Perceptions Vs. Reality: Tu Holloway, Kevin Garnett and Larry Bird

Sitting there in a press conference hearing the things that came out of Holloway's mouth on a Saturday afternoon in Cincinnati, everything seemed surreal. Yes, I'd just witnessed one of the bigger fracases on a basketball court I'd ever seen. Yes, I'd seen Holloway and Mark Lyons speak on how they were "a bunch of gangsters, but we’re not thugs. We’re tough guys. We’re not gonna let someone else kick our face in.” Yes, I saw Mick Cronin give a joke of a press conference, which was applauded...thus making my jaw drop. Then Bomani wrote this gem and expressed exactly how I felt about Cronin's presser.

Yet, Tu's reference to Garnett and Lewis helped it all make sense, even if no one else bothered to not be lost in translation.

Certain teams or players will always be considered soft. It's an adjective that strips away all the manhood someone has if the description fits, because it means that you don't stand for anything. From a basketball standpoint, if you're soft, you might as well not be on the floor. You'll get shellacked and ransacked of your dignity in no time.

In the 2010 edition of the Crosstown Shootout between Cincinnati and Xavier, the Bearcats basically tried to Shang Tsung the Musketeers and steal their soul in the process. X was bullied, berated and battered by a more athletic, physical and a more talented squad. It wasn't that Xavier just lost, but how they lost the game. Then they started to hear it from their close ones and friends....bloggers and media members...

Xavier's soft.

So when the 2011 edition of the Shootout commenced, Xavier made sure to do everything they had to do in order to shed the label. They created a defensive slogan called "zip 'em up." They recruiting bigger and stronger players. They made sure to verbalize their feelings to their opponent. They were ready to crush that "soft" label, and the 23-point victory was more than enough to do so.

But then, with nine seconds left, the brawl broke out.

We’ll never know the words that were exchanged between the two and truthfully, it doesn’t matter. What happened next does, when Guyn mushed Holloway in the face and chaos ensued.

You do anything harmful to an opposing team’s star player, expect some retribution to come your way. Maybe Holloway deserved it after yapping with the other team, but like in any situation where trash talk is prevalent and competition against your rival, don’t dish out what you can’t handle in return. As soon as Guyn mushed Holloway, freshman Dezmine Wells pushed Guyn off his teammate and the Xavier roster rode to defend their captain.

That’s what a team is supposed to do: rally behind their captain.

Personally, in my time interacting with Holloway, I've never even got the the inkling that he had any goon-like activity in him, or that he was a thug or anything close to a gangster. I did recognize that where he was from gave him some edge (Long Island) and with that a slightly different perspective on things.

So when I hear that Holloway refers to his (hoop) team as a bunch of "gangsters" and "tough guys" on the court, followed by the reference to KG and Ray Lewis....I totally get it. Easily. Others, clearly, not so much.


Kevin Garnett has made it perfectly clear that he wants all of us to know that he's tough. The man beats his chest, talks crazy, yells at opponents and dishes out physical contact at the most random times in games to bring some level of control or fear into the equation. Of course, the question that must be answered from all of this is a simple one.... KG actually tough?

Well...kinda. He's a tough defender, without question. Is he a tough rebounder? Surely. Is he strong on the offensive side of the ball? Undoubtedly. Is Kevin Garnett tough to the degree that you want him in your corner trying to fight? I don't know about that one. Garnett ain't trying to fight; hell, I would bet money the man's never been in a fight before. The man has been known to try and irritate small guards, foreign players and dudes he knew were already weak. Fight or confront someone who's his own size? Nah. For what? He's 6'11". No one's trying to fight him, so the fact that he talks crazy, pops off  and performs crazy's something that you take note of at first, but over time with no action behind the don't take it seriously anymore.

Garnett's toughness is more of a facade to help get him motivated and amped for a game. It does more for his mental makeup than anyone else would. Chanting crazy shit to himself, saying mantras over and over again, and harboring thoughts of what happened in previous games is what pushed KG to his superstar levels. Holloway did something quite similar, yelling "zip 'em up" as a defensive motivational ploy, talking cash shit to members of the other team and referring to his team as "gangstas" in the post-game. Xavier doesn't beat Cincinnati without being tough, and part of it is attributed to the team coming together with the same mindset.


