March 12, 1985. Celtics fans in the 1980’s will never forget it.
Let’s set the stage. The Celtics were coming off a championship season where they defeated Magic and Kareem’s Lakers in the NBA Finals to raise the team’s 15th banner. The team was in the middle of their absolute peak in popularity in the history of the team. In terms of fan interest for Boston sports team, it was the Celtics at the top and there wasn’t a close second.
In the 1984-85 season, the Celtics continued their dominance. They were rolling through the NBA along with the Lakers with a clear plan for another head on collision in the NBA Finals. Most nights, the question wasn’t if the Celtics would win. Rather, it would be how quickly they would dominate their opponents.
All along the way, Larry Bird was in the middle of his prime and was the best basketball player in the world. Bird was the NBA MVP in 1983-84 and was in the midst of winning three in a row. No NBA player has accomplished that since. In the 1985-85 season, Bird averaged 28.7 points, 10.5 rebounds, and 6.6 assists per game. He had a .522 FG%, .428 3P%, and .882 FT%. You get it. Larry Legend was the best player in the game.
This brings us to March 3, 1985. The Celtics were playing the Detroit Pistons at home. On this night, it was not Bird who had the spotlight on him. Kevin McHale dominated the Pistons on this night. McHale broke Bird’s record of 53 points in a game by scoring 56 points. It was Bird who was feeding him the ball late. McHale came out with 1:25 to go in the game. Bird didn’t understand why. Bird said, “He should have gone for 60.”
Nine days after McHale’s 56 point game, the Celtics were playing the Atlanta Hawks in New Orleans. This came after a three day break following a 133-122 win over the Dallas Mavericks where Bird put up 32 points, 15 rebounds, and 9 assists. Bird actually ran a five mile road race on March 10th just to keep himself occupied. Bird speculated that he didn’t have his legs going into the game due to the race. The arena was filled with Celtics fans. The Celtics had a huge following around the country, but this was different.
Bird scored 12 points in the first quarter and had 23 at halftime. Obviously, 23 points in a half is impressive, but for Larry Bird it was nothing abnormal. However, something was happening towards the end of the second quarter. Bird was getting hot and he began to let the Hawks know it. In the third quarter, Bird scored 19 points. Towards the end of the quarter, he began to start taking some seemingly impossible high arching shots that began to get the Hawks bench in awe of what was happening. Larry now had 43 and the Celtics had a 100-89 lead.
It continued into the fourth quarter. Bird was mocking the Hawks entire team. Fade away jumpers in the post with players right on him. As each shot dropped, the entire Hawks bench was seen celebrating and the entire arena was cheering. The entire building was in awe of what they were watching.
With McHale’s record now in jeopardy, Bird went up to the Hawks bench and said “in the trainers lap”. He then received the ball from Dennis Johnson, took a three, got fouled, and fell into the Hawks trainers lap. The shot went in. Players, fans, announcers were all jumping up and down as if they could not believe what they were watching. The shot was called off by the official and Bird made two free throws to break the record. A point that’s often missed, how do you call that shot off?! Bird then proceeded to hit another jumper at the buzzer to get to 60.
Bird shot 22 of 26 from the field and 15 of 16 from the line. However, the stats don’t tell the story. There have been players that scored 60 before and after this game. However, it’s never been done by a player of Bird’s caliber who was not simply a scorer. He was an all around player with a great team around him. Bird could have scored 60 several times if he wanted to. On this night, he did.
There’s still a debate on who the better player was…Larry Bird or Magic Johnson. Over time, the majority is leaning towards the latter.
Tell me…when was the March 12, 1985 moment for Magic Johnson? The night that he had the visitors building in awe and the opposing team’s bench actually cheering for him because they couldn’t believe what they were seeing?