Jamal Mashburn Tells the Epic Tale of Rodney Rodgers Learning Not to Talk Shit to Larry Bird on the Dream Team

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I try not to live in the past. Honestly, I do. As legendary Sauk leader Black Hawk put it, "I got my best foot forward onto greener grass, cause there ain't no future living in the past." 

But on the other hand, I can't deny being witness to a great many unforgettable things that shaped my soul into what it is today. Indelible pop culture events, historic moments, and legendary figures which combined to make me what I am. 

And by God, getting to see Larry Bird's entire career, from Indiana State phenom to brilliant Red Auerbach draft day maneuver to NBA great is chief among them. One of the true blessings I'll be grateful for until I'm in the grave. 

True story: a while back I was golfing at my favorite local course with my buddy Cliffy. (For the record: Green Harbor in Marshfield, MA.) As we were approaching the 16th and just talking about nothing in particular, he said "I still miss Bird." No explanation was necessary. No context was necessary. He didn't say it out of the blue. He said it because watching Larry's entire career is one of the best parts of a friendship that spans decades. We spent the rest of the round going through our mental databases of moments we remember. Both what Bird did and where we were when we saw it happen. The time the Celtics were down two with seconds remaining, he took it across half court and pulled up for a 30 footer for the win. The time he hit a buzzer beater to send a game into overtime and then won it with another buzzer beater. The time he was chasing a loose ball out of bounds baseline, turned in the air, shot it over the back board and in. The greatest shot in history that didn't count. 

And dozens, scores, hundreds of others just like them. Like atheists say about a Creator, if Bird didn't exist, I would've had to invent him. 

I mention all this because Jamal Mashburn just told this story I was not familiar with. An instructive - and hilarious - tale of what happened to his college teammate Rodney Rodgers when he had the audacity to talk smack to Bird during practices for the 1992 Olympic Dream Team. 

Walking through the hotel hallway, Mashburn and his teammates ran into Bird and introduced themselves. “He looked at us and he said, ‘Get some fucking rest,'" Mashburn says, "'It’s gonna be a long week,’ and walked off.” 

As a practice game was going the college guys' way, Chuck Daly had the scoreboard turned off and ended the practice. Which didn't sit well. With any of them, least of all Rodney Rodgers.

“We get back to the hotel,” Mashburn explains. “Rodney Rogers says something to - it’s a group of them, it’s Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, everybody’s shooting the shit - and Rodney Rogers said, ‘Hey Larry, you ain’t hit a jumper since ’84.'” 

“The next day, we came in, and I’d never seen this, and this was when I was like, ‘This is a different breed,’” Mashburn continues. “Magic Johnson fed Larry Bird the ball probably about eight times in a row down court. Larry Bird got the ball on Rodney Rogers, and every time he was about to make a move, he told him what he was going to do.

"'One dribble pull up, going left, off glass.' Bucket. 'One dribble going right, spin, shot.' Bucket. He scored nine times or eight times in a row. Left the court to go lay down, because he couldn't sit on a bench because of his back. And said, 'Young fella: Look like '84, huh?'" 

Me right now:

Giphy Images.

Good on Magic Johnson too. 

This is the kind of thing I miss from Bird's all too brief time in Boston. The millions of little stories like this. I'm not sure if he invented NBA shit talk. But for sure he perfected it. Through both his words and flawless ability to back his shit up with his actions. Yes, it's living in the past. Just like it is listening to the music you liked in college, watching the movies you liked in high school and eating the stuff you liked as a kid. It's comfort food for the soul. And I regret nothing. 


In 1992 Rodney Rodgers and Jamal Mashburn learned first hand what we knew from his rookie season in 1979-80. Larry Bird was the last guy you wanted to mess with. I'll live in the present, but God, how I miss it.