Larry Bird is widely regarded as one of the greatest basketball players ever to play the game. His combination of tenacity, skill, and athleticism put him in rarefied air compared to the best NBA players in history.
Let’s take a closer look at what made this wizard-of-the-court so good and examine some examples of how he dominated the game throughout his career.
Larry Bird At-A-Glance
|Full Name:||Larry Joe Bird|
|Occupation:||Basketball Player and Coach (retired)|
|Born:||December 7, 1956, in West Baden Springs, Indiana|
|NBA Team:||Boston Celtics|
|Years Played:||13 seasons from 1979 to 1991|
|NBA Championships Won:||Three|
|Years Coaching:||Three seasons from 1997 to 1999 with Indiana Pacers|
|Known As:||“Larry Legend” — A basketball superstar who excelled in all phases of the game at the highest level|
|Skills:||Clutch scoring, passing, rebounding, defending, out-hustling his opponents, passion for the game, and creative trash-talking.|
The Legend: Larry Bird
When Larry Bird stepped onto the basketball court, he redefined the small forward position. He dominated opponents and took over games by sheer will.
Bird was known to trash talk opponents before the game by predicting he’d score so many points and then proceeding to do just that. His shooting was so accurate; he sometimes practiced shooting 3-pointers with his eyes closed.
Bird’s will to win was so strong on the court that he would readily give up his body in pursuit of a loose ball, often diving into crowds or crashing into the press table.
He was a perfectionist obsessed with winning, often making impossible shots just as the final buzzer sounded. Analysts describe what made Bird special: his ability to envision the play developing before it happened on the court.
Bird grew up in French Lick; a small town tucked within a modest farming community in Indiana. He became known as the “Hick from French Lick.”
As a youngster, he attended Springs Valley High School, where he became a local celebrity due to his basketball play. At local games, attendance swelled to 1,600 fans who came to see him dominate the game.
After high school, Bird began playing college ball at Indiana University with head coach Bobby Knight but eventually transferred to Northwood Institute junior college.
Honing his skills
After a short time at Northwood, he moved again, finding a home at Indiana State. He brought the ISU basketball team to prominence with an undefeated season during his senior year.
The only roadblock to a perfect season was Michigan State in the 1979 Championship Game. They had their own basketball star by the name of Earvin “Magic” Johnson. Johnson’s Spartans would defeat the boys from ISU that day. The rivalry between Johnson and Bird would last through both of the superstar’s careers.
Larry Bird entered the 1978 NBA Draft and was selected by the Boston Celtics 6th overall. But instead of turning pro, he decided he would play one more year of college ball at Indiana State.
The next year he began his NBA career, joining an awful Celtics team. Led by their young phenom, the team made a dramatic turnaround. With the subsequent additions of Kevin McHale and Robert Parish, the Celtics would eventually become an NBA powerhouse.
Larry Bird’s greatest moments in the NBA
Larry Legend became one of the greatest players in NBA history over the course of his career. With his combination of physical talent, mental toughness, and mastery of fundamentals, Larry Bird was a coach’s dream.
Bird walked on the court with confidence and class. He thrived on competition and winning, inspiring his teammates along the way.
Here are several highlights from his Hall of Fame career:
1.) 1987 Eastern Conference Finals, Game 5
This game featured one of Bird’s most famous plays of his career. Five seconds remained in the game against Detroit. The Celtics were down by one. Bird grabbed the inbounds pass by the Pistons’ Isiah Thomas and passed the ball to Dennis Johnson before going out of bounds. Johnson scored the winning layup with one second remaining on the game clock. The Celtics ultimately won the physical and hard-fought seven-game series, advancing to the NBA Finals.
2.) 1987-88 Season, Boston vs. Indiana
In this game, Larry Bird was the first Celtic to achieve a “40-20” game with 42 points and 20 rebounds vs. Indiana on November 11, 1987
3.) 1988 Eastern Conference Semifinals, Game 7
Bird and Atlanta Hawks’ Dominique Wilkins battled in a back-and-forth shootout in this semifinal game. Wilkins scored an amazing 47 points. But Bird powered his way through a case of bronchial pneumonia over the final stretch, scoring 34 points on only 24 shots and leading the Celtics to victory.
4.) March 1991-92 Season, Boston vs. Portland
This miracle performance featured Larry capping off his 16 fourth-quarter points with a game-tying three, leaving only two seconds left on the clock. The Celtics won 152-148 in double overtime.