Larry Joe Bird is revered as one of the most hard-working, consistent and talented players to ever ball in the NBA. The man will always be respected for laying it all on the line, his teamwork and his selflessness.

But you know what else Bird was? A goon, a trash-talker and someone who LOVED to fight.

Bird's contemporaries will tell you that while many folks think of Larry Legend's jumper or tenacity are the things they remember most, talk to the players who played in the 80's. They'd always say the same thing, "Larry loved to talk trash. He was one of the best at it." I couldn't imagine some of the things that Bird said coming from the backwoods of Indiana into the climate of the NBA at that time. You think he wasn't talking crazy? Bird had heart and Bird had talent to back it up, but Bird also got chin-checked on many occasions. Don't believe me?

If you notice at the end of this fight, and almost any other NBA fight that you see on Youtube from the 80's, its amazing how many fights broke out...and then nothing happened. The game just continued. Don't believe me? Check out the iconic Pistons/Celtics game and watch Robert Parish try to end Bill Laimbeer's life. Then play just continues.

Of course, there's the entire story of Larry Bird getting into a bar fight (per Basketbawful) between Games Two and Three of the 1985 NBA Finals...

Larry was already struggling with existing back and elbow injuries when he showed up to Game Three of the Eastern Conference Finals with a heavily bandaged right index finger (this, by the way, was the same finger that had been mangled in a college softball game before Larry's rookie season). The injury hadn't occurred in a game and nobody within the Celtics organization would comment on it. And while the press sort of left it alone until after the playoffs, it became a three-ring media circus over the summer (well, in Boston, anyway.) The story ran in both the Boston Herald and the Boston Globe, and here are as many of the facts as may ever be known (since Larry himself has chosen to never publicly discuss it):

On May 16, 1985 -- the off-day between Games Two and Three of the Eastern Conference Finals -- Larry, Quinn Buckner and Larry's friend Nick Harris went to a Boston bar named Chelsea's. At some point in the evening, Larry got into a fight with a man named Mike Harlow (who was a bartender from a nearby bar named Little Rascals and a former college football player) in an alley next to Chelsea's. During fight, Larry knocked Harlow the hell out and injured his right index finger.

Now, there are two versions of why the fight took place. In version one, Larry's friend Harris had been beaten up by Harlow (allegedly for repeatedly hitting on Harlow's girlfriend) and Larry came to Harris' five-fingered rescue. In version two, Larry made the advances on Harlow's girlfriend and that was why the two men fought (although that story didn't explain why Harris got beaten up first.)

Either way, Harlow was hurt badly enough (or pretended to be hurt badly enough) to be admitted to Massachusetts General Hospital after the fight. He then filed a lawsuit against Larry. But before it went to trial, and out-of-court settlement was reached (for somewhere between $15,000 and $21,000) and the documents were sealed.

The fact that this happened while Larry was hanging out with Harris wasn't a big surprise. According to the Boston Herald, Harris (then a 39-year-old used car salesman) had previously been convicted for selling drugs, fixing odometers, and "fraudulent bookkeeping." The Celtics didn't want Larry hanging out with his shady buddy, and they had even asked the Massachusetts State Police to run a background check on Harris (the Celtics denied this, although the state police confirmed it.) It was also reported that the Celtics had specifically asked Larry to end his friendship with Harris and Larry refused (though both parties denied it), while Bird's agent, Bob Woolf, "literally begged" Larry's close friends to convince Larry to ditch Harris. Eventually, after the Finals, Larry did so.

So yeah...your boy Bird was a goon. Even then, he did so at the rescue of his boy, which is what you want in a friend...someone who will stick by you. Yet, we've propped Bird up as this ideal of hard work and dedication while we kindly forget that Bird was all about exchanging two-pieces with anyone who crossed him while talking cash shit all the way to your hearts. Yeah...okay.

The reality is that folks know who's tough and who isn't. Kevin Garnett IS tough on the basketball court, but he ain't about that life when it comes to throwing hands, unless it's to a foreigner or someone as tall as me (6'1"). Larry Bird was tough on the court and a goon off of it. Tu Holloway told us he was tough on Saturday afternoon and proved it to the crowd during the game. When he said it, along with a few other spun the narrative completely to the left. In the future, Tu, don't worry about telling us how tough you are; just be tough on the court, on yourself, and on your future goals. That will get you far.

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