Weekly Countdown: Bird talks shooting, takes aim at his legacy
Larry Bird weighs in on the three-pointer (not a big fan) and free-throw shooting
Bird never wanted to be known as a three-point shooter -- he didn't attempt many
More topics: Jazz a title contender?; Derek Fisher on the Lakers; Shaq in the news
5 Shots from Larry Bird
What Ted Williams was to hitting, so is Bird to shooting.
5. Guess who doesn't love the three-point shot. While sitting through the three-point contest year after year at All-Star weekend, it's natural to refer back to Bird. In that regard he was the NBA's Babe Ruth, the player who made the home run popular while winning the three-point shootout in its inaugural three years (1986-88).
"Yeah, it's all they talk about,'' he said of his ability from the three-point line. "Everybody looks at me as a three-point shooter, but I didn't shoot a lot of them.''
Bird attempted a scant 1.9 threes per game in 13 seasons. In 1990-91, the year before he retired, his long-range attempts peaked at 3.3. But that's still a low rate by today's standards: There are 72 players attempting more than 3.3 threes this season alone.
"I felt like the game is won down in the paint,'' Bird said. "I didn't shoot them until the end of the game. If I shot one early, it was probably on the road.'' When he wanted to make a dramatic impact in an opponent's gym, he means to say.
Bird is aware that his views may be seen as contrary to those of his coach, Jim O'Brien, whose Pacers spread the floor to attempt 19.8 threes per game, ranking fifth in the league.
"I believe in the three-point shot at the right time,'' said Bird, who is president of the Pacers. "I got a coach who loves it, and I back him on it with the type of team we have. We have to play different. We don't have a big man who can score down low. But I see this game as if you want to win and win big, the game is won down in the paint until somebody proves me different.''
Bird believes the three-point shot is overrated.
"If somebody hits two or three earlier in the game, it don't bother me at all,'' he said. "But if a team hits a three-pointer with 18 seconds to go to put them up by three, you're sitting there going, Come on. You know the game ain't over, but at the end of the game I think it does something to you mentally.''
It makes him laugh to think that he's so closely associated with a shot he attempted so rarely.
"People [remember] me at the three-point contest, but I didn't practice going into that contest,'' Bird said. "If I was going to waste my time shooting, it was going to be inside that line because that was where I shot from during the game.''
4. Not that the best three-point shooters don't impress him. I mention to Bird something Andrea Bargnani told me while playing in Italy before he became the No. 1 pick in the 2006 draft: He felt more comfortable at the three-point line because the distance remained constant, but he had more trouble gauging his mid-range jumpers from 8 to 18 feet.
"See, I was just the opposite,'' Bird said. "The three-point shot is a long shot. That's for guys like [6-1 Pacers guard] Travis Diener. That's what keeps him in the game. My thing on the three-point shot is if someone led me a pass into it, I felt more comfortable because I could get my legs and everything into it. But to just stand there waiting for somebody to throw the ball around the horn and get it and shoot it -- that's a difficult shot for me.
"I think everything's got to be in the flow of the game, no matter where you shoot it from. My whole game was a mid-range type of thing, off-balance shots around the post and coming off picks, fading away. That's the way I was taught to play. But there's a lot of guys in this league who have fallen in love with that three-point line.''
I asked Bird about shooters like Kobe Bryant, who routinely make threes flat-footed off a stagnant dribble.
"It's unbelievable,'' he said. "I don't know how they do it. They must be very powerful in their upper body is all I can say. Because I always tried to get my legs into every shot, even the three-point shot. I didn't jump, but everything came from my legs. People don't realize that. I had a guy the other day tell me, 'You went around there [during the three-point contest] and you could do it without getting tired because you didn't jump.' But every shot came from my legs -- it started once I bent all the way up through.''
It's funny how a few enduring highlights have skewed the reputation of one of the league's great players.
"They might show some [highlights] at the end of the game I hit to win games or tie it up,'' he said. "But I was never really a three-point shooter, and I never wanted to be known as a three-point shooter.''
3. He would rather be remembered for his free-throw shooting. Bird shot 88.6 percent from the line over his career (ranking him No. 10 all time), which was important for someone who thrived on drawing fouls. He improved from 83.6 percent as a rookie to 93 percent in his 11th season.
"You always see guys dribble, bend way down, go up, then start moving their arms back, then shoot,'' Bird said. "I think it all should be one motion. It should be started in the center of your body and go from there up through. Keep it as simple as you possibly can.
"Roy Hibbert,'' Bird said of the Pacers' rookie center, a 64.4 percent foul shooter, "he used to be all arms and he was a flinger. And it was a nice shot but everything would come off flat and hard. Once you got him centered and set and then going up and through -- hell, he could end up shooting 75 percent over his career by doing that, instead of 58-60 percent. He's gotten a lot better already.''
Charles Barkley is starring in a reality golf show in which Tiger Woods' coach, Hank Haney, tries to repair his swing with the driver. Bird believes Barkley could have used similar help from the foul line.
"I used to watch Charles and say, 'What are you doing?' " Bird said. "He'd get to the line, take his dribble and fall back to shoot it. He was going away from the basket instead of to the basket. So I know if he had just changed them little things, he'd have been a much better free-throw shooter [than his career mark of 73.5 percent].
"It's completely different than a jump shot. When you're in a game, you might be shooting this way [to the side], you might be shooting back, you might be shooting forward -- and it all comes from your legs. Whereas in a free throw, it's get yourself set up and through.''
2. NBA players should resurrect Rick Barry's free-throw style. Barry is the No. 3 free-throw shooter of all time at 90 percent. He shot them underhanded -- granny style -- spinning the ball with his fingertips to land it softly on the rim.
"If you ever got a kid to start [practicing underhanded] at a young age, he could really learn to shoot it because you get the backspin on the ball,'' Bird said. "If you ever notice Rick or anybody who ever did that, when it hits the basket it kills the momentum of the shot and it's got a chance to roll in. Because of the backspin.''
It drops like a putt that dies at the hole.
"It gives you a better opportunity to get the ones that you're probably going to miss if you shoot it upright,'' he said.
But kids today would take too much abuse if they grew up shooting granny style, I say.
"I don't understand that,'' Bird answered. "I remember Rick Barry saying everybody should do it. I've shot them like that, and you can get in a groove where you can make 20 or 30 in a row.
"I don't know what Rick aimed at, but when I shot upright I'd aim almost to the back of the rim. When I went underhand, I threw it just to get over the rim. It's a different mind-set, but Rick is right -- a lot of these guys who can't shoot them, if they'd get into the underhand they would shoot the ball a lot better. I'm sure of that.''
1. He doesn't believe in changing an NBA player's field-goal-shooting mechanics. "No, that's one thing I never do,'' Bird said. "If they ask me about free-throw shooting, that's different.
"There are guys who have got the funniest [shooting] forms you would ever see, but they're good at it. I can remember my coaches saying [to teammates], 'Well, if that's the way you're going to do it, you might just need 300 shots, when Larry shoots 100 to perfect it.' That's what always stuck with me. At this stage you don't want to change too much. But free-throw shooting is completely different from all the other shooting.''
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