BADALONA, Spain -- He was desperate to get his aging and battered body to Barcelona, and last night the crowd at Palau D'Esports De Badalona found out why.
It wasn't the Larry Bird of 1981's Game 7 with Philly, or the '86 Bird whose all-around performance in Game 6 against Houston ranks as one of the most exquisite exhibitions of basketball ever. But it was a pretty damn good Larry Bird, and that means the ticket was worth the price.
Since we already know who will win each game, the nightly question is which player will merit being ushered into the interview room. Following last night's 111-68 dismantling of Germany, the only obvious choice was Bird.
"I'm feeling real good right now," he said after his 21-minute, DTC 19-point performance. "This is the best I've felt in a long time. I just hope I don't do anything stupid to mess it up."
Bird had 13 of his points as Team USA rolled to a 58-23 halftime lead. Included in his total were back-to-back threes; a gorgeous up-fake inside three-pointer on an even more gorgeous over-the-shoulder, Magic-like, lookaway pass from Michael Jordan; and a punch pass to start a break that culminated in his own 13-footer. You could see that he was exhilarated simply to have, however temporarily, The Feeling back.
And speaking of coming back ...
"It didn't mean anything," he said. "The way I play here doesn't affect anything about my future."
The irony of all this was that a story had been circulating during the afternoon that Bird was having so many problems he was packing it up and going home. He had gone to the U.S.-Italy baseball game the night before, and somehow an individual in the baseball party had gotten the aforementioned impression. How, Bird had no idea.
"Everybody was throwing questions at me from everywhere," Bird said. "They were talking Spanish. They were talking French. It was total chaos, as far as I was concerned. I'm going to be here till the end of the medal round, and I'm going to leave with a gold medal."
Let the record show that Germany led, 2-0. But Chris Mullin stole the ball and went in for a dunk, Jordan converted a three-point play and the U.S. team was off on a 16-1 run.
Bird entered the game at the 11:30 mark (20-6). In short order he had a fastbreak layup, a left-corner jumper and a right-corner three.
"That was the first chance I've had to play against a zone," he said. "I wanted to get on a roll because with me on one side and Chris on the other, no one can stop us."
Bird's second-half highlights were a beautiful over-the-shoulder tip pass to Christian Laettner (who got fouled) and a three-pointer that completed the U.S. scoring. He even flung himself on the floor. "When I play basketball," he said, "I do whatever I think it takes to win. I'm just very pleased to be playing. Coach [Chuck] Daly has been very patient with me. I've missed a lot of games and practices. Whatever he says is all right with me, whether it's two minutes or 30 minutes. But anything over 30 would be too much."