Tuesday, February 8, 2011

February 8, 1986: Bird's bravado

DALLAS - No story better describes the confidence and swagger of Larry Bird in the mid-1980s than the one that came out of the 1986 All-Star Weekend. An hour or so before the first ever NBA 3-point shooting contest, Bird walked into a locker room filled with the best 3-point shooters in the league, looked around, and asked "all right, which one of you sons of bitches is going to finish second?" That nobody spoke up is a testament to Bird's immense skill, which was at its peak in the 1985-86 season as the Celtics were steamrolling through the NBA.

The All-Star games of the 1980s had many exciting moments, as the NBA was starting to blossom under the growth of new superstars. Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, and Julius Erving still ruled the league, but up-and-coming stars like Michael Jordan, Isiah Thomas, and Charles Barkley were starting to come into their own, as well. As a result, the All-Star games in that era were especially entertaining.

Also entertaining, especially for their novelty, were the events preceding the actual games. The slam-dunk contest was borrowed from the old ABA in time for the 1984 season, and the 3-point contest was held for the first time two years later.

The 1986 slam-dunk contests wasn't expected to capture as much imagination. The previous year, Dominique Wilkins had won a controversial title over Michael Jordan, but with Jordan injured for the 1986 season, Wilkins wasn't expected to have much competition. He got more than he bargained for, though, when teammate Spud Webb stole the show. Standing only 5 foot 7, Webb wowed the judges and the fans in his hometown of Dallas with spectacular dunks, dunks that should have been impossible for someone of his stature. When he advanced to the final against his Atlanta teammate Wilkins, Webb's championship seemed preordained, but he earned two perfect scores in the final anyway to grab the crown.

Bird's performance in the 3-point contest, though, stole the show. With all of the competitors gathered in the locker room for a meeting before the competition, Bird walked in just moments before the meeting was to start and threw down the gauntlet with his famous question.

It was no contest. The Boston great drained 3's seemingly effortlessly, almost as though the contest was boring to him. He won with ease, getting 22 of a possible 30 points in the final round to win with ease. The crowd at Reunion Arena gave him a standing ovation after he banked in the final shot of the final round. Bird's win in the inagural contest was the first of three straight victories.

Oh, and for the record, the son of a bitch who finished second was Milwaukee's Craig Hodges, who would go on to win three straight titles of his own.

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