Via TV, Bird still dishing out assists

December 01, 1992|By Bob Ryan | Bob Ryan,Boston Globe

BOSTON -- OK, listen up, as an old football coach of m acquaintance used to say, and listen up good.

Stop pining for Larry. It's over. There will be no miracle comeback, now or ever. He quit for a very good reason.

"My back is very shaky," says No. 33. "It still hurts a lot. No leg pain, but my back still hurts. If I tried to play, I would have lasted for about three days. I really haven't been able to do much of anything physically. I've gained 15 pounds."

Of course, he misses playing. He's Larry Bird. He lived to play for close to 25 years. He gets withdrawal symptoms.

"But it's a lot easier than it would be if my back weren't hurting," he reports. "I couldn't play, anyway."

He's learning to watch games on TV. Easy for you and me, maybe, but it's a new experience for him. He was never much good at watching. I'd come in raving about some Western Conference playoff game and he'd say, "Hell, I went to bed."

He watches them now, however, and for a very good reason. It's his job. He's been in Indiana since the season started, but he's been on the case as a full-fledged member of the Boston Celtics hierarchy.

He's got a dish, and it's getting a workout. "Dave [Gavitt, the team president] talks to me all the time," Bird explains. "I watch all our games, and other league games, too. Even some college."

He watches them with a purpose. "When I did watch something before," he says, "I'd be reading or falling asleep. Now I watch more closely. Dave will ask me to focus on specific individuals, or aspects of the game."

Up to a week ago, he admits that watching the Celtics play was very much a chore.

"We were in a lot of those games, but we weren't getting the job done in the end," he says. "Now we're taking care of the ball better and the offense is getting spread around better."

It's not quite true that the Celtics are making it up for Larry as he goes along.

"There were two general areas where I wanted to utilize Larry Bird," explains Gavitt. "But first we had to eliminate a couple of things. The first is that he wasn't going to coach, and the second was that he wasn't going to come into an office from 8:30 to 5. And throw in that he wasn't going to be around here 12 months a year.

"So the first thing we wanted was for him to stay involved in an area of basketball influence as much as possible. He can be a great resource to me as another set of eyes and ears observing the NBA, both in personnel and in dissecting styles of play.

"The other area is more general," Gavitt explains. "It's clear he very much appreciates the bond he had with fans, but when he played, he only wanted to focus in on what he was doing, which was to play basketball. But he has a strong feeling, not only for the people who actually came to the arena, but to the little old ladies who would write him letters. That's why he will be available to represent the team at major Celtics functions, such as clinics and events pertaining to the Auerbach Foundation."

For example, Bird will be the featured speaker at a major Celtic clinic Dec. 12. The team has invited every member of the Massachusetts Basketball Coaches Association to Brandeis that day.

There have been no local Bird sightings since training camp, primarily because his Brookline house has been undergoing renovation. But he will be returning to Boston this week and might even make his '92-93 Garden viewing debut when the Chicago Bulls come to town tomorrow night. That might depend on the state of his back. A hurtin' back and those Garden seats might not make for a blissful partnership.

Game attendance or no game attendance, he'll be at practice, and he will be a live presence for a while. "It will be good to have him back to have some interaction with the team," Gavitt says. "He will be around the team for a couple of weeks."

It would be nice if he could give his old mates a primer on how to make a simple entry pass. Meanwhile, they can listen to a few of his scouting reports, such as his opinion of the Exit 16W Nets, whom he watched defeat Utah on his dish last week.

"Look out for New Jersey," he advises. "They've got so many players on that team. You know, when you look at [Sam] Bowie, you can understand what Portland was thinking of when they didn't take [Michael] Jordan. When the guy's on his game, he can do everything. . .shoot, pass, rebound and jump out of the gym. I definitely think that's a team you're going to have to contend with."

And have we mentioned that he's found Boston its savior?

"Glenn Robinson," he says, referring to the Purdue sophomore who wrecked UConn in the Tipoff Classic on Saturday. "That kid looks like a No. 1 draft choice. He is tough. Built something like Lenny Bias, but maybe not quite as strong. Of course, you wonder where his head is. It's his first college game, and he's up there saying something about, 'I won't be coming out.' Right away you know that's exactly what he is thinking about."

Gavitt is not remotely surprised at Bird's fascination with a college sophomore. "Nobody on the Dream Team was more upbeat about the college kids we had playing against us in La Jolla than Larry," Gavitt reports. "When I first saw him in Portland, that's all he talked about was this kid or that kid. It's very rare for a superstar to admit anyone else can play, let alone a young player."

Bird doesn't know much more about the retirement tribute on Feb. 4 than anyone else.

"They ran a few things by me quickly," he says. "What can I say? I'm honored. I really don't have much say-so, but if they want to do it that way, it's all right with me. That's the Big Day. That's what it's all about, when they put that number up. That's really the Last Hurrah, you know?"

Yeah, we know.

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