Bird: NBA 'a black man's game'

Updated: June 10, 2004, 10:36 AM ET
ESPN.com

KNIGHTSTOWN, Ind. -- Larry Bird says he wants to see more white superstars in the NBA, but the legendary former Celtic has also revealed that nothing in basketball bothered him more than being guarded by another white player.

Bird made the comments during an ESPN special that will air Thursday at 7 p.m. ET featuring Bird's longtime rival, Magic Johnson, and rookies LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony. The one-hour discussion is called "Two on Two."

ESPN host Jim Gray asked Bird whether the NBA lacks enough white superstars.

"Well, I think so," said Bird, the Indiana Pacers' president of basketball operations. "You know, when I played, you had me and Kevin [McHale] and some others throughout the league. I think it's good for a fan base because, as we all know, the majority of the fans are white America. And if you just had a couple of white guys in there, you might get them a little excited. But it is a black man's game, and it will be forever. I mean, the greatest athletes in the world are African-American."

Johnson, a Lakers part owner, quickly added: "We need some more LBs -- Larry Birds. ... Larry Bird, you see, can go into any neighborhood. When you say 'Larry Bird,' black people know who he is, Hispanics, whites, and they give him the respect."

Cleveland's James and Denver's Anthony, both 19, were also asked about race during the sitdown, which took place in the tiny gym used as Hickory High's homecourt in the movie "Hoosiers."

Asked by Gray if race is an issue in the NBA, James said: "I don't think so. I think the fans look at the game, [they're] not looking at the race. [They're] looking who can play basketball. Or who's athletic. ... When you [were] a kid and you used to go outside, it didn't matter who was the best player in the league. If Bird was my favorite player, I'm out shooting threes. ... If Magic was my [favorite] player, I'm out there throwing my best passes. It's not the race issue. If you can play the game of basketball, you know fans are gonna love you."

Said Anthony: "Race is not an issue. Where I'm from, people love the Yao Mings, the Dirks, the Pejas. They love them guys. I don't think race is an issue right now."

Yet later in the discussion, Bird described being guarded by another white in his prime as "disrespect."

"The one thing that always bothered me when I played in the NBA was I really got irritated when they put a white guy on me," Bird said. "I still don't understand why. A white guy would come out (and) I would always ask him: 'What, do you have a problem with your coach? Did your coach do this to you?' And he'd go, 'No,' and I'd say, 'Come on, you got a white guy coming out here to guard me; you got no chance.' ... For some reason, that always bothered me when I was playing against a white guy.

"As far as playing, I didn't care who guarded me -- red, yellow, black," Bird added. "I just didn't want a white guy guarding me. Because it's disrespect to my game."

Said Magic: "His game, you see, Larry Bird was the only [white] guy that was mentioned in the barbershop. ...'Cause that's where all the talking in our community is, the barbershop or on the playground."

Bird has declined to comment further, according to a Pacers spokesman, and NBA commissioner David Stern said he would reserve comment until seeing the entire interview.

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