Sports Illustrated treats us to a wonderful excerpt from the book Showtime: Magic, Kareem, Riley, and the Los Angeles Lakers Dynasty of the 1980s. In this tale, Michael Cooper talks about an encounter with Larry Bird:
To Cooper, Larry Bird was still merely larry bird (lowercase intended) — an overrated Great White Hype who captured a nation’s imagination more for his pigmentation than his playing ability. Cooper had seen it all before. Doug Collins. Mike Dunleavy. Tom McMillen. Mike O’Koren. White guys came, white guys went. Larry Bird? Who the hell was scared of Lar–
“I’m getting ready to wear your f—– ass out.”
The words were uttered softly. Almost in a whisper. Had the white boy just spoken in such a manner to Michael Cooper? Had he really said such a thing? Barely two minutes had passed in the opening quarter and Bird was already slinging yang.
“Bring it, mother——,” replied Cooper, hardly a linguistic wallflower. “Bring it.”
Larry Bird brought it. Celtics guard Nate Archibald dribbled the ball down the court. Cooper followed Bird toward the top of the key — “Larry’s standing there talking to me, talking to me. Nonstop talking” — then shadowed him as he walked down the lane and circled around a Robert Parish pick. “About to wear your ass out,” Bird said. “Wear … it … out … ” Bird pushed off Cooper. Cooper pushed off Bird. “Bring it,” the Laker said. “C’mon, f—– … “
Bird jumped back, caught a pass from Johnson. “I’m still here, m———–,” Cooper said, grabbing a handful of Bird’s green-and-white jersey. “I’m still here.” Abdul-Jabbar, guarding Parish, stepped off his man to help. Bird jumped to shoot, and Cooper lunged toward him — certain he was about to block the shot.
Then, quick as a dragonfly, Bird somehow brought the ball down and wrapped it around to a wide-open Parish. “I still have no idea how he got the ball to him,” said Cooper, “because my hands are up in the air, Kareem is coming out — and the only way he could have gotten it to him was to lob it over the top. But he didn’t lob it over the top. I’m still confused.” Cooper spun, just in time to see Parish slam the basketball through the hoop.
He looked back toward Bird, who smirked. “Wearing your ass out, m———–,” he said. “Wearing it out. … “
Despite their clashes on the court, Cooper developed tremendous respect for Bird:
“Covering Larry — that meant everything to me,” he said. “People said he was overrated … f—, no. If anything, he was underrated. What made him so good was you didn’t just have to worry about his scoring. You had to worry about this guy’s defense, his passing, his ability to save balls from going out of bounds, his ability to set picks and get people open. Larry could beat you in many ways. And he was the hardest player for me to play against, because you had to guard against all those things. Most players are one- or two-dimensional. Larry was ten-dimensional.”
Legend. Pure m———– Legend.