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MAGIC VS. BIRD: 25 YEARS LATER

Rarely a Peep From Bird

March 25, 2004|Mike Penner | Times Staff Writer

In addition to handling play-by-play duties for CBS' coverage of the NCAA Phoenix Regional, Dick Enberg has drawn another, more daunting assignment this week:

Trying to convince Larry Bird to consent to an interview for a CBS piece on the 25th anniversary of the Indiana State-Michigan State final.

"They've tried every which way to get Bird to sit down with Magic and do a piece," Enberg said, "and Larry's really playing hard to get. He doesn't want to. I don't know why, but that's Bird.

"So they're asking me to personally call him and see if he would succumb."

Enberg isn't holding out much hope. Bird has declined numerous interview requests in connection with the 1979 final. For its "Big Ticket" retrospective on the 1979 final, ESPN Classic had to use archived interviews of Bird that were originally collected for old "SportsCentury" documentaries.

"We approached both Magic and Larry Bird to be part of it," said Crowley Sullivan, ESPN Classic director of programming and acquisitions. "[But their] schedules are crazy. Bird is hesitant to do interviews in general."

That is one thing that hasn't changed in 25 years. Angered over a few articles written about him in 1978, Bird, now president of basketball operations for the Indiana Pacers, refused to talk to the media during the 1978-79 season until the Final Four, when the NCAA insisted he meet the press.

Former Indiana State Coach Bill Hodges said he talked Bird into his Final Four interviews by convincing him it was practice for the NBA.

"I told him, 'You're going to have to do it next year, you might as well get started,' " he said.

The two-hour "Big Ticket" program uses four quotes from Bird.

* On Michigan State: "I saw them play the Russians [in a preseason game] on cable TV. Some of my teammates were over at my apartment watching the game and after we watched, I don't know, more than half the game, I say, 'Michigan State's the best team in the country. They're going to win it all this year.' "

* On Indiana State: "We had guys on our team that knew they weren't supposed to score a lot of points and didn't go out and try to score a lot of points. We had guys that were defensive players and they defended. We had guys that were scorers that scored....

"It was probably the best team I'd ever been on as far as people knowing their roles. Players knew what they had to do night in and night out for us to win."

* On his first impression of Johnson: "Magic was just mind-boggling to me, the way he'd get the ball off the board and dribble it up and make the play. It seemed like he had his hand in everything."

* On the final: "I knew it was going to be a dogfight. I really felt we had a good opportunity to win the game. We made a comeback and I thought we started picking up the tempo a little bit. But the left-handed guard, [Terry] Donnelly, just absolutely murdered us. He hit, like, four shots in a row when we were playing at our best. And we couldn't catch them then."

Some speculate that Bird, ever the intense competitor, is reluctant to discuss the game because he lost.

"I don't know," Enberg said. "He's a -- pun not intended -- strange bird.

"He always, in my experience, wanted to be distant. Didn't want to be interviewed, didn't want to be part of the spotlight. He never seemed comfortable with that. He always struck me as a guy from French Lick, Ind.

"And I wish he would [agree to be interviewed]. It would be fun to have the two of them just rap. Because [Bird], with his own maturation, he's a clever guy, and I think he surprises people with how good an interview he can be. If he's willing to do it. And Magic's always A-plus."

So Enberg said he would give Bird a phone call "and leave a message. And maybe."

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