Bird, 51, won three NBA titles and three MVP awards with the Boston Celtics.
Dan Patrick: When I say Celtics-Lakers, is there one game, one player that automatically comes to mind?
Larry Bird: I think of Michael Cooper because he defended me as well as anybody ever defended me. And the one game is Game 4 [in 1984], when we desperately had to have a win, and Kevin McHale took Kurt Rambis down and changed the whole series.
DP: At the time, was that a hard foul?
LB: We had a no-layup rule. Just about everybody in the league did. Our regular-season games used to be rougher than our playoffs now, but the playoffs took it to a different level.
DP: Is LeBron complaining too much about being fouled hard?
LB: He knows no different. Now when you get hit hard, you expect a flagrant.
DP: What kind of relationship do you have now with Magic?
LB: We're still doing things businesswise. We talk maybe once every month or two. He knows what gets me more than anything is talking about when he beat me in college.
DP: Does that hurt more than his running hook at the Garden in Game 4 of the '87 Finals?
LB: Oh, yeah.
DP: Would you trade one of your NBA rings for a national title?
LB: Yeah. Sure would.
DP: Why was that so painful?
LB: I knew a lot of people in [Terre Haute]. I knew what it meant to them. I stayed an extra year [at Indiana State] to try to do something and had an opportunity to do it, and I let it slip out of my hands.
DP: Are you rooting for a Celtics-Lakers Finals?
LB: I'd like to see the Celtics back in there. I root for them except when we play them. I know how important it is for [their fans] to have an opportunity to win a championship.
DP: Do you put Kobe in Michael's category, at least as a closer?
LB: Kobe is the best player in our league and has been for a long time. When someone told me the other day that Kobe hadn't won an MVP trophy, it sort of made me feel like I wanted to throw mine away. But to say he's another Michael Jordan, I can't do that.
What a Difference a Year Makes
AFTER THE scuffle that broke out in Game 4 of the Hawks-Celtics series, the NBA decided not to suspend Kevin Garnett (above) for putting his hands on an official (who had grabbed Garnett first) and also did not suspend Boston's Kendrick Perkins and Atlanta's Marvin Williams for stepping onto the court. I agree with those decisions. Yet I can't help but think of last year's playoffs, when Boris Diaw and Amaré Stoudemire ran onto the court to help Suns teammate Steve Nash after he was rammed to the ground by San Antonio's Robert Horry. Those players didn't go after anyone, but David Stern's logic was this: The players left the bench, they violated a rule, so they were suspended. Intentions didn't matter. Those Suns suspensions loomed especially large last week with the news that Phoenix may part ways with coach Mike D'Antoni. Consider: If Stoudemire and Diaw aren't suspended, maybe the Suns win that series and even the title, and then they don't make a desperation trade for Shaq or think of saying goodbye to a very good coach. The league should consider intent, because this is how much suspensions can matter.
Fun Fact of the Week
MICHAEL JORDAN has a nickname for Larry Brown, his new Bobcats coach: Seabiscuit. Brown and Jordan were playing golf with Roy Williams and Jerry West, and Jordan saw Brown's peculiar gait as he walked down the fairway—Brown, 67, has had multiple hip surgeries—and rechristened him after the famed horse. (Though maybe now he'll change the nickname to Big Brown.)
Feeling the Pulse of a Nation
I JUST LOVE the decisions that came out of the BCS meetings last week. The lords of college football said no to a four-team championship playoff, but yes to adding two new bowl games. Those BCS commissioners, they sure respond to what the fans are crying out for—bowl games in Washington, D.C., and St. Petersburg! (This in a week in which 90% of listeners voted in favor of a playoff on DanPatrick.com.) The new math: The number of bowls is now up to 34, which means more teams will go to bowls than to March Madness.
THE FINE PRINT: More bad news in a disastrous season for Barry Zito: The gun had him at just 2 mph walking to the bullpen.
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MIKKI HARRIS/ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION/AP (GARNETT)
PETER READ MILLER (BROWN)
RICHARD MACKSON (BIRD IN ACTION)
RON HOSKINS/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES (BIRD)
ILLUSTRATION BY KEITH WITMER