Tag Archives: Larry Bird

Heat-Mavs or Celtics-Lakers, circa 1984?

An almost impossibly athletic and heavily favored team loaded with future Hall of Famers and headlined by a 6’8” prodigy from the Midwest whose passing skills are redefining his position.

A gritty squad lead by a blond superstar with slow feet, a high pain threshold, and sweet shooting touch who unafraid to call out his teammates for a lack of clutch play in the first three games.

Sound familiar?

If you’re thinking Heat-Mavs, think again.

This year’s series, which is already shaping up to be a classic, bears an increasing resemblance to the 1984 battle between the Celtics and the Lakers.

that went a full seven games before the Larry Bird-led Celtics prevailed at the Boston Garden.

Comparisons between Bird and Dallas forward Dirk Nowitzki have been made with increasing frequency in the past few weeks, and, while I agree with Greg Anthony in finding them overstated, the look at the two teams may be more apt than one realizes.

Think about it.

Among their supporting casts, the Celtics and Mavericks both had a light-skinned, poor-shooting Hall of Fame point guard with a history of domestic violence.

The series’ ebb and flow mirror each other, too.

In both series, the faster squad won Games 1 and 3, and could easily have swept the first four games.

In both Games 2 and 4, a mental error and passive play by the smooth-passing Midwesterner-LeBron James now, Magic Johnson then-led to rounds of harsh criticism (James is being asked constantly about shrinking in the clutch, while Johnson was briefly given the name, “Tragic.”).

Game 4 in both cases was a tight defensive battle that featured a comeback by the underdogs and the leader delivering the key basket in the clutch.

In the earlier series, Bird took over in Game 5 with a vintage shooting performance, while Magic continued his sub-standard play.

The Lakers rallied to win Game 6 before the Celtics held off a late Game 7 charge to win their 14th championship.

My brother Mike and I were in attendance, in what remains one of my life’s greatest sporting highlights.

Of course, much is different now, and the past does not in any way determine the future.

Still, it’s intriguing to think about what will happen next.

Game 5 is tomorrow night.

I know I’ll be watching.

How about you?

When Larry and Magic Owned The Game

This book by Larry Bird and Magic Johnson is must reading for hoops junkies of a certain vintage.

One of the first stories I did while at South Shore Community News involved covering the opening of the first Starbucks on Chicago’s South Side.

Ald. Leslie Hairston was there, brimming with excitement.  Mayor Daley was there, touting his insistence that the community get the same store design as those in the suburbs.

And Magic Johnson was there.

As always, he charmed the crowd, sending regards to Michael Jordan, backing off when he invoked Wal-Mart as a place moms want to go in a neighborhood, and shooting down a question from Craig Dellimore about whether the opening of Starbucks would lead to gentrification.  “I’ve got some statistics up in here,” he said, in essence.

After the press conference ended, I took one of the free mugs being distributed and joined the line to have it autographed for Aidan.

When I got there, I shook his hand, explained that I was from Boston and had grown up watching his battles with Larry Bird and our beloved Celtics.

“Those were the great ones,” he said.

“We didn’t always like you, but we always respected you,” I said.

“I know,” he replied.

As they note in the introduction to their book, When The Game Was Ours, Larry and Magic have been linked ever since their initial meeting in the 1979  NCAA championship game.   While they have been the subject of a number of books, most recently Seth Davis’ work about that game and the season that preceded it, they had not written and revealed so much about their impact on each other.

This book does that.

Written in conjunction with Jackie MacMullan, When The Game Was Ours is a must read for hoops junkies, especially those like me who came of age during Bird and Magic’s heyday and the NBA’s exponential growth.

The book opens with a description of a dazzling play they had while on a college all-star team in 1978.  Neither player got much time on the Joe B. Hall-dominated squad, and the play was not recorded, but it was one that both men remembered vividly and recounted to MacMullan.

When The Game Was Ours has a lot of familiar material as this territory has been mined before, and it also has some new and juicy tidbits that eager readers will be sure to devour (I don’t want to divulge them for fear of spoiling the pleasure of uncovering something new and different.).

One thing I will say is that the book does go in some detail into the 1985 Converse commercial, shot at Bird’s home in French Lick, that led to a softening in the hard feelings the two men had borne toward each other.  The section about Magic’s learning he had contracted HIV is powerful and poignant.

In the introduction, both men note that they are asked how the other is doing far more often than about former teammates.

After reading this book, we have a better understanding of why that is so, and how much these enormously talented, driven and dedicated men have meant to each other.

