It’s a little known fact that, around the time Larry Bird was becoming a household name in the NBA, he had a reputation as a very generous autograph-signer. Bird, who was a notoriously shy and low-key individual, took great pride in signing for others, even if it meant a lesser-known player took his place.
Here we go again. More than 40 years ago (forgive us for not being exact), Larry Bird was signing autographs for a kid named David Thompson. The kid asked Bird if he could have his autograph, and Larry quickly signed his name. As the story goes, the kid told his dad about this encounter and signed Thompson’s name (“D.T.”) on a piece of paper. He then gave it to Bird, who promptly signed it, and handed the kid a basketball that he had signed.Larry Bird was one of the most popular players in the NBA when he played for the Boston Celtics. With this popularity came the crazy autograph hunters. Some of them were children. Some of them were adults looking to make a quick buck. Bird sometimes lashed out at some of these moneyed people by signing another superstar’s name when asked for an autograph.
Larry Bird (left), legend of the Boston Celtics, gives an autograph to his Reebok player Penny Curry (right) before the 2001 Celebrity Basketball Tournament, part of the fourth annual Reggie Lewis Community Day at Northeastern University.
(Photo: Chitose Suzuki/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
Larry Bird was a legend. It was the one all the fans wanted to see. He played for the love of the game, not to become a media or fan favorite.
His popularity made him the most sought after player by fans and collectors before and after games. Byrd (and other players) had a hard time deciding which of those asking for his autograph they really wanted and which they wanted to sell for a few bucks.
According to Sports Illustrated, he has an excellent memory. Sometimes he said: I just signed for you in Denver and I was watching the autograph search. Autographs were not to Byrd’s taste.
These guys, most of them, will say: Hey Larry, you’re the best, and if I don’t give them three autographs, they turn around and say: Son of a bitch. Piece of shit, he said at the end of his career.
I hate it when someone comes up to me when we’re out of town, I sign for them, and they turn around and say: You know, we’re gonna beat you up tonight. Why did he say we? I always ask the man: How many baskets are you going to score?
Day after day, Bird was harassed by fans who wanted his autograph. Towards the end of his career, the autograph thing got boring. It went so far that he refused to sign a contract with anyone.
There was even a time when Byrd had a little fun with those autograph hunters. Occasionally, when Byrd decided to sign someone, he would cross out Pete Rose’s name on some of the cards, photos, and other objects thrown at him.
Byrd, however, stopped the forgery. It was at the request of head coach Chris Ford, whom he called Doc.
But Doc had me arrested when I signed the team photos, he said.
As he grew older, Bird’s health deteriorated. His legs gave out. His back gave out. Despite all this, he always played hard. Byrd was never the most athletic guy on the field, but no one played harder.
Before a game against the Seattle Supersonics, Bird’s teammate Kevin McHale struck up a conversation about Bird and his fitness. McHale said his teammate looked stiff during practice, but he knew he would come out and feed off the energy of the crowd.
I think he looked a little stiff, McHale said, according to Sports Illustrated. But you know what? He’ll be fine. He knows all these people are there to see him. He feels it, even though he never admits it. This motivates him. I think we see the road the same way – as an opportunity to enter someone else’s building and destroy it. I know I can still feel it. And when you do, it’s a great feeling.
And after the game, those Seattle Bird people probably asked for an autograph and, if they were lucky, got an autograph from Pete Rose.
COMPARED TO: Larry Bird always focused on a banner in the rafters during the national anthem, and that was not thebanner of the Boston Celtics.
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