"Don't get caught watching the paint dry"

Chitwood & Hobbs

Made in the U.S.A.

Watching Mickey Watching Bird

Bill Fairweather (an ESPN coordinating producer) remembers a great Mickey Mantle story — one of my favorite excerpts from the oral history of ESPN, Those Guys Have All the Fun.

When I was twenty-one years old and working at this local station in the sports department, Mickey Mantle came by as part of a promotional tour. He came into the sports office and wound up sitting there while the PR guy was doing some other stuff. So we’re in this room together, but I’m not going to bother him. He’s Mickey Mantle, right?

The office had TV screens with different feeds and games that were going on, but one of the screens had the live feed from Boston Garden. So now it’s like 4:30pm, and the lights are not even on at the Garden, but Larry Bird is out there shooting, as is his pregame ritual. He would always be out there hours before anyone else, shooting a half an hour or an hour by himself. Not even anyone retrieving the ball.

So Mantle sits back and starts watching Bird shoot, and two minutes go by, and I notice Bird hasn’t missed a shot. Two more minutes go by; Bird still hasn’t missed a shot. And I see Mantle start to sit up, to get on the edge of his chair and get more and more intently focused on watching this. No joke, Bird has probably taken a hundred shots in a row and not missed one. Mantle is just totally amazed by what he’s seeing, and I’m watching him watch Bird. I’m getting a real kick out of this because I’m seeing this guy, one of the greatest baseball players of all time, watching one of the greatest basketball players of all time, all the while knowing that there are only two people in the world who are aware of what’s going on now, and it’s me and Mickey Mantle.

I think Bird was shooting for close to ten minutes without missing a shot, and finally Mantle gets to the point where he has to say something. He’s just so amazed by what he’s been seeing that he looks at me and says, “This boy doesn’t miss.”

And I looked at him and I said, “Yeah, but you’re Mickey Mantle.”

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