100,000 page view mark, quick thoughts.

Passing the 100,000 page view mark is call for Celebration, Kool and the Gang style!

I know I’ve mentioned a number of page view milestones throughout the year, and yesterday was a big one.

We passed the 100,000 page view mark mid-afternoon yesterday.

The exciting news, too, is that more than 60 percent of them have come since October 1.

Thanks very much to all who have joined and contributed to the community at some point since last December 21, when I began this project by writing about Beauty Turner’s death.

A couple of other quick thoughts.

The Blind Side replaced New Moon as the top-grossing film in America last week.  I’ll write more about it in the future, and Michael Lewis’ book by the same name is worth reading.

I’m keeping the Israel reading going, and recently finished Amos Elon’s Jerusalem: City of Mirrors.  At this point I’ve read three books about Jerusalem and will devote a post soon to discussing them.

I wrote yesterday about John Carlin’s Playing the Enemy, which is the basis for Invictus. People wanting to learn more about Nelson Mandela’s ability to win over those who had been trained to hate him might consider James Gregory’s Goodbye Bafana, which was turned into a 2007 movie that I have not seen.

Happy 53rd Birthday, Larry Bird!

The Sports Guy weighs in on basketball.

The Sports Guy shares his love of basketball in this 700-page behemoth.

You’ve got to hand it to Bill Simmons, aka The Sports Guy. 

Even if you’re not a Celtics fan, even if you find him incredibly self-promoting, even if you disagree with every single one of his opinions and even if you tire of his endless references to the Rocky series, you have to admit one basic fact.

The man has made a career of being a sports fan.

A passionate, informed and prolifically writing sports fan, to be sure, and, let’s face it, the man is paid to watch, talk and write about sports.

Plenty of sportswriters do this, too, but Simmons is different to the extent that he is a fan first and foremost.   

I’ve got some grounds to make this statement because I spent a lot of time with Simmons this past weekend, thanks to my brother Mike, who gave me The Sports Guy’s newly released tome, The Book of Basketball.

I thoroughly enjoyed it.

While I cannot make it to his appearance today here in Chicago, I recommend that others consult his book tour schedule and go in other cities.

In part, my pleasure in reading Simmons stems from the fact that I get to relive cherished parts of my childhood. 

We spent large chunks of his youth in Brookline, came of age during the 70s Red Sox and 80s Celtics era, and loved deeply our hometown teams and the endless statistics that came with following sports.

Larry Bird has a permanent place in our Sports Pantheon.

When he writes in The Book of Basketball about a game where Bird waved his arms to a hostile Clippers crowd before shooting game-winning free throws, for example, I remember watching that with best friend Pete D’Angelo.

The intersecting nature of our childhoods aside, I liked The Book of Basketball because it shows Simmons in all his passionate, knowledgeable and at times excessive fullness.

To begin, the book is 700 pages long-a fact that he mentions both in the footnotes toward the end and in the acknowledgments, when he quotes his wife, The Sports Gal, saying, in essence, that she will leave him if he ever proposes to write another book of similar length.

Readers who follow Simmons’ columns will find a lot of recycled material in the book, and there is much that is new.

He has a five-tier Hall of Fame and identifies the 75 players who should occupy those levels.   He takes the reader through the league’s history.  He has lengthy discussions of the best teams of all time-a list that culminates, unsurprisingly, with the 1986 Boston Celtics.

Readers of Simmons’ previous work will find all the same ingredients: heavy doses of discussions with his father; plenty of self-referential interactions with everyone from Elgin Baylor to Tom Seaver to Bill Walton; lots of popular culture references; pinches of phrases like “Stick a fork in him”; and plenty of lists with criteria attached to them and the people or teams who fit them.

I skimmed certain parts of the history and will say that I read most, but not all, of the footnotes.  And, to be sure, the book has its shortcomings.

His jokes and repeated digs at his “Grumpy Old Editor” aside, Simmons really could have written the same book at a little more than half the length.  He asserts in several places that you know something is meaningful when you remember where you were when it happened-a proposition that need not be true, and, even if it is, probably does not bear repeating.

His criteria shift, but are argued with equal conviction. 

He says that Bill Walton deserves to be on the list of Hall of Famers because of the brilliance he showed for a short time, but later gives Karl Malone the edge over Charles Barkley because Malone fulfilled his lesser potential while Barkley did not play at his highest level for long periods of time.

