May 30, 1988
Nobody's ever going to accuse Larry Bird of not practicing enough. That is, not until now. Bird is in a three-game slump, and his shooting percentage bears closer resemblance to Wade Boggs' batting average than Bird's usual greatness. The keenest of Bird-watchers -- the man who rebounds and then feeds Bird those crisp passes in his legendary shootaround -- says that recently Bird has been taking a lot fewer pregame practice shots.
"Usually I break a sweat," said Celtics assistant equipment manager Joe Qatato. "But the last three games I've noticed we've been out for just a short time. It's unusual." Qatato says he doesn't keep count but has been told by reporters that Bird shoots roughly an average of 300 shots before each game, and even more during playoff time. Thus far in the Detroit series, he launched 107 practice shots prior to Game 1, 104 prior to Game 2 in Boston and 119 before Game 3 at the Silverdome.
Could Bird be hurting?
"No," said Qatato. "Larry's one of my best friends and everything's fine both physically and mentally. The Pistons are playing good defense and, hey, look at all the rebounds he's getting." Has Qatato said anything to Bird about shooting only for 10 or 12 minutes? "No," said Qatato. "It's not my place to ask -- he calls the shots."
"I don't think you can read anything into it," said general manager Jan Volk. "You have to ask him," said coach K.C. Jones. "I don't watch him shoot." Maybe Bird is just trying to conserve energy, "No," said Bird. "I don't count my shots. I couldn't tell you if I shot more or I shot less."
Bird patiently signed every autograph after Saturday's loss, and yesterday gleefully posed with a local high school basketball team whose gym the Celtics borrowed to practice. The man doesn't seem worried. But if practice does indeed make perfect, the Celtics are in trouble. Shooting at the other end of the court last week was a guy with a ready smile who's there when Bird arrives and he's still there when Bird leaves. He tossed up 356 shots before Game 2 and 373 before Game 3.
His name is Isiah Thomas.