Larry Bird's Hatred Of Bill Laimbeer Has Been Going Strong For Decades

The 1980s was a decade that featured at least a couple of great NBA rivalries that are still talked about to this day by those who were around to witness them. Of course, the Los Angeles Lakers and the Boston Celtics had a rivalry so iconic that it is notably featured on the HBO sports dramedy "Winning Time." That rivalry, fierce as it was, ultimately led to a long-lasting friendship between the teams' respective franchise players, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. But as far as Eastern Conference competition goes, the Celtics and the Detroit Pistons had one of their own, and the bitterness had reached such levels that the Celtics walked off the court without shaking their opponents' hands after Detroit beat them in the 1988 Eastern Conference Finals (via CBS News).

Unlike the Lakers-Celtics rivalry, where it was the top players from both teams who largely feuded with each other, things were slightly different with the mid-to-late-'80s Celtics and Pistons. Once again, Bird was at the center of things for Boston, but it wasn't the Pistons' brilliant point guard, Isiah Thomas, who he mostly had beef with. Instead, it was their wide-bodied center, Bill Laimbeer, who grinded Bird's gears the most, and it would appear that Bird still has no love lost for the big guy.

The birth of the feud

Larry Bird and Bill Laimbeer entered the professional ranks at the same time, with Bird getting picked sixth overall in the 1978 NBA Draft (via Basketball-Reference) despite the fact he was returning for his senior year at Indiana State, and Laimbeer getting selected in the third round one year later. Both men also grew up in the Midwest; Bird in Indiana, Laimbeer in Chicago, and played college basketball for a Hoosier State school (Laimbeer suited up for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish). But that's where the similarities ended. For starters, Laimbeer was the son of a prominent Owens-Illinois executive (via Sports Illustrated). Meanwhile, Bird lost his father at a young age and didn't grow up with much material wealth. 

On the court, they played different positions; Laimbeer was a bruising center, while Bird was a do-it-all forward who could play both the three and the four with equal ease. Lastly, Bird riled opponents with his trash talk, while Laimbeer thrived on his physicality a little too much for his own good. No, make that too much, period — the man was just as well-known for his penchant for fighting as he was for his ferocious rebounding and versatile inside-outside offensive game.

By the mid-1980s, Laimbeer had established himself as one of the Eastern Conference's best big men, but with his Detroit Pistons on the rise, that's when he essentially became Public Enemy No. 1 to the dominant Boston Celtics. While Celtics center Robert Parish gave Sports Illustrated his own paraphrasing of the "if you have nothing nice to say about someone, say nothing at all" adage, Bird was straight to the point, telling the outlet, "We don't like him that good."

The Malice at the ... Silverdome

Probably the most notable moment in Larry Bird and Bill Laimbeer's feud happened during the 1987 Eastern Conference Finals, with Bird's Boston Celtics leading Laimbeer's Detroit Pistons 2-0 heading into Game 3. On that night in Detroit, fans watching at the Pontiac Silverdome must have felt like the then-WWF was back in town just months after the arena hosted WrestleMania III

Per Sports Illustrated, the scuffle started in the fourth quarter of a game the Pistons eventually won, 122-104. Laimbeer roughly pulled Bird down the floor as he moved in to assist Dennis Rodman on defense. Bird quickly retaliated, punching Laimbeer as they were both on the floor, and while cooler heads stepped in as the two star players duked it out, Bird wasn't done with the Pistons center; he flung a basketball at Laimbeer's direction, hitting him hard on the shoulder.

After the game, Laimbeer and Bird issued separate statements, with the former claiming, ""Bird went up for the shot, and it looked like Rodman was going to undercut him. I grabbed hold of Larry to break my fall." Bird wasn't buying any of that, later telling reporters, ""Yeah, right, he was trying to break his fall. And when I threw the ball, I was just trying to get it to the ref." After Laimbeer sniped back with sarcastic praise for Bird's passing ability, Larry Legend got the final word, essentially challenging his rival to a one-on-one fight.

The two rivals kept trading barbs into the early '90s

Ultimately, the Detroit Pistons gained the upper hand in their rivalry with the Boston Celtics and won back-to-back titles in 1989 and 1990 with Bill Laimbeer manning the middle. Meanwhile, the Boston Celtics began their slow decline after losing their Eastern Conference Finals rematch against the Pistons in 1988, and Larry Bird likewise saw his production decline due to a nagging back injury. He announced his retirement from the NBA after playing just 45 games in the 1991-92 season, and during his February 1993 retirement ceremony, sportscasting icon Bob Costas couldn't help but bring up Bird's old rivalry with Laimbeer.

After Costas noted that Bird was having a perfect night despite the fact Laimbeer wasn't there, ol' No. 33 responded with a line for the ages. "We'd probably hang him up there [in the rafters] with my jersey," Bird quipped.

As for Laimbeer, he couldn't help but make a quick dig at Bird's rough last few seasons, as he was quoted as saying toward the end of his career (via Secret Base) that he doesn't "want to go out like Larry Bird." But while Bird was still averaging around 20 points per game late in his career despite his bad back, Laimbeer's scoring — and even his rebounding — was way down in the homestretch of a career that ended early in the 1993-94 season.

The mutual dislike extended until well after their retirement

It may have been decades since Larry Bird and Bill Laimbeer were the bitterest of on-court rivals, but both men have been throwing shade at each other well after they retired from the NBA in the early 1990s. As transcribed by Indy Cornrows, Laimbeer told 1070 The Fan's Bob Kravitz in 2008 that he hadn't been paying attention to what Bird had been doing as an Indiana Pacers executive ... before sneaking in some jabs at the Pacers' lack of postseason success with Bird in charge. After saying that regularly missing the playoffs would drive him nuts, the Detroit Pistons legend said he'd "probably quit" if he was in a similar situation. Laimbeer, who was then coaching the WNBA's Detroit Shock, went on to stress that he had no plans of keeping in touch with Bird, explaining that the two of them had "never hung out together and never been friends." You don't say, Bill.

Meanwhile, fairly recent comments from Bird suggest that, at least for quite some time, he remained quite unhappy with the way Laimbeer conducted himself on the court back in the day. "It's because he was a dirty player," Bird told Bill Simmons in 2013, via Sportscasting. "He had to do what he had to do, and I understand that, but you take like [former Detroit Pistons power forward] Rick Mahorn, he'd hit you and you knew you were going to get hit. He didn't try to maim you. Bill tried to hurt you."\