Bird’s Rookie Year — Game 61 vs. the Nuggets

Celtics (45-15) vs. Denver (24-40)
February 23, 1980
McNichols Sports Arena

The Celtics wrapped up a five game road trip by making quick work of the Denver Nuggets, 124-105.  The win improved the C’s to 20-11 on the road.

Looking to build another winning streak to help distance themselves in the Atlantic Division and the Eastern Conference, particularly from Philadelphia (44-17), the Celtics relied on a team effort that produced seven scorers in double figures.  There were also three players (Larry Bird, Cedric Maxwell, and Rick Robey) who also recorded double digits in rebounds, as the C’s hit the glass and out-boarded the Nuggets, 58-35.  The Celtics also produced 69 first half points and continued to display their willingness to share the ball, registering 34 assists (nine by Archibald, eight from Bird).

Cedric Maxwell led the team with 19 points.  Paired on the floor with Tiny Archibald, Pete Maravich had his best performance, showcasing his ability to score in bunches, finishing with 14 points on 5-7 shooting in only 16 minutes.  Bird had another tremendous outing, refusing to let up on his domination of the league.  He finished with a line of 15/8/8, just shy of recording another triple-double.

 

Bird Takes Off

 

Though Bird’s play had been transcendent, the only place you could read Bird’s quotes and get a deeper sense of the young man from French Lick was through the Boston press in the Boston papers.

Bruce Newman, who spent twenty years from 1975-1995 writing for Sports Illustrated, wrote a story on Bird for SI in February of 1979 during his remarkable run at Indiana State.  Bird wasn’t speaking with the press at the time, and the SI story upset Bird so much that he then refused to speak with Sports Illustrated.  In a recent phone interview with Newman, he detailed the situation:

I did the first Sports Illustrated story on Magic as a pro, and they had me do another story on Bird also in his rookie season.  The problem there was Larry Bird wouldn’t speak to me or anyone from Sports Illustrated because of a story I had written about him a year earlier when he was at Indiana State, which he did not like.  He boycotted SI and wasn’t talking to anyone but the Boston media.  I had to write around him by getting other people to talk about how great he was.  That situation continued throughout my time covering the NBA.  I was able to write several long stories on Magic, and got to know him pretty well, but not with Bird.  Fortunately, Bird didn’t know what I looked like because he never spoke to me.  He didn’t speak with the press when he was in college, either, so he had never met me.  I could stand in a crowded locker room and ask him questions but I could never get a one-on-one interview, so that was always a peculiar situation that existed.

The story, Flying to the Top, broke the news of a paternity suit as well as the fact that his father had committed suicide.

When I found out he wouldn’t talk to me when I was in Terre Haute, I had to try to write around him.  I happened to meet someone who worked in the court house and she mentioned that Bird was being sued by his ex-wife in a paternity suit.  I was the first person to report nationally that his father committed suicide, which became better known later.  Those two things caused him to be upset and his coach denounced me publicly.  It continued even NCAA championship in Salt Lake City at the mass press conference when [Indiana State coach Bill Hodges] started talking about how Sports Illustrated lied.

He may have been talking to the local Terre Haute paper, but maybe not.  He was just not talking to the press, period, that [1978-1979] year.  People forget the nickname, “The Hick from French Lick,” but they were really protecting him from people like me and he was quite happy not to have to talk to anybody.  Indiana State was making sure that’s what happened.  I can’t swear he didn’t speak to any of the press – Bob Ryan from the Boston Globe was very interested in him because Boston held his draft rights – but, to my knowledge, he wasn’t speaking to anybody.  Indiana State had never had any type of coverage like that.  I grew up less than 100 miles from there and they were just very small potatoes.  Then, suddenly, Bird came along, and national media was coming at them right and left.  They didn’t know how to handle that, so they didn’t know that if Sports Illustrated comes to town, SI is going to write something, no matter what.  They just figured they could shut it off, but they couldn’t.

Due to squabbles with the Boston Garden, the Celtics took their services on the road — for a home game — at the Hartford Civic Center for their next game on Tuesday against the Atlanta Hawks.

 

 

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About Justin Barrasso

Justin Barrasso has worked in the Boston sports scene in various different capacities since 2001, including writing for the Boston Herald and WEEI.com.

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