At age 58, the Boston Celtics legend is now president of the Indiana Pacers and still a runner at heart. Here, he reveals his lifelong passion for the sport and the unique way he manages to get his run in four times a week.
I always ran when I played. Before games. After games. Didn't matter. I just felt a need to stay in top condition. I used to run at least one or two miles, up on the second level of the Boston Garden. I enjoyed it.
No matter what, if I got a good run in before practice, I felt like I accomplished something that day. In practice we could run for two hours, but I still didn't get the feeling I did when I went outside for a couple of miles.
Two days before I scored 60 against Atlanta, there was this big five-miler outside of the Boston Garden [it was the 1985 Shamrock Classic]. I ran it in 32 and a half minutes, I think. So against Atlanta I was worried because my hamstrings were really tight, but I got loose and felt better and had a pretty good game, scoring the ball anyway.
I can't run on the street anymore because of my back, but I still run on an underwater treadmill. I do that four times a week, 48 minutes, about 6.3 mph. It's a pretty good little run for me.
We practiced about two miles from my house in Boston. In training camp I'd run back and forth between the two places just to get my run in. I don't know what it was. I mean, if you're a runner, you just feel like you have to do it.
I wouldn't get noticed running in French Lick [Bird's hometown in Indiana] in the summer. There aren't a lot of people there. In Boston, people would blow their horns. But I could pull over next to a nearby lake, run around it for a few miles, and people won't grab you and pull you there. They'd holler, but it wasn't too bad.
In the off-season in French Lick, I'd run in the morning. I'd run the two miles to the gymnasium, then I'd do 440s, 220s, weights, situps, and everything.
I used to run in local races with [Celtics player] Scott Wedman. We'd run together but kick it up the last half mile or mile to see who would cross the finish line first. Scottie was just a little bit better.
I loved to run in Boston races. You're talking about real runners. They run daily. They're serious. I enjoyed just being around those people more than racing against the clock.
When I was young, if you didn't play football, you had to run cross-country. One year I didn't play football, so our basketball coach had me run cross-country. I didn't like racing; I just liked to go out at my own pace and run as far as I wanted. If the race was two and a half miles, I'd go over to the track afterward and run another half mile or mile.
In middle school, my basketball coach would have us run a mile around the top of the gym. I didn't enjoy it, but it was the first time I got that feeling you get after a run. You can ride a bike, climb rocks, but that feeling after a run is one of the greatest you can have -- other than winning a big basketball game.
When you live in a small town in the country, there's a lot of dogs. I always picked up rocks when I went for my morning run. Right by our house there were a couple that chased us every day. I'd tell the owners, "Keep them damn dogs off!" They were always on my heels.
My best time in the mile was 5:08, going into my senior year at Indiana State. That was once in a lifetime. Usually I ran it in 5:30, 5:35.
My college teammate Howie Johnson used to run 4:50. I kept up with him one time for three-quarters of a mile, but the last quarter he finished 60 or 70 yards ahead. Of course, he was six-foot [Bird is 6'9"]. But what a runner.
I have no clue what shoes I ran in. It was whatever I had. People sent me shoes all the time. I was only ever particular about my basketball shoes.
I watched the Boston Marathon on television a lot when I was with the Celtics. A few times I went down by Fenway Park and watched the runners go by. But I never did try to run 26 miles.
My knees never hurt from running. My problem was always the back issue. But I always felt that if I didn't get a run in, I didn't feel good that day. I think a lot of runners feel that way.
My Celtics coach, K.C. Jones, never got mad or told me not to run, but he used to say, "Why? Why would you do this?" I had no answer for him. I'd say, "I don't know. I don't have anything else to do, I guess."