"If you were constructing the ideal arena from my experience, I'd say, 'Duplicate the Richfield Coliseum.'" - Larry Bird
Larry Bird is one of the best basketball players of all time, essentially dominating the 1980s along with Magic Johnson. But you won't really get too many interesting insights from Bird in his 1989 memoir Drive, co-written with sportswriter Bob Ryan.
It's pretty much a book full of hollow athlete speak that glosses over any really juicy details; however, Bird does provide some valuable tidbits at the end of the book with a full section on his opinions of every single NBA arena at the time.
Some of these reviews are pretty plain - "I don't like playing in New Jersey." - but Bird actually becomes quite poetic when talking about the Richfield Coliseum, where he faced off against the Cleveland Cavaliers for so many years.
Here is what Bird had to say about playing in Cleveland (well, kind of, depending on how you view Richfield Township):
"The Richfield Coliseum is twenty miles outside of Cleveland and I love that building. I hate the long ride out there because we have to leave so early just to get there. But it's worth the ride because I really like the building. It's just a great setup.
It's a good eight or nine hours from French Lick, but for some reason when I go there I feel like I'm close to home. It's the same with Chicago.
I had a lot of fun with their fans in 1985, the year I had the bad elbow. I thought we'd really have something going between us after that, but when I went back in the next year it had all died down.
We used to stay at a different hotel out closer to the arena, but we had to get out of there. The place was a mess and you couldn't get anything to eat after the game.
The one good thing about staying out there, however, was that it was a good place to jog. It was a perfect place to run distance. You take off running a bit and you are out in the country.
Back in the '85 playoffs I went out running one day and I came across a man fishing in a little lake. I was talking to him and you could tell he was half scared to death, since I had my Celtics gear on. I don't think he knew who I was, but I guess I looked intimidating.
He let me borrow his pole and I made about five or six casts. I caught these itty-bitty bass. I said, "What else is in here?" He answered, "That's all. Just those itty-bitty fish." I tried to show him a technique with worms, where you've got to do it very, very slow.
Later on that afternoon, we went riding by in the bus on the way to the game. There was that same old man, trying to fish with worms the way I had shown him. That made me feel good.
This entire anecdote is great not only because he praises the Richfield Coliseum, but because it provides a little more insight into Bird as a genuine person as opposed to just some basketball robot. The Richfield Coliseum may have been located in the middle of nowhere, but where else could an NBA superstar have this kind of quaint experience?
I wonder what Bird might think of the fact that the demolished Coliseum and its surrounding area is now part of the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. He might feel for the demise of one of his favorite arenas, but he might also appreciate the now-swaying grasslands and still-ample running room for him.