The names “Dominique” and “Bird” resonate with NBA fans for one reason: Game 7 of the 1988 Eastern Conference Semifinals, when the two Hall of Famers went at each other in arguably the greatest heat check battle in NBA history. At that point, both superstars were seasoned veterans, playing in the prime of their careers. However, Dominique Wilkins was a few years younger than Larry Bird, having entered the league in 1982, three years after Bird’s rookie season, and a year removed from Bird’s first NBA Championship. The Celtics and Hawks played each other five times over the 1982-83 season, and Bird saved his best game for last. At least, that’s how ‘Nique described it to the Boston Herald:
“One of the first times I ever played against him, I went out for the opening tip and I went to shake his hand. He just stood there and looked at me stone-faced with his hands behind his back,” Wilkins said recently.
“I was like, ‘Whoa.’ Then we were getting ready for the tip and he says to me, ‘You don’t belong in this league, Homes.’ I couldn’t believe it, but it happened so fast, I didn’t know what to think.
“Then they had the ball and I was on him and he said, ‘I don’t know why they got you guarding me, Homes. You can’t guard me.’ Then, whap, he hit a 3. Then he came down again and said, ‘They made a mistake putting you on me, Homes,’ and he took another 3.”
Getting into the story, Wilkins began to act things out with his facial expressions.
“So now I’m hot,” he said. “I’m hot. I mean, I’m steaming.
“Then a little while later, I came down on a break and he was backpedaling. I just went right after him. I jumped up and he tried to challenge, but I took that right through the rim. He fell and hit the basket support.
“He got up and said, ‘I like you, rookie. You’ve got(guts).’ I was happy for a second, and then he said, ‘But I’m still going for 40 on you tonight.’ ”
He then paused the story, stepped back and smiled.
“But I got him,” Wilkins said. “He only scored 39.”
If you think ‘Nique is making that up, he’s not. The game in question occurred on April 5th, 1983 — a 117-95 victory for the Celtics. It was a near-perfect performance from Bird, who scored those 39 points on 18 for 22 shooting from the field. Yep, Larry Bird was pretty good, Homes.