The playoffs are where superstars shine. Adrenaline and pure talent will take over.
If you believe you can’t be stopped, usually you can’t.
However, sometimes when your game goes to a new level, this challenge inspires your competitor to wrestle the spotlight away from you.
This happened on May 22, 1988.
It was the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals.
It was Game Seven.
Larry Bird against Dominique Wilkins.
It was for all the marbles.
The question was what superstar would shine brightest on the big stage of the NBA Playoffs.
The answer—BOTH of them.
The Human Highlight reel and Larry Legend couldn’t be any more polar opposite in their playing styles.
Bird was pure finesse and poetry in motion.
Wilkins was more shock and awe.
And so was the series to a degree.
Both teams put consecutive solid efforts together. Boston won the first two contests then the upstart Hawks took the next three including Game Five on the parquet.
However, Boston was not going to throw in the towel. That’s not Celtics basketball.
The Green was able to salvage their season with a 102-100 squeaker in Atlanta.
Now it was on to Game Seven at the Boston Garden, or was it the O.K. Corral?
This ended up being a gunfight, a duel, and battle of two wills.
It would be last man standing.
It seemed as though the other eight guys were not even on the court. This day belonged to Mr. Bird and Mr. Wilkins.
The Hawks were not intimidated by the sixteen banners that hung overhead or the ghosts of Celtics past as they took a two-point lead going into the final quarter.
Dominique was dominating the matchup thus far and Bird was shooting blanks.
Larry only had 14 points and was having an average game. An average game for him was a disappointing performance in the mind of Bird. He wasn’t about to let his team down when they needed him most.
Bird had his whole arsenal to his disposal. The three pointer. The layup. The floater. The jumper. The prayer.
He was taking over the game, but Dominique answered the challenge.
The Human Highlight Reel didn’t rely on shock and awe only. He opened up his bag of tricks as well.
It was a prize fight and there would only be one winner. However, this bout went to a 10 count.
As time winded down, Bird landed the knockout punch to ‘Nique and the Hawks as his layup cemented a 118-116 series clinching victory.
The Celtics and Larry Legend were not the only winners on this day. Dominique Wilkins had his defining moment and established himself as a true superstar of the league.
However, the fans who witnessed this incredible symphony of athleticism, leadership, and hunger to win were the true winners.
Bird finished this epic battle with 34 points—with 20 coming in the decisive fourth quarter. Wilkins had a career performance by posting 47 points—with 14 coming in the final frame. He was an incredible 19-of-23 from the field.
Sometimes the legend needs a young gun to challenge them. They need to be called to the streets to defend their turf and honor.
Thank you Dominique for bringing the best out of Larry Bird.