- Josh Elias | September 6th, 2019
The NBA may not exist in its current state today if it weren’t for the rivalry between Magic Johnson‘s Los Angeles Lakers and Larry Bird‘s Boston Celtics throughout the 1980s.
And there were so many things that made it perfect. The intersection of West Coast vs. East Coast. Showtime vs. the Big Three. College phenom vs. small-school wonder. And yes, also black vs. white.
The Celtics have long held a reputation for having some of the most racist fans in sports. And it’s undeniable that, to a certain extent, that’s been earned.
Bill Russell, the most decorated player in Celtics history, emphasizes his experiences in Boston from his playing days, characterizing the city as having been full of “corrupt, city hall-crony racists, brick-throwing, send-’em-back-to-Africa racists, and in the university areas phony radical-chic racists.”
Decades later, with a team whose rotation still only included two black players for the better part of the decade (Robert Parish and Dennis Johnson) and a bitter rivalry against a Lakers team whose public faces were Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, James Worthy, Byron Scott, and Michael Cooper, that reputation continued to stick, rightly or wrongly.
And the battles between Bird and Johnson (and the arguments between their supporters) just made that more visible.
And so, all of a sudden, it came across as racist to some just to like Bird.
Which it isn’t. I can’t believe I have to clarify that liking a white basketball player doesn’t make you racist, but I guess I have to, just in case.
One of the more common responses to accusations of racism against Bird fans was that he represented “real America”.
After all, he was born in a town that currently has an estimated population of 555. He was the son of a war veteran and a single mother who worked multiple jobs. He dropped out of two schools and almost gave up on basketball entirely, simply because he couldn’t adjust to campus life.
But interestingly, Bird is all-American in a more outright factual way than that.
In fact, Larry Bird is so American that his family was in America before America was America.
A genealogical search reveals that Bird’s family has been in the county he was born in, Orange County, Indiana, ever since his great-great-grandfather, Samuel Bird Sr., moved there from Tennessee in the late 1840s, and they’ve been in the United States for well over a hundred years before the Declaration of Independence.
Thomas Bird Sr., Bird’s great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather, immigrated to the Colony of Connecticut from London in the year 1639, just 19 years after the Mayflower first arrived in modern-day America.
That means that Larry Bird’s family has been American for over 95% of modern American history. That’s nearly as all-American as you can get.
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