While Simmons does talk about the size of Dennis Johnson’s “equipment,” he neglected to include one of my favorite nuggets about DJ that Jim D’Angelo pointed out-that he picked his spots to the point where he did not score at all in the first half, but ended up with 17 points and a number of big steals in the 118-116 1988 Game 7 victory over the Atlanta Hawks that is most known for the Bird-Dominique duel

But, in many ways, each of these criticisms both are what Simmons wants, an engaged readership, but, more than that, underscores the very point that he is able to write what he wants because it is HIS BOOK.

Near the end of the work, Simmons writes with just a slight tongue in cheek tone that The Book of Basketball is the second-best book about hoops ever.  I don’t know about that, but I do know that I am very grateful to my brother for sending me this fantastic birthday present and I am grateful to Simmons for caring and writing about sports as much as he does.

David Halberstam on Michael Jordan and the World He Made

 

It's only fitting that the late, great David Halberstam wrote my favorite book about Michael Jordan.

It's only fitting that the late, great David Halberstam wrote my favorite book about Michael Jordan.

 

The middle of David Halberstam’s Playing for Keeps: Michael Jordan and the World He Made contains a revealing anecdote about Celtics superstar Larry Bird.

Boston Globe sportswriter Bob Ryan asked Bird what he thought about Bruce Springsteen

“Who’s he?” Bird asked. 

“Larry, he’s the you of rock,” Ryan replied.  

Intrigued, Bird learned more about the legendary Jersey rocker and even attended a concert.  While he did not particularly enjoy the music, he respected how hard Springsteen worked-something that he could tell by the volume of sweat he generated. 

In a similar way, I imagine that the late, great Halberstam recognized something of himself during the process of writing about Jordan

Both men struggled in adolescence before finding the professional passions that drove them.

Both loved basketball deeply and had a special place inside themselves reserved for baseball. 

Both worked relentlessly at their craft.

And both did work early in the career that defined an era, but then built on that work in the following months and years to establish a nearly unmatched legacy.

There are differences, too, between the two men.

Jordan ranks higher in the pantheon of basketball gods than Halberstam does in journalism.

Halberstam never retired, while Jordan left the game twice, once at the height of his powers, and again after the Bulls’ second ‘three-peat’ in 1998.

Jordan’s global celebrity and conscious marketing of his ‘brand’-a main subject of both of the books by him about him-are also distinctive.

Still, there must have been a sense in which Halberstam felt that he was writing about someone whom he understood.

Playing for Keeps, which is a retrospective look at Jordan’s life, career and global economic impact-Halberstam estimates that it’s in the billions of dollars-all make for the most comprehensive book written about Jordan, and my favorite of the ones I’ve read. 

Impeccably thorough in his research, Halberstam also has the benefit of being able to trace the arc of Jordan’s career before his final forgettable comeback with the Washington Wizards that was the subject of Michael Leahy’s When Nothing Else Matters.   Halberstam takes a far more respectful, even admiring tone, toward his subject than Leahy, and the book has a more respectful, even admiring feel, toward its subject. 

Halberstam effectively moves the narrative back and forward in time, writing extensively of course about Jordan, but also about coach Phil Jackson, Bird and rival Magic Johnson.  Dream Team fans will get a kick out of the description of the legendary scrimmage between Jordan and Johnson’s teams in Monte Carlo.  While no one agrees about who talked the first trash-some say Johnson, while others say it was Charles Barkley-all agree that Jordan took over and dominated with a frenzy that left no doubt both about the result and about the team’s true leader from that point on.

Playing for Keeps ends with Jordan’s final championship winning shot-one that Pistons coach Chuck Daly had predicted-against the Utah Jazz.  While hoops junkies may not find this book as rich or appealing as Halberstam’s classic The Breaks of the Game, it is more than adequate to reach the top of my Jordan book list. 

As Bulls fan know, one of Michael Jordan’s top 20 games is better than just about anything else anyone has to offer.

Have fun, and enjoy tomorrow’s induction.

Michael Jordan Books, Part III: Driven from Within

 

Jordan fans will love hearing from the man himself.

Jordan fans will love hearing from the man himself.

 

We’re here with Day III of the Michael Jordan Hall of Fame Induction build up.

Today’s book is his own: Driven from Within.

Jordan has actually written a couple of books, each of which chronicled his family-oriented and middle-class roots in Wilmington, North Carolina, his being cut from the varsity team as a sophomore at E.A. Laney High School, his gradual emergence and burst into prominence at North Carolina, his dominance in the 1984 Olympic Games, and his gradual and relentless quest for greatness in the NBA that led him to six NBA titles and general acclamation as the greatest player ever.

