"The first thing I would do every morning during the season," Bird says, "was look at the box scores to see what Magic did. I didn't care about anything else." In the 1984 NBA Finals, Bird checked out Magic up close for seven exhilarating afternoons and nights in what would be one of Bird's sweetest triumphs.
What a strange and wonderful series it was. The Lakers won the opener 115-109 at Boston Garden, and Bird was a shaken man when the game was over. "That's the best fast break I've seen since I've been in the league," he said. "We're a good running team, but we're not as good as they are."
L.A. should have won Game 2. The Lakers were leading by two points late in the fourth quarter when Celtic Gerald Henderson stole an errant pass by L.A.'s James Worthy and scored to tie the game. Magic inexplicably dribbled out the last eight seconds of regulation time, and Boston prevailed 124-121 in overtime.
In Game 3, at the Forum, the Lakers destroyed the Celtics 137-104, with Magic getting 21 assists, and set off an explosion in Bird's head. "We played like sissies," he fumed. Asked what was needed to change things, Bird said, "Twelve heart transplants."
Bird did the surgery for Game 4, which remains one of his favorites. Trailing by five with less than a minute to go in regulation, Boston forced the game into overtime, aided by a stolen Magic pass and two missed Magic free throws. With the score tied at 123 in OT, Bird posted up Cooper. "I turned to shoot and Cooper fell down," Bird recalls. "Then Magic came running at me, and I said to myself, 'Oh,——.' " Bird put a little extra arc on his shot, and the ball swished cleanly for the game-winner to tie the series.
Basketball was never meant to be played in 97° heat, but that was the temperature in the un-air-conditioned Garden when the series shifted back to Boston on the night of June 8. The atmosphere was so stifling that the Lakers brought their own supply of oxygen. Referee Hugh Evans left the game at the half, suffering from dehydration. Forward M.L. Carr cooled his Celtic teammates with a small battery-operated fan. "It was the most bizarre game of my career," says Riley. "Surreal. If I ever felt like I was in hell, that was it."
But Bird thought the conditions were ideal. "Hell, what's the fuss?" he said. "We used to play in conditions like that back home all summer. The heat just loosened me up." Bird loosened up for 34 points and 17 rebounds as Boston won 121-103.
The Lakers tied the series at home in Game 6. And so, in the last 2-2-1-1-1 series format in NBA history, everyone packed up and flew 3,000 miles back to Boston for Game 7.
"It was the strangest pregame I ever remember," says Bird. "M.L. Carr was walking around with goggles on. Danny Ainge had a stethoscope. He walked up to each of us to see if we had a heart. Cedric Maxwell just said, 'Jump on my back, boys. It's my turn.' We were so loose. I think if we had lost, Red [Auerbach] would have killed us."
Maxwell delivered on his promise, scoring 24 points and stealing the headlines as Boston won 111-102. Bird and Magic were now tied in head-to-head championship confrontations.