The odds are stacked against a left-handed player making it in the NBA—it’s just too much of a disadvantage to play a position that has been dominated by right-handed players for as long as the NBA has been around. Larry Bird took advantage of this to become one of the best players in NBA history, and his ability to succeed in spite of his “hand disability” has been one of his greatest legacies.
In a time where more and more athletes are showing off their athleticism with their natural hand-eye coordination, it’s easy to forget that Larry Bird of the Boston Celtics was one of the first to blaze this trail. It’s not that he was a left-handed shooter, but that he shot so well lefties that many players would purposely play in that side of the court as it was easier to anticipate his next move.During his Hall of Fame career, Larry Bird was more than just a star. He was one of the game’s most iconic figures and still is today, nearly 30 years after he laced up his athletic shoes on an NBA court. He’s not one of the statistical leaders in the game, and other players have won more titles. Some of them have received multiple All-Star and MVP awards at tournaments.
But what Bird brought to the game was unparalleled arrogance. No one was safe from his legendary ramblings. Sometimes these conversations were not just for the player, but for the whole team. That was the case in February 1986, when Byrd said he would only shoot left-handed in a game against the Portland Trail Blazers on Valentine’s Day.
There is a not so well kept secret attached to this achievement. But nothing in this mystery should detract from what Byrd accomplished. That’s because the performance itself was remarkable.
Mention Larry Bird to fans of a certain age, and inevitably Magic Johnson comes up. Many thought they had saved the NBA when they came along in 1979. This association marked the beginning of an era in which the rivalry between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Boston Celtics once again came to the fore and dominated the NBA arena for several years.
Bird, however, refuses to take credit for the lion’s share of the NBA’s rise. But he played a crucial role in transforming public opinion from an NBA full of cokeheads who didn’t care about the regular season to an NBA that provides some of the best entertainment in sports.
In his 13-year career, Byrd has helped the Celtics reach three NBA Finals. He was a three-time MVP, 12-time All-Star and 10-time All-NBA. It didn’t take long for him to get into the Hall of Fame either – he was inducted the first year he was eligible.
Add to that accolades like Rookie of the Year, All-Star honors, two NBA Finals Player of the Year and three spots on the Best Defender list, and you start to think Larry Bird was pretty good at basketball. But what was he doing one night in Portland in February 1986? It was a legend, though the legend grew with time.
Why would Larry Bird consider shooting with his hand during the game? He had an explanation, according to the Boston Globe (via The Athletic).
I’m saving my right hand for the Lakers.
Larry Bird in February 1986
The Lakers and Celtics have met in the NBA Finals the past two seasons. It was the hottest rivalry in the NBA at the time. With that quote, Byrd wanted to send a message to Los Angeles while telling Portland that it doesn’t matter.
In other words, it’s Byrd all over again.
Byrd was undeniably phenomenal for Boston in overtime in a 120-119 victory over the Trail Blazers. He had a triple-double with 47 points, 14 rebounds and 11 assists. What about the shooting? Overall, he went 21-for-34 and hit all three of his three-point attempts.
But he didn’t take those 34 shots with his left hand. No, instead he made 10 of 21 throws with his left hand. The other 11 punches he did with his dominant right hand.
Are you serious? It didn’t matter if he took them all with his left hand or not. Larry Bird blocked 10 shots in overtime of an NBA game with the wrong hand point. Legendary status has been achieved.
Larry Bird (33) of the Boston Celtics shoots against Mychal Thompson (43) of the Los Angeles Lakers during the 1987 NBA Finals. | Focus on Sport/Getty Images)
Larry Bird’s playing career has been inducted into the Hall of Fame. He is the only coach to lead an Indiana Pacers team to the NBA Finals. He finished his career with a triple-double and was named Pacers Manager of the Year in 2012. Byrd is the only person in NBA history to be named MVP, Coach of the Year and Executive.
After he retired from the NBA, he had another playing commitment. He was part of the legendary Dream Team that stormed the Barcelona Olympics in 1992. On a broader level, much of the current style of play in the NBA is also due to Bird’s influence. If he wasn’t the first big man with the stretch, he was one of the first. A 6-foot-4 player shooting nearly 38 percent of the three-pointers in Byrds’ era wasn’t just rare. It didn’t happen.
So maybe Larry Bird didn’t hit all his pitches in the famous left-handed game. The fact that he wasn’t afraid to try is legend enough.
Statistics provided by Basketball Reference.
COMPARED TO: Larry Bird made $24 million in the NBA, but he still cashed in $20 in a game against the Knicks He was more interested in the $20 bet than thegame.
Frequently Asked Questions
Did Larry Bird really play a game left handed?
No, Larry Bird did not play a game left handed.
Why did Larry Bird play a whole game left handed?
Larry Bird played a whole game left handed because he was born with a left-handed glove.
Did Larry Bird scored 47 with left hand?
No, Larry Bird scored 47 with his right hand.
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