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Despite injured hand, Larry Bird once won $160 off Dan Shaughnessy in shooting contest

In April 1984, young Globe Celtics writer Dan Shaughnessy presented Larry Bird with the Globe’s Jack Barry Award.Stan Grossfeld/Globe Staff/File/Boston Globe

In this week's episode of our Celtics podcast, "On the Parquet," I sat down with longtime Globe columnist and former Celtics beat writer Dan Shaughnessy. The show is packed with stories from Shaughnessy's time covering the Celtics from 1982-86.

But one tale about a costly shooting contest with an injured Larry Bird was so rich it deserved its own transcript, particularly with Monday being Bird's 59th birthday.

SHAUGHNESSY: Larry was MVP in '84, '85, and '86, and the height of his powers was '85. He was on the cover of Time magazine and it was a big deal. That's when he had the 60-point game in New Orleans against the Atlanta Hawks. So, we found out later he'd gotten in a barroom fight in downtown Boston, down by Faneuil Hall. It was a bar, I think it was called Chelsea's. Larry had come to the defense of a teammate, or some issue, and doing the old-school Indiana thing he swung at a guy and he messed up his hand. And he was taping it at practice, and it was a very odd-looking kind of a web-taping, splitting his hand into two sets of fingers.

HIMMELSBACH: His shooting hand, right?


SHAUGHNESSY: His shooting hand! His right hand. So after practice I'm like, 'You can't play with your hand taped like that in the game tomorrow.' They were playing the 76ers in the conference finals. And they were gonna win that. They were gonna command that. But his shooting was starting to fall off, and with this hand injury, I'm like, what the hell? So I challenged him about this taping of the hand, how he could do that in the game, and he said, 'I could tape my whole hand up, make more shots than you.' And I'm like, 'I don't know.' But you could tell he'd done this before, it was like a pool hall kind of hustle deal. So he called the trainer over, Ray Melchiorre, and said 'Let's do this, I'll tape my whole hand. I'll make more shots than you. We'll take 100 free throws, $5 a throw.' He had the whole thing in his head. There's a lot of writers around, I was like, 'OK.'


HIMMELSBACH: So are you a shooter? Did you play in high school?

SHAUGHNESSY: I was a good shooter. I was not a good high school player. Varsity three years, but I was the guy they would bring in to shoot free throws.

HIMMELSBACH: So this was within your realm.

SHAUGHNESSY: I could make 24 out of 25 back in the day just standing around. But of course now, it's like, the pressure's on. I'm in my street clothes, usual sportswriter garb. We'd do 10 at a time and rebound for each other. He had his hand taped like a fist, like a boxing glove almost, and he was just shoving the ball off that hand like a shot put. And he made 6 out of 10, first round. I made 6 out of 10, so we're even. And then the second round, I was rebounding for him and he said 'Oh, I've got this figured out.' And he did. He made an adjustment, and he knew. And he made like 8 or 9 out of 10. And of course I step up and I'm starting to see $5 bills fly through the air every time I let go, and I was choking, and he beat me by $160. I think it was 88-62 or whatever it was, but I owed him $160. So I went to the ATM, got him his eight 20s, and the next night they were playing the 76ers and I was there early plugging in by courtside and he was doing his late-afternoon thing by himself in the Garden with [equipment manager Joe Qatato] rebounding for him, and he came over and put his hand out, and I gave him the eight 20s.


HIMMELSBACH: So he accepted the money? It wasn't just like, 'Keep the money, you poor sportswriter'?

SHAUGHNESSY: He totally took the money, stuck it in his sneaker. And, gross, he played with my eight $20 bills in his shoe the whole night and lit up the 76ers. And then I saw him like two days later after practice and he says, 'Yeah, Dinah," — that's his wife – he says, "We had a big dinner on you last night and she said to give that writer the rest of his money back. Can you imagine what a sap she is?' So that's how that played out. And I wrote about that too, and Adam, I'm telling you, I expensed that, because I asked the boss.

HIMMELSBACH: So wait, you expensed the $160 that you lost in a shooting contest?

SHAUGHNESSY: Yes, and evidently the IRS frowns on the word 'wager' in expense accounts, because it bounced back and they said 'You cannot put 'wager' in an expense account.' So I just made it eight $20 lunches with [Celtics center] Robert Parish. We just substituted.


HIMMELSBACH: Is that really true? Eight $20 lunches?

SHAUGHNESSY: I thought it was the way to go once they wouldn't pay the $160 on the wager. I had to get the money back somehow. It was a lot of dough back then.

HIMMELSBACH: Were you surprised he didn't just say, 'Hey, I just wanted to show I could crush you. Keep your money'?

SHAUGHNESSY: No, if you knew Larry, he liked making money off that. It was the hustle thing you referenced. If you walked into practice, he'd be like 35 feet from the hoop and he'd look at you and say "Dollar?" And you'd say OK. And he'd throw it up, and if it went in, you owed him $1. If it missed, he gave you $1. He called it, 'Shoot for money.' And I taught my kids that. I'd come home from work and my son would be standing there with the ball and I'd say, 'Shoot for money?'"

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Adam Himmelsbach can be reached at adam.himmelsbach@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @adamhimmelsbach.