INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana Pacers president Larry Bird shared his arena with fellow Olympians this past week, athletes two feet shorter than him who were born well after he won his Olympic gold medal.
The Dream Team member took time during the P&G Gymnastics Championships at Bankers Life Fieldhouse to discuss Olympic topics.
Here were some of his thoughts:
OlympicTalk: In the 2012 “Dream Team” book, you mentioned watching the Olympics with your dad growing up, when you had about two TV channels, and specifically the national anthem. Any specific Olympic events or athletes in your memory?
Bird: It didn’t matter. If we turned over [on the TV], and the national anthem was playing, we stopped. If it was another country’s national anthem, he might go back somewhere and then come back to that station later on. It was pretty wild. If they had a [medal] ceremony, it wasn’t like an advertisement where you could get up and go get something. He sat there and watched it every time. You might hear The Star-Spangled Banner six or seven times in one night. I can remember him saying, “Boy, wouldn’t that be something to be standing on that gold-medal platform, listening to that Star-Spangled Banner?” Sure enough, I got lucky enough to do that.
OlympicTalk: Was there anything you weren’t able to experience at the Barcelona Olympics that you wish you could have done?
Bird: Well, yeah, there’s a lot of things I wish I could have done. But I did get to watch baseball games. I got to watch Japan, Cuba, all the best, the United States. That’s what I love. I love international baseball for some reason.
OlympicTalk: What did you think of Boston pulling out of the 2024 bid race?
Bird: I’m disappointed, because there’s no better place to have an Olympics. I think it’s the greatest sports town in the world. I lived it, and they love all sports. But, the people weren’t behind it 100 percent. And you can understand that. It takes away your whole summer and all the prep and all that. Boston’s not easy to get around in, but I just thought it would be absolutely perfect for Boston.
OlympicTalk: Paul George said he has your support in going for the Rio Olympic team while coming back from injury. What is your perspective there?
Bird: My take on all that is, just knowing how I felt about playing for my country, who am I to tell Paul George he can’t play for his country? I don’t think that’s fair. Now, has there got to be some insurance policies and different things set up going forward? We’ve got to have some protections, but, yeah, I can’t sit here and tell you that I should tell Paul George he can’t go out and live a dream. Because I know how I felt. I want him to play.
OlympicTalk: Will the upcoming, expected salary cap increase deter players who will be free agents in 2017 from playing in the Olympics, risking injury ahead of potential bigger contracts?
Bird: It could. There’s so much on the line. There was always a lot on the line, but it seems like it’s tripled now. I can see why guys would not want to practice and pull themselves out of it.