Driven from Within is a multi-colored, fully-illustrated book with text of varying sizes, colors and layout guaranteed to delight Jordan and Bulls’ fans.

Jordan’s voice and commitment to excellence is a constant throughout the work.

He writes about the divisions that occurred within the first run of Bulls championship teams-he lays a lot of responsibility for this on Horace Grant-his own admittedly excessive gambling, his sojourn into baseball and his eventually triumphant return for a second three-peat during the 1996-1998 years.

Jordan’s well-documented dislike of former Bulls General Manager Jerry Krause comes through clearly, as does his desire to go beyond his predecessors Magic Johnson and Larry Bird and be known as an outstanding defensive as well as offensive player.

As we all know, he did that and more. 

Driven from Within gives insight into the forces that shaped and drove Jordan to become a basketball genius and consummate winner.  It’s also a reminder to Bulls fans who have gone 11 long years since his retirement of happier days when a championship in June seemed like the natural order of the universe.

Best Boston Resources for John Myers and Liza Weinstein.

 

This is just one of the many attractive views in store for my friend John Myers and his wife Liza Weinstein, who move to Boston on Sunday.

This is just one of the many attractive views in store for my friend John Myers and his wife Liza Weinstein, who move to Boston on Sunday.

 

Buddy John Myers and his wife Liza Weinstein are moving to Boston.

It’s one of a series of major changes in their lives.

On Friday she received her doctoral degree in Sociology from the University of Chicago.

On Saturday they finish packing up and celebrating with both sets of parents.

And on Sunday they drive to Boston, where Liza will soon start working for Northeastern University. 

She also will have their first child in a few short months. 

John and Liza are both Michiganders who have never lived in Boston, so I’m putting together this list of Boston resources for them. 

Debate and amendment are welcome.

I. Best Boston Dictionary: The Boston Dictionary, by John Powers.  While just a tad dated-the book has an image of Michael Dukakis reading an article about Swedish land management technique under the term “furma govna”-this illustrated work is a perfect introduction to the much imitated Boston accent. 

II. Best Book about Boston Busing: Common Ground, by J. Anthony Lukas.  One of my all-time favorite books, this Pulitzer Prize-winning book tells the story of three families during the decade that started with Dr. King’s assassinations, with individual chapters about Boston’s then-Mayor Kevin White, Boston Globe Editor Tom Winship, activist and mayoral candidate Louise Day Hicks, Cardinal Humberto Medeiros, and Judge W. Arthur Garrity

III. Best Boston Memoir: All Souls, A Family Story From Southie, by Michael Patrick MacDonald.  Friend MacDonald brings it in this coming of age story that has vivid scenes of a community’s member going to funeral after funeral for its murdered youth, all the while saying that drugs and violence are the exclusive province of black neighborhoods.  The busing chapter is particularly memorable. 

IV. Best Boston Sports Memoir:  Drive: The Story of My Life, by Larry Bird.  The self-proclaimed “Hick from French Lick” restored Celtics glory in the 80s after an embarrassing downturn in the late 70s, leading the team to three titles and helping, along with Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan, the league reach unprecedented heights.  This straightforward book, written toward the end of his glorious care, tells the story of his hardscrabble youth.

V. Best Local Historian: Anthony Sammarco.  This well known local historian has published a series of beautiful books, many about specific Boston neighborhoods, that combine well-written text with attractive pictures that effectively convey the feel of each area.  

VI. Best Bookstore/Record Cafe: Rhythm and Muse.  Got to give the love to dear friend and former roommate David Doyle, who’s been operating in Jamaica Plain for more than a decade now.

VII. Best Medical Thriller Set in Boston: Coma, by Robin Cook.  Ultimately turned into a film by a pre-Jurassic Park Michael Crichton, this chilling novel of death in a hospital may not be the best choice for John and Liza as I imagine her pregnancy will require her to take quite a few hospital trips.

VIII. Best Children’s Book Set in Boston: Make Way for Ducklings, by Robert McCloskey, and The Trumpet of the Swan, by E.B. White.  It’s too hard to distinguish between these two classics, which are geared toward slightly different audiences.  Both are wonderful, though.

IX. Best Legal Book Set in the Boston Area:  A Civil Action, by Jonathan Harr.  This book takes place in Woburn, which is just outside Boston, and the story of the fast-driving Jan Schlichtmann’s efforts to hold polluter W.R. Grace to account makes for gripping reading in Harr’s capable hands.

X. Category and book determined by readers:  I’m leaving this one open for suggestions.