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“DJ to Bird!”

Posted by Steve Bzomowski on February 23, 2007

“DJ ta Buhrrrd!”. DJ to Bird is part of what you still hear today if you were one of the lucky ones. One of those who sat and stood and leaped to your feet and pumped your fist and watched and lived and died with those teams from the mid-80s. And only if you can still hear Johnny Most’s voice, like it was just last night, the voice that always spoke the words that were the truth.

“DJ’s at the top of the circle, dribbling, looking, guarded by Nixon . . .”

For the past fifteen years, at every NTL Weekend Camp and at every NTL Weekly Clinic, we have taught going backdoor from the block when your defender jumps out early on the downscreen, hoping to beat you to the spot where you’ll drop your deadly jumper. Just last Thursday, at Matignon HS in No. Camridge, MA, for instance, we drilled that.

“Bird’s on the baseline fronted by Cooper and Worthy . . . ”

We instruct that the point guard zip a “one-handed off the dribble pass” to the cutter who, face-guarded, fakes a run to the corner and, cutting back, finds himself open under the hoop. And, after that fastball of a one-handed pass, we always say, “DJ to Bird”. Because that’s what it is: DJ to Bird.

“Worthy’s got ahold of Bird’s jersey . . . ”

DJ came to the Celts in a trade for Bird’s best friend on the team, Rick Robey. The paper’s are saying today that he was brought in to stop Magic Johnson, but I remember it being to stop Andrew Toney; there was no getting to the Lakers without getting by the Sixers. His previous coach with Seattle, Lenny Wilkens, dubbed him “a cancer”. (How did he really feel?) The Celtics trusted him, knew his hungry heart; Johnny Most spoke no ill of him or of any other Celtic. Ever.

“Bird starts to the corner, he’s got three defenders all over him, cuts back under the hoop . . . ”

I remember Bob Ryan once writing in The Boston Globe (in the definitive DJ piece) that DJ won the 1979 championship by dominating the finals’ series defensively FROM THE BACKCOURT! That was unheard of and spoke to the strength and uniqueness of his abilities. Yeah, maybe he couldn’t win any shooting contests, but he was the one guy who could, when Bird was wearing Cooper and Mychal Thompson was smothering McHale, he was the one guy who could grind it out to the hoop and get the toughest bucket. DJ was toughness and competitiveness and an absolute true hero to the true believer Celtic fans. Everyone needs someone you can count on, right?; we could count on DJ.

“DJ to Bird who lays it in!!!”

I can’t tell whether I feel like that was just yesterday or, now with DJ’s passing, impossibly long ago.

“Now there’s a steal by Bird, underneath to DJ and he lays it in”!


7 Responses to ““DJ to Bird!””

  1. Jean said

    I heard Bob Ryan on NPR the day or two after DJ’s passing.
    He and the 80’s Celtics were made for each other, a witty,
    honest writer covering a legendary, entertaining team. (Did
    he help make them legendary?…certainly did in these parts).

    As part of that report, they replayed Johnny Most’s call of
    the whole “Bird steal to DJ layup” in that playoff game
    against the Pistons, including the part where Johnny’s losing
    his voice screaming about the “place going crazy”.

    As I sat in the car listening, I remembered the disbelief and joy
    I felt as I watched that play happen, Johnny’s voice
    putting a smile on my face and a tear in my eye.

    We’ll miss you DJ!


  2. Yeah, Ryan is good; a treasure, really. He got over that talking too fast and interrupting other people phase. In those days, I COULD NOT WAIT for The Globe to come in the morning. Always was a great way to re-live and even embellish the experience of the game. Ryan knows his way to the essence of things in the sporting world.

    Did you hear the Dan Patrick interview with Bird on espn radio re: DJ? It’s ten minutes long and I listened to it twice.

    An aside re: The Celtics of those days and days previous to those: I remember reading that Red said, “I just don’t understand why they have to knock that building down”? Man, I felt the same exact way. They should have hired that woman who is restoring Fenway bit-by-bit. And if they couldn’t save it, they should have figured out a replica, something beyond the parquet that mirrored the magic. Lots of things contribute to an identity and that place was certainly a HUGE part of that.


  3. Josh Kratka said

    One more Bob Ryan-related note: a while ago (10 years? 15?) he wrote a Boston Globe column devoted to his contention that 5’9″ Calvin Murphy was The Greatest High School Basketball Player Ever. I don’t know whether the Globe’s online archives go back that far, but it’s worth digging up.


  4. I don’t remember Calvin Murphy in high school but I do remember him at Niagara and I do remember, growing up in Albany, that my role model when in junior high, my absolute hero, Billy Kalbaugh (Catholic Central in Troy, NY), the guy who taught me the crossover, captain at Saint Bonnie with Lanier, used to SHUT CALVIN MURPHY DOWN!!!

    Street & Smith’s (the bible before Blue Ribbon came along) called Murphy a “twirling dervish” partly because he was a national champion baton twirler!

    Never liked his game, but he could scoot, great stroke, AND really fill it up.


  5. Josh Kratka said

    I found the old Ryan column on Calvin Murphy, but didn’t feel like paying the fee for the full version (I know, where’s my commitment?). Here’s what you can see for free:

    Published on January 19, 1995
    Author(s): Bob Ryan, Globe Staff

    “A lot of people who have seen a lot of basketball say there is no doubt in their mind who was the best high school player ever to lace up a pair of sneakers. Big statement? Sure, but that’s only because you never saw Calvin Murphy play for Norwalk (Conn.) High School from 1963-66. At 5 feet 9 inches, Murphy dominated as no one has, before or since. Does 68 points in the preeminent High School All-Star Game of the day get your attention? It was the beginning of a career that took him …”

    You can find (and pay for) the full version by searching for “bob ryan calvin murphy” in the Globe archives at It’s pretty convincing.


  6. If you are a Globe subscriber, you can access the archives for free, by starting here.


  7. Greg Herr said

    You’d think in this video age you could find that whole Sonics series DJ dominated defensively from the backcourt on YouTube or something. Maybe it’s out there, but here is DJ featured in another of the top 60 playoff moments of all time.

    I hadn’t remembered this play, but the Bullets are down 2 in overtime, Kevin Grevey is going for the last shot, and DJ blocks his 20 foot jumper. It wasn’t his guy; he was the second help defender on the play but he knew where to go and he jumped as high as he needed to. Man, I could do this all day and get no work done. I learned from Jim and Josh today that I need to be following more of the links in your blog.

    You’ll see that this is another of the 60 Greatest Playoff Moments of All Time. You’ve got to assume Havlicek Steals the Ball is #1, ahead of MJ’s push-off and jumper against Utah. My favorite part of the Havlicek play is Russell hitting the guy wire with the pass just before Havlicek’s play, he apologizes to the team and they just tell him to forget it and go win the game anyway.


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