Bird returns to court without back pain

October 13, 1991|By Jesse Barkin | Jesse Barkin,Los Angeles Daily News

BOSTON -- It didn't take long for Larry Bird to show the Boston Garden faithful he was still Larry Bird.

Four months after major back surgery and 25 seconds into Friday night's exhibition opener against the Los Angeles Lakers, Bird took a Dee Brown pass and launched a three-pointer over the arms of James Worthy. The Celtics were ahead, 3-0, and all was right with the world.

Had to feel good, right, Larry?

"Yeah, I think it was our last lead," deadpanned Bird, whose Celtics fell to the Lakers, 118-104, before a sellout crowd of 14,890.

The Lakers were fairly impressive in their preseason debut, running effectively for the first three quarters before tiring in the fourth.

Mainstays James Worthy, Byron Scott, Magic Johnson and Sam Perkins scored at least 17 points each, newly acquired Sedale Threatt was winded early but seemed to fit right in with his new teammates and second-year players Elden Campbell (14 points, eight rebounds) and Tony Smith (12 points, three assists) were strong in relief.

The Celtics, meanwhile, were without starters Kevin McHale (left foot), Brian Shaw (right knee) and Kevin Gamble (unsigned restricted free agent) and didn't give the Lakers much of a fight. But all that seemed unimportant with Bird in there.

What made his return to the court so comforting to Celtics fans was that up until a week ago no one knew whether he would be ready by the start of the regular season, let alone the exhibition season.

Bird -- who turns 35 in December -- underwent surgery June 7 to correct a bulging disk and reroute a nerve through his spinal cord. He was confined to a plastic back brace for several weeks before doctors allowed him to begin the rehabilitation process.

First came work in swimming pool, which was followed by long, brisk walks. Soon after he worked himself up to jogging before declaring himself fit enough to head for the court.

In all, Bird went 10 weeks after surgery without picking up a basketball. And even after making the decision to join his teammates when training camp opened last Friday, he wasn't expected to participate in all the drills.

Surprise!

"When he showed up the first day," assistant coach Don Casey said, "we asked him how he felt and what he wanted to do. If he wanted to go half the practice that was fine. If he just wanted to shoot that was fine, too.

"He said he felt fine and that was that," Casey said. "And he's been practicing hard, too. Banging with everybody out there, not backing down from anything."

Bird practiced both halves of two-a-days for the first three days, going hard as ever, before taking Wednesday off to rest. He resumed practice on Thursday before taking center stage at the Garden Friday night.

"It's great to see him out there," Celtics guard Reggie Lewis said. "When you see Larry giving it 100 percent, it just makes you give 100 percent as well."

Bird finished with 11 points on 5-for-12 shooting and had five rebounds and five assists in 33 minutes. Most of all, his back didn't act up.

"I feel pretty good right now; I don't think there'll be any problem," Bird said. "Maybe tomorrow night I'll be a little sore, but I'm still trying to get in shape. There's some soreness throughout the body but the back feels pretty good.

"I was moving pretty well and getting up and down the court all right. It'll just take me a little bit more time because I didn't play all summer and I really only played about three days before I came back."

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