Larry Bird memories: Kobe went at Jordan, Michael went back at Kobe

jordan-bird-allstar-game98Larry Bird is still remembered by the Indiana Pacers’ fans, when he became the team’s head coach in 1997-98, and stayed with the team until 99-00 season.

Bird won 214 regular season games (losing 147), for the .68% winning percentage. In the playoffs, the Pacers won 34 games, lost 20, for the .61% winning percentage under Bird. Bird was also named the 1997-98 coach of the year in the league.

That season, Bird was also named to coach the Eastern Conference All-Stars in the much anticipated All-Star game. That meant, for just one day, he would coach Jordan, the Chicago Bulls superstar – who was listed as questionable for the game.

Bird has recalled that game, as Jordan wasn’t even supposed to play, as he was feeling sick, reportedly having a flu.

But there was something that drove Jordan’s flu away for at least one game. That something was 19-yr old Kobe Bryant.

“It was interesting because Michael wasn’t feeling well on the way over there on the bus,” Bird recalled in a phone interview with Newsday. “But once he got there and got going, it was pretty interesting to watch how he played against Kobe.”

Bird said it was his favorite moment from that game.

Bryant was making his debut, becoming the youngest All-Star in NBA history. Not yet a starter for the Lakers, he was voted into the starting lineup for the Western Conference All-Stars.

“Kobe was trying to go after Michael early,” Bird said. “And Michael started going back at him.”

Though Bryant won the crowd with his 360-dunk and thunderous alley-oop off a lob from 21-year-old Kevin Garnett of the Minnesota Timberwolves, Jordan was named the game’s most valuable player.

Relying mainly on his turnaround fadeaway jumper, he had 23 points and eight assists to lead the East to a 135-114 win over the West. His status initially was in doubt, but he ended up playing more minutes than any other player.

“I can remember there was a lot of talent,” Bird said. “It’s an All-Star Game, but there was a lot of talent on both squads.”

That included seven of the current top 18 scorers in league history – Karl Malone of the Utah Jazz, Bryant, Jordan, Shaquille O’Neal of the Lakers, Kevin Garnett, Tim Duncan of the San Antonio Spurs and Reggie Miller of the Indiana Pacers.

“I can’t say I was intimidated or a little nervous about it,” Bird said of coaching so many stars. “Just going along with business as usual.”

This was the only game when Bird coached Jordan, and the two have previously played both against each other (on their NBA teams, and with each other (on the 1992 USA Dream Team).


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