I was on the floor, so first of all I was like, “Thank you Jesus.” I’m on the inside and Kevin McHale is on the inside and Larry is on the same side of the free-throw line as Kevin. Stuart comes in and is between Larry and Kevin. Stuart was one of the first dudes who dyed his hair. He’d go blonde and pink. Larry looks at him and goes, “Man, who you guarding?” He points over at Kevin and goes, “I got him.” Larry looks over at the bench and goes, “Four down.” Basically: “I’m going to feed Kevin in the post until hell freezes over.”

McDaniel: This one time against Shawn Kemp. Larry kept talking to him about how he’s the best fucking player from Indiana and then shot a three in his face and ran down the court laughing. I think that was in ’89. I was pissed off because my mom called me and was like, “Boy, they said Larry Bird lit your ass up!”

Karl: The one I remember is when he was in the 3-point shooting contest.

Rautins: Leon Wood told me this story when we were playing together in France. He was in the 3-point shooting competition. They’re all in the locker room. Almost right before they’re supposed to go out there, Larry walked in the room and looked around. He looked at one guy and laughed. Looked at another and went, Eh. He just went around the room and did that and walked out.

Karl: He walked in the locker room and said, “Which one of you guys is going to finish second?”

Rosen: I mean, who else could do that? He didn’t even take off his warm-up top!

Rautins: Think about that. The pressure you just put on yourself. You’re going to look like a real douche bag if you flop. And he won it.

Karl: That is Larry Bird.

Sichting: You can frame this as not only did he talk shit to his opponents, teammates, other personnel — but also his own coach.

Judkins: One time we were in a game and it was really close. It was right at the end of the game. Bill Fitch calls a timeout. Bill tried to control a lot of things. We’re sitting in the timeout trying to draw up this play. Larry just says, “Coach, coach, coach. I’ll just go on the block, throw me the ball and it’ll be over. I’ll just shoot my shot.” So that’s what we did.

Sichting: This is against the Knicks. We come in at halftime and we’ve got the lead. He’s guarding Johnny Newman and Newman has 10 or 12 points at halftime. Bird had about 18 or 20. K.C. (Jones) always let the assistant coaches talk first and then he’d talk. Chris Ford gets up and says, “Somebody’s got to guard Johnny Newman. He’s kicking our ass out there.” Bird looked at Chris Ford and goes, “Shit, he’s got 10 points. What do you think they’re talking about over in their locker room?”

Gamble: I’ve been in the huddle with him and he’d be like, “Hey man, just give me the fucking ball and get out of the way.”

Cooper: That was the same thing he told K.C. Jones in our series. D.J. was telling me this. K.C. was having a hard time drawing up the play and time was ticking down and Larry said, “Coach, get me the ball, and the rest of you guys get the fuck out of the way.”

Kleine: The best trash talking he did was in practice.

Porter: I was blessed to play with Danny Ainge for some years. He said their practices were hilarious. He said Larry would talk shit in their practices all. day. long.

Kleine: We would be getting ready for practice. We were all sitting on our concrete benches with our metal lockers behind us. The room is the size of nothing. Ed Pinckney would be sitting there. The whole team was really close, and Larry was really close with Ed. So Larry comes in and Ed’s getting dressed and Larry just stands over Ed.

Gamble: He knew Ed was going to be guarding him most of the time. He’d walk in and say, “Ed Pinckney. It’s going to be a bad day. You might as well take your shoes off and not even show up cause I’m going to bust your ass tonight.”

Kleine: He’d go, “Ed blankety-blank Pinckney. Ed blankety-blank Pinckney. I am going to kill you today in practice.”

Gamble: I remember one time I was sitting next to him. He looked at me and he then looked over at Chris Ford, who he called Doc. He said, “Doc, you got this MFer guarding me?” I just looked at him and smiled.

Kleine: The gasoline was lit because Larry Bird walked in there and was like, “Edddddd Pinckney…”

Gamble: I think he did that to get you fired up so you’d play hard against him because he knew he was going to get that every night.

McDaniel: I remember when I finally got to Boston. He was an assistant to (David Gavitt, Celtics executive), and he said to me, “You let them take beer out the damn locker room?” He was management then! He said, “I played my heart out and they knew after the game I needed a damn beer. I thought you were a damn beer guy, too.” I said, “Hey man, I just follow the rules.” He said, “I thought you was a fucking tough guy.”

Frank Brickowski, opponent: When I was with the Celtics in ’97, he was a consultant. He would come up and hang out. He was talking about defense or something after practice, and I said, “You weren’t exactly a fucking stopper, Larry.” He didn’t say anything. So I said, “I think I scored 35 on you one year.” And he jumped out of his seat: “You never scored 35 on me!” I said, “No, no, Larry, settle down, settle down. I scored 12 one game, I scored 10 another game…” We all laughed, but he fucking jumped out of his chair.

Cooper: It’s a real small story, but to me it was very significant because it showed me how great of a player Larry was. We were playing them in ’84 at the Forum. I’m guarding Larry, and he’s kind of struggling that series. In my own mind, I’m like, “I’ve got you, I’ve got you.” He heard me talking to hype myself up. He goes, “Coop, I’m getting ready to wear your ass out.” I’m like, “Oh, fuck this.”

Kleine: That was the beautiful thing about it: He wasn’t talking trash so everyone in the stands could hear it … It was directed right at you, for your consumption only.

Cooper: Robert Parish set a down pick, and I was like, “Oh, I’m gonna get this shit.” As Larry comes off the pick, I’m a little late. He gets the basketball, probably at the free-throw line at the elbow. Kareem saw I was a little late so Kareem switched on him. Larry gets the ball, he goes up for a jumper and in my mind I’m like, “I’ve got this shit, I’ve got this shit.” He goes up to shoot and hits Parish like on a pick-and-roll play and Parish dunks. On the way down, Larry goes, “Told your ass.”

Kleine: Nobody doubted his motive. It was to win.

Cooper: What it signified to me was: Larry could beat you any way on the court.

Jayson Jenks is a features writer for The Athletic based in Kansas City. Before joining The Athletic, he covered the Seattle Seahawks for The Seattle Times.

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