"There were a couple days there I wanted to quit 'cause it hurt so bad," Bird said. "The pain was goin' on down my right leg, and I said, 'The hell with it. Ain't worth it.' I was settin' there at home, jest thinkin' and thinkin', Why are you doin' it? But then, I also started thinkin', Look, you're prolly gonna have this thing the rest of your life, in some form, anyway."
Bird used to joke that he wanted to be the fattest man driving out of Boston when he stopped playing, but like many athletes near the end of their careers, he had had a change of heart. Injuries and wear and tear had made him feel more like a normal human being, a mortal, and he didn't particularly enjoy it. He liked his body when it was in tune and humming, and he wanted to keep that feeling in civilian life.
"I think I wanna be active," said Bird. "What I might do, though, is git in shape, git outta shape, then git in shape again. I won't do it like I used to, though. It's gittin' tougher. Three years ago I could lose 15 pounds like nothin'. Now? I don't know if I could." He had put on a few pounds when he was out of action, but he wasn't sure how many. "I was so bored, I'd set around the house, drive my wife crazy, and eat and eat. In 2½ weeks I was off I ate 10 gallons of ice cream and seven weddin' cakes. Why them? I ate weddin' cakes 'cause you knew they was gonna be good. I mean, who would screw up a weddin' cake?" There was Bird's philosophy at its most crystalline.
The conversation turned to his future. "Never thought about coachin'," he said, "and I'm not sure I'd be patient enough for it. The one thing I know I'll do is go on a fishin' tour for a year. Maybe play some golf, but that's it. Let my body heal up and figger out what I wanna do with the rest of my life." He smiled. "I already know, though, that I'd like to fish every day. I'd never git tired of it. Why would I have to do anythin' else? I been playin' basketball for 20-some years, and that hasn't changed. It could be the same with fishin'. Exactly the same."
Bird's only other summer activity besides fishing and golf has been home repairs. One year he built fences, laid brick and did some concrete work and some roofing at his house in French Lick, Ind. "I couldn't lay everythin' out, but I could do jest about all the work," he said. "I enjoyed it. I don' live for it, like I live for fishin', but I like it."
His reverie led him to a familiar subject—the respect he had for Parish and for Dennis Johnson, the former Celtics point guard. He began talking about them with an emotional charge that was, for Bird, close to outright passion. "Everybody knew when we needed a basket DJ passed me the ball, and I came off a pick set by Robert, who sets the best pick in the world. I don' know how he does it. Now I don' come off those picks as much, because that's not our offense. But if it wasn't for Robert, I wouldn't have scored half the points I have. Does he resent me? I'm sure pret-near everybody has a li'l resentment toward me. They're out there working their asses off, and all you hear is 'Larry Bird's in town' or 'Larry Bird and the Celtics are here.' I never talked about it with 'em, but what kin I do about it? I'm not gonna quit playin' as hard as I kin because I git publicity." He smiled. "Robert and I are talking about playing in Europe together. That'd be pretty neat, I think. Be a change, make a little money, have some fun." Imagine Larry Bird in Europe, a man of simple tastes, searching for a thick, juicy steak, a baseball game on the tube, teammates who move without the ball. But he seemed serious.
Brown had had an interesting trip. Virtually every day his agent, Steve Zucker, had called him with some offer that had come in since that wondrous day when he pumped up his sneakers before each shot he attempted in the slam-dunk contest. "It was just like the first morning after Jim McMahon and the Chicago Bears won the Super Bowl a few years ago," said Zucker. Someone wanted Brown to run a dunking clinic in Spain. In Denver, the Nugget mascot, a guy in a mountain-lion costume, put on a blindfold to simulate the blind dunk with which Brown had won the contest and splattered himself against the backboard. The night before the game against the Suns, a man awakened him at three in the morning to ask if he could have his sneakers after the game. Later that night, Brown had to laugh as he watched Phoenix's mascot, the Gorilla, pump up a pair of Reeboks for still another impersonation.
The Sun team that the Celtics met on Feb. 19 was one with serious chemistry problems; the day before, Phoenix held an unprecedented four-hour team meeting. The Celtics found that rather amusing, particularly Bird, who had a quick diagnosis of their condition: "Shoot, Kevin Johnson is the point guard, and he's takin' all these shots, and that means [Tom] Chambers ain't gettin' his, and he's mad, and then [Xavier] McDaniel wants his, and, shoot, there you are." Sun forward Kurt Rambis, a 10-year NBA veteran, was a little sheepish about the length of the meeting, and later he described it as "a half-hour meeting and 3½ hours of porno films."
Nevertheless, the Suns approached the game against the Celtics with a playoff level of intensity and erased an early 12-point Boston advantage to lead by 107-105 with about one minute left. At that point, Bird came down on a controlled fast break, pulled up at the three-point line and missed, and the Celtics went on to lose 109-105. It was back to the eternal debate. On the one hand, he should not have shot the ball. On the other hand, he had made clutch three-pointers against the Sonics, the Warriors and the Lakers, as well as three others in the game with the Nuggets. What is a bad shot for Bird? "It's a real, real tough call," said Casey, who generally has an instant opinion on everything. "He's done it so often, but certainly you wouldn't want anyone else shooting that shot. When he took it, there wasn't anyone under the basket. It wasn't a best-case scenario."
Actually, Bird had an atrocious evening, making only five of 23 shots from the floor. All that stood between the Celtics and a perfect 5-0 road trip had been Bird's shooting. "What do I think?" said Bird with a shrug. "I think I shot bad. But who knows? Maybe next game I'll take 25 shots."