Basketbawful‘s been the home for some excellent memory-lane-coverage of prior Celtics/Lakers finals, and said blog’s take on the ’85 finals includes a chapter in Boston hoops history that’s largely been forgotten. MVP of the ’84-85 regular season, Larry Bird saw his production plummet roughly midway through the Eastern Conference finals, and while much of that could be blamed on nagging injuries, Basketbawful recalls Bird’s heavily bandaged right index finger, an unexplained malady that just happened to occur prior to Game 3 of the Conference Finals against Philly. Of the subsequent finals, Basketbawful writes, “the Lakers played great and the Boston bench sucked. But it is also quite possible — even probable — that Larry Bird cost the Celtics the 1985 NBA championship.” Hey, it’s enough to make Allen Iverson burn his Celtics throwbacks.
On May 16, 1985 — the off-day between Games 2 and 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals — Larry, Quinn Buckner and Larry’s friend Nick Harris went to a Boston bar named Chelsea’s. At some point in the evening, Larry got into a fight with a man named Mike Harlow (who was a bartender from a nearby bar named Little Rascals and a former college football player) in an alley next to Chelsea’s. During fight, Larry knocked Harlow the hell out and injured his right index finger.
Now, there are two versions of why the fight took place. In version one, Larry’s friend Harris had been beaten up by Harlow (allegedly for repeatedly hitting on Harlow’s girlfriend) and Larry came to Harris’ five-fingered rescue. In version two, Larry made the advances on Harlow’s girlfriend and that was why the two men fought (although that story didn’t explain why Harris got beaten up first).
Either way, Harlow was hurt badly enough (or pretended to be hurt badly enough) to be admitted to Massachusetts General Hospital after the fight. He then filed a lawsuit against Larry. But before it went to trial, and out-of-court settlement was reached (for somewhere between $15,000 and $21,000) and the documents were sealed.
The fact that this happened while Larry was hanging out with Harris wasn’t a big surprise. According to the Boston Herald, Harris (then a 39-year-old used car salesman) had previously been convicted for selling drugs, fixing odometers, and “fraudulent bookkeeping.” The Celtics didn’t want Larry hanging out with his shady buddy, and they had even asked the Massachusetts State Police to run a background check on Harris (the Celtics denied this, although the state police confirmed it). It was also reported that the Celtics had specifically asked Larry to end his friendship with Harris and Larry refused (though both parties denied it), while Bird’s agent, Bob Woolf, “literally begged” Larry’s close friends to convince Larry to ditch Harris. Eventually, after the Finals, Larry did so.