There must be something he can't do on the basketball court, but so far nobody in the National Basketball Association has discovered what it is. Larry Bird's latest remarkable achievement was as a ball-hawking defensive guard.
That's right. Boston's 6-foot-9 forward was shifted to the back court in the Celtics' most important game of the young season. Naturally, he responded with a brilliant defensive effort that made the difference in a 111-103 victory over Philadelphia.
During that memorable Eastern Conference final last spring, the one player Boston couldn't match up with -- the guy who almost spoiled its drive to the championship -- was rookie guard Andrew Toney, a reserve who led the 76ers in scoring.
Well, Coach Bill Fitch didn't spend all summer taking bows for bringing the title back to Boston. He studied films, lots of them. He decided the only one on his team who could defend against Toney was Bird, who, of course, can do anything any coach asks.
Toney was true to form last Friday night in Boston. He had 22 points and had made seven straight shots in the fourth quarter to close the 76ers to within five points of the lead. Then Bird moved to guard, leaving Kevin McHale and Cedric Maxwell at the forwards. Toney scored only two more points as the Celtics pulled away. All right, Billy Cunningham, it's your move.
Let's hope this doesn't start a trend. Sonny Werblin, president of Madison Square Garden and the force behind the New York Knicks, stormed into the team's dressing room seconds after the Bullets had humiliated it, 114-88, at home last week and yelled at his players.
"We'd better start winning and acting together or there's going to be some changes made," he shouted, according to one player. "There's nobody in the stands, we're losing money and the performance of this team better change right now."
The discouraging thing is that the Knicks went out two nights later and beat the Celtics by 20 points. Let's hope this won't encourage more owners to become orators.
QUIZ: When Adrian Dantley led the league in scoring last season he was the first forward to accomplish that feat in 14 years. Can you name the last one to do it? (Answer below) . . . Dave Corzine went into a rage recently when ejected by referee Joey Crawford. It took more than a couple of San Antonio teammates to restrain the former Bullet, now called "Lumber" by fellow Spurs because he looks like a lumberjack since growing a beard.
When Darryl Dawkins missed several games with a hyperextension of his right knee, Cunningham simply promoted Caldwell Jones to starter, used Earl Cureton as a backup to Bobby Jones and the 76ers kept on winning . . . They're already calling Gene Banks a "hot dog" in San Antonio. The former Duke star has made 39 percent of his shots and his lackluster defense has severely restricted his playing time . . . Denver is looking for a backup center (Swen Nater?) because Dave Robisch is out for the season following Achilles' tendon surgery.
The next coach to be fired will be Tom Nissalke, who not only is losing again at Utah, but, more important, isn't getting along with the players, fans or General Manager Frank Layden, who wields the ax . . . Big problems at Houston, too, as you might expect after six straight losses. As Coach Del Harris said earlier, "There are a lot of strong personalities on this team" . . . As if he weren't having enough problems, the Knicks' embattled guard, Michael Ray Richardson, showed up only five minutes before a recent game and was fined $200.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar recently surpassed Oscar Robertson as the NBA's second all-time scorer, leaving only Wilt Chamberlain's total of 31,419 points in front of him. The question is: What will it take to surpass Chamberlain? Answer: another 2 1/2 seasons of averaging 25 points a game. We say no chance . . . Cazzie Russell is the latest coach at Lancaster (Pa.) in the Continental Basketball Association and his assistant is Henry Bibby.
Chuck Daly did the right thing, stepping into that mess in Cleveland, even if Bill Musselman remains as vice president. Daly, 51, former assistant coach at Philadelphia, had nothing more to prove there, and if he had turned down any more offers (San Antonio and Detroit in the past) they might have stopped coming . . . The latest on Ray Williams: He called up Coach Larry Brown and said he was too sick to come to New Jersey's practice. That night the former Knick showed up at Madison Square Garden to watch his former teammates and, of course, was spotted by the ever-alert media.
QUIZ ANSWER: The last forward to lead the league in scoring before Dantley was Rick Barry at San Francisco in 1966-67. Elvin Hayes finished first two years later, but was playing center at San Diego at the time.