Insider Recalls Celtics Legend’s Epic Response to Schedule: ‘Yup’

Larry Bird, Celtics legend (right)

Getty Larry Bird, Celtics legend (right)

In honor of NBA schedule release day, let’s fire up the wayback machine for a Celtics-related story I first reported a couple of decades ago and tweeted in July of 2012 (the year I joined Twitter).

The tale deals with the angst — then displeasure — that generally accompanies each team learning the details of the 82 games that (they hope) precede the playoffs. When the final drafts are transmitted, teams check for back-to-back situations and difficult trips and the like. No one is ever truly satisfied.

Well, almost no one.

Back in the late 1990s when Larry Bird was head coach of Indiana, the team received its season schedule. As told to me by a Pacers official, the itinerary was first perused by the assistant coaches. Rick Carlisle saw it and complained about certain aspects. It was passed to Dick Harter, who did likewise.

The sheet was then handed to Bird, who looked it over and said, “Forty-one home, 41 away. Yup. Looks good to me.”

Bird Thrived on Celtics ‘ Monster 1986 Road Trip

Bird never was bothered much by the schedule, even in his playing days. Unlike most everyone else associated with the Celtics back in his day, he didn’t even mind the three regular season bus rides to the team’s “home away from home” in Hartford. This was in the days of the old Garden, and the Celts got a nice piece of change for playing in Connecticut, while also protecting the area as a home market for its radio and TV broadcasts.

But Larry was part of a February 1986 road trip that the league official then in charge of the schedule still remembers — and regrets.

The Celts would go in and out of California three times on the seven-game journey, a situation made difficult by the fact the states are, uh, a little larger out West than in the East, so the distances between cities were a bit longer. (No New York-Philly-DC stuff here.)

And, oh, yeah, add in the fact that teams were still flying commercial back then, which made things even tougher during the stretch of four games in five days contained on the trip.

Things began in Sacramento just after the All-Star weekend in Dallas, the one in which Bird won the first ever 3-point shootout. The Celtics lost by five to the Kings, who would go just 37-45 in their first season in California after moving from Kansas City.

Two nights later, the Celts were in Seattle to begin a back-to-back and the aforementioned four-in-five that included stops in Portland, LA (Lakers) and Phoenix. After one more day off, the trip closed with a back-to-back at Golden State and Denver.

Though the C’s won the big nationally televised matchup with the Lakers, there were losses to the Suns and Nuggets, as well as Sacramento.

Celtics Still Managed a Championship

In a season when the Celtics went a league-best 67-15 (including an amazing 40-1 in Boston and Hartford) on the way to their 16th championship, a full 20 percent of their regular season losses came on that trip.

But, hey, 41 home and 41 away, right?

Fittingly, Bird didn’t seem to mind the travel travails when he was on the court. He averaged 30.9 points on the trip (5.1 better than his season average) and shot .541 from the floor (.496 for the season). He also averaged 13.4 rebounds and 7.1 assists — better than his 9.8 and 6.8, respectively, for the full slate. By the way, 47 of his points came in Portland when he shot left-handed for much of night.



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