Even after leaving the NBA, Bird never developed a deep appreciation for Laimbeer’s style of play.

The 1980s saw a lot of fierce and often outright ugly confrontations between the Boston Celtics and the Detroit Pistons, which frequently resulted in furious brawls.


The main character in nearly all of these intense encounters was Bill Laimbeer, who was notorious for his extremely physical defense tactics. Furthermore, Bill’s style of play earned such a poor reputation that Larry Bird continued to harbor animosity toward the four-time All-Star even after Bird retired.


Not only did “The Great White Hope” see Laimbeer harass other players, but he also personally experienced it when Bill fouled him hard in Game 3 of the 1987 Eastern Conference Finals. In Game 5, Robert Parish took it upon himself to teach the 6’11” center a lesson after Larry was sent off for protesting against Laimbeer’s antics. He did this by landing hard punches on his face.


Despite being called the best “dirty” player of all time, the four-time All-Star felt like he was under constant attack. Laimbeer felt that coaches and other players were continually plotting against him, making him a target. His ‘bad-boy’ reputation, he felt, was unearned.


“Guys are coming at me to fight, where normally, if it was someone else, they wouldn’t,” said Laimbeer. “I have to defend my wellbeing, even though I don’t want to fight. I don’t know of any more Catch-22 scenarios than that one.”


Larry Bird discussing the nature of Bill Laimbeer’s issue

In an interview, the three-time MVP called attention to Bill’s worst weakness. Bird believed that the most condemning thing about his on-court aggressiveness was his intentional purpose to injure opponents. Larry’s lack of respect for the former Pistons center stemmed primarily from this particular aspect.

“He was a dishonest athlete. I realize why he had to take action, but it’s like when Ricky Mahorn hits you—you knew you were going to get struck. He did not want to disfigure you. Bird responded, ‘Bill tried to hurt you. “He was one of them guys; when you tried to shoot a jumper, he would try to slide his foot underneath your ankle so you’d twist your ankle.”


When asked what he would have done if he had been seated next to Bird, Laimbeer did not hesitate to reveal how much he disliked the Celtics star.


Bill remarked, “I’d probably go to a different table.”


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