Larry Bird was hardly the most orthodox, staid basketball player of his era.
He left Indiana University without playing a game and told Bob Knight where he could shove it. He routinely made jokes at the expense of both Celtics legend Red Auerbach and the team’s various coaches. He trash talked to no end, one time inciting 76ers All-Star Julius Erving so much (after Bird pointed out that he was outscoring him 42 to six) that the two ended up choking each other. He called his teammates “sissies” on an NBA Finals stage, and pulled no punches in a Hall of Fame career.
Blowing in some dude’s ear, though? By 2014, some 22 years after his retirement as a player, the current Indiana Pacers president of basketball operations isn’t really having it. Bird doesn’t really think Pacers guard Lance Stephenson should have spent some downtime in Wednesday night’s Game 5 against Miami blowing in LeBron James’ left ear. The move, widely ridiculed and then criticized (though not technically fined for it), even forced Larry to bust out his old flip phone, in talking with USA Today’s Jeff Zillgitt:
Asked via text message if he were bothered by Stephenson blowing in James' ear, Pacers president Larry Bird replied, "Yes I am."
It’s hard to find someone that wasn’t bothered by it. In a lot of ways, I could not care less about Lance trying to engage with James or get inside his head (in this case, literally and figuratively). At some point, though, it comes down to, “dude, don’t blow in a guy’s ear.” It’s the kind of response you give to someone when they give another person a Wet Willie in any year following second grade, or play a prank in someone’s apartment. Just … don’t.
The issue here is that Stephenson has somewhat succeeded in getting inside his teammates’ heads, as nearly each and every one of them had to listen to us media ask them about Lance’s most recent Lance-ing in the minutes following what should have been a triumphant Pacers win over the Heat on Wednesday night. You can blame us for trumping up a non-story, but as anyone following Game 5 on Twitter would attest, all we were doing was following up on what was the biggest thing anyone was talking about in the wake of Indiana’s season-saving win. It was the fans’ curiosity, and we just went along with it.
The Pacers had to answer for it, in the locker room or at the postgame podium. The Heat? All they had to do was laugh it off, while expecting that LeBron James manages in Game 6 to build upon a career playoff-low seven points, assuming that this will be enough to make up for the tiny three-point difference between Indiana’s final output and the Heat’s final scoring tally in Game 5.
And Lance Stephenson? It’s been rumored that Larry Bird has long been his most active champion in the Pacers organization, and that Bird would go out of his way to keep the free agent to-be with Indiana this offseason. If LeBron spins his way toward another typical LeBron-y night in Game 6, though, Stephenson may have cost himself millions, and the respect of his most prominent Indiana promoter.
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