As you may have quickly surmised, the reason why this is my new favorite Larry Bird photo has absolutely nothing to do with Bird’s presence. The reason why I love this photo is Tom McMillen, the gray-haired gentleman attempting to shoot a J over Larry Legend in this game from the 1983-84 season between the Boston Celtics and Washington Bullets. If you can believe it, McMillen was 31 years old when this photo was taken.
This photo is pretty awesome in the standard format for the top of TBJ blog posts, but you really need to see the full McMillen to appreciate the true majesty of this snapshot of a different time in the National Basketball Association.
The vintage Bullets uniform, short shorts and old-school tube socks are undeniably great, but you’ll get that in any NBA photo from that era. It’s McMillen’s unathletic physique, his unwieldy elbow and knee pads, his double chin and chalky locks that really make this stand out from any photo I’ve seen from the modern (post-Magic/Bird) era. When I look at this photo, I see Mehmet Okur in an old-timers game 25 years from now. In 1984, this guy was playing 20 minutes per game for a Bullets squad that finished 35-47 and ended up losing a first round playoff series to the Celtics.
McMillen played in 11 NBA seasons and clearly wasn’t satisfied with merely competing against Larry Bird while looking like that guy at the Y who might drop dead from a heart attack at any point during your weekly pickup game. He went on to serve as a Congressman in Maryland’s 4th district from 1987 to 1993 and he is believed to be the tallest-ever member of Congress, at 6-foot-11.
If I had to guess the outcome of this play based on the photo, I would assume that Bird rejected McMillen’s shot attempt. What I would like to believe is that McMillen released a jump shot with a gorgeous rainbow arc over Bird’s outstretched hand that touched nothing but net upon its final destination. Then, he hustled back on defense with grim determination as his chunky thighs jiggled and he prepared to guard the most unguardable player of his era at the other end.
We will probably never again see the likes of Tom McMillen in the NBA. I hope you find it at least a smidgen as amusing as I do that somebody who looked like him was a rotation player in the league within the last 30 years.