Larry Bird still believes in the power of basketball diplomacy. The Hall of Famer sat down with ESPN.com recently and opened up about the impact playing for Team USA had on his life and his feelings on Paul George's resurgence.
For you personally, what does it mean to see Paul George not only back but also representing Team USA after his gruesome leg injury in 2014?
Bird: It's a pretty good situation for him because he came back [and] had a pretty good year last year. No pain. Got through all that. And I think that his goal was always to go back and play for his country and be around the guys [who] are the best in the league, or some of them are. Just get back involved in USA Basketball because it has been a long couple years for him.
Was there ever a doubt in your mind that he would be back at this level on that stage?
Bird: Well, you never know. But we had every indication from the doctors that he was going to be just fine. Just let the bones heal and get him back out there. When you go through something like that, I think it's more mental than it is physical. ... But it was a horrific injury. It took him time, but he worked hard and did the things necessary to get back.
You always stood behind USA Basketball after the injury. Why were you strong in your support of the program?
Bird: I had an opportunity in high school to play against the Russians, and I thought that was the neatest thing in the world. I got in college, I played overseas, and it was over a month, and [I] got to see the world and play the game I love. And had an opportunity there at the end of my career to get into the Olympics and play for my country. Even though it was the end of my career, it's still an honor. And I just wish everybody had that feeling. If you love your country and you get to represent them and you can win, it's one of the greatest feelings, and I wanted Paul to have the same feeling. And I know he cares, he wants to play and he wants to win, and I think it's awesome.
You've had that experience at every level of the USA program. If down the line, they came to you and said, "Larry, we want you to have more of an active role within USA Basketball," is that something you'd be interested in?
Bird: I don't know. I'm getting at an age now where everything's starting to slow down for me. But it's like I said: Going back to high school, I got to play against the Russians. And that was when the Cold War was really going on, you know? And I said, "Man, I'm playing against the Russians." I couldn't believe it. They were very talented, very good, and I was always mesmerized by how they did things over there. My high school coach sort of gave us ... Even though it wasn't my high school team, it was an All-Star team, he was telling us about it and how they train, and they take the best [players] and put them together. It caught my eye, so I was always interested in international basketball because I liked their style. I liked how they played. I like the up-tempo, I like the 40-minute game, and there's really no interruptions. If you go over and watch a team over in Italy, wherever it's at, international rules, they've got a flow to it. There's no stoppage all the time, and I really like that. So I always enjoy playing it.
As far as the Dream Team goes, as you look back all these years later, what do you think of that team and its impact on the game?
Bird: It changed everything. From coaching to training, it's really interesting. Dave Gavitt ... told me the importance for Magic and Michael and I to go over there with this team because it's going to change the game forever throughout the world. And what he meant by that was once we kicked their butts so bad, a lot of their coaches are going to come over and see our training and how we do things. If you think about international training, you think about two workouts every day and a lot of shooting, and their bigs come out and take a lot of shots from the outside. And he was right. If you look at the NBA from then to now, we have probably more than 100 international players in our league, so they're getting better. It's pretty awesome to me to see the change over that period of time.
When you see Magic and Michael over time, how often does your Barcelona Olympic experience come up?
Bird: We don't bring it up. I don't see Michael. I see Magic a little bit more. We had a sit-down -- I don't know when it was, time flies, it could have been a few years ago. Well, they had most of us in a circle talking about [the Olympics]. That's the first time I think I ever really talked about it with another one of my teammates. Great memories, great time, we had a lot of fun. Our families were with us. And you're playing for your country, how can you beat that?
So much was always made out of the Dream Team practices. Out of all three of you guys, who do you think was the most competitive out of that group?
Bird: Oh, I don't know. Everybody's competitive in their own way. It's hard to say one guy's more competitive than another. I always said it's easier to be competitive when Michael Jordan can run and jump as high as he does, as quick as he is. So I think me and Magic had to be more competitive because we didn't have that speed and we couldn't jump that high.