Bird finished the game with an impressive 49 points, 14 rebounds, 12 assists, and four steals.
Bravado, trash-talking, and talent
Many fans and players share “Larry Bird stories” that have been repeated so often they have become legendary. Here are some of our favorites:
1.) The left-handed game
On February 14, 1986, Bird and the Celtics faced off against the Portland Trail Blazers at the Memorial Coliseum. Maybe it was for the challenge or just pure boredom, but for some reason, Bird decided to shoot only with his left hand. With the Celtics ahead 39-9, he began his left-handed quest. He tallied 47 points that game, about half from shooting as a lefty.
2.) When the other team cheered
During a 1985 game against the Atlanta Hawks, Bird was riding a hot streak with his shooting. He racked up 60 points for the game, shooting 22-of-36 from the field and 15-of-16 from the foul line. He seemingly couldn’t miss. Several Hawks players reacted to his scoring from the bench with hoots and cheers, much to the irritation of head coach Mike Fratello—who reportedly fined them for their outbursts.
3.) Calling his shots
Bird seemed to always back his trash-talk up with results. One bold claim came against the Dallas Mavericks when he told them exactly how he would score and dared them to stop him. Bird said, “I’m gonna stand right here. I’m not going to move. They’ll pass me the ball, and the next sound you hear will be the ball hitting the bottom of the net.” After doing exactly that, he jogged past the Mavs bench and gave the team a wink.
4.) The three-point challenge
Larry was not beneath a little trash-talking to put fear in his opponents’ heads. As the 1986 NBA Three-Point Contest was about to occur, Bird found his competition gearing up in the locker room. He left them with a bit of legendary smack-talk. “I’m just trying to see who’ll come in second,” he quipped. After the contest was over, second place was awarded to Craig Hodges. Guess who came in first?
5.) The Christmas present
Before a game against the Indiana Pacers on December 26, 1990, Bird egged-on rival Chuck Person with taunts about a Christmas present for him. Bird went on to score 22 points with seven rebounds and 12 assists in the game. Person did not fare as well. Upon hitting a three-pointer late in the fourth quarter, Bird turned towards Person seated on the bench and said, “Merry (bleep)-ing Christmas.”
6.) Tussle with Dr. J
During a game between the Celtics and the 76ers on November 9, 1984, Larry Bird and Julius Erving got into a fight. The two undefeated teams featured two of the biggest NBA stars. The tussle broke out late in the third quarter, resulting in both players being ejected. Bird dominated, scoring 42 points to Dr. J’s six points. An offensive foul by Bird opened the barn doors to the brawl. Boston won the game 130-119.
7.) Out to break records
Bird would often enter an opposing team’s arena with one question on his mind: “What’s the scoring record here?” His intention? To shatter it. He even used the line to intimidate his on-court defender. When they would ask why he was asking that question, he’d reply, “Well, you’re guarding me, aren’t you?”
Building on “Celtics Pride”
Larry Bird followed a long line of basketball greats who won games wearing a Celtics jersey. Legends like John Havlicek, Dave Cowens, Bob Cousy, and Bill Russell came before him. But, everyone knows, any all-Celtic team has to include the Hick from French Lick, Larry Bird. He created legions of life-long fans in New England and around the world.
Rivalry with Magic Johnson
Bird entered the NBA the same year as Earvin “Magic” Johnson. The two young superstars rejuvenated the NBA, increasing its viewership and growing attendance to levels never seen before.
The two titans of the NBA often competed head-to-head, creating a must-see rivalry on game day. Although many considered Johnson to be a better passer than Bird, the two were relatively equally matched in their abilities.
The legendary matchups between the two stars developed into mutual respect and, eventually, a great friendship.
NBA Career Stats
Larry was the first NBA player to reach the “50-40-90 Club,” honoring a player who shoots 50% from the floor, 40% from beyond the three-point line, and 90% from the free-throw line. Only seven other players can claim to be members of this prestigious club.
Here are more statistical highlights from Bird’s NBA career:
- 897 games played
- 21,791 total points scored
- 24.3 points per game average
- 8,974 total rebounds
- 10 rebounds per game average
- 5,695 total assists
- 6.3 assists per game average
- .496 floor shooting percentage
- .886 free-throw shooting percentage
Larry Bird played 13 seasons with the Boston Celtics in the NBA. His team achievements include:
- 3 NBA Championships
- 10 Atlantic Division Championships
These awards and honors were given to Larry Bird for outstanding play during his professional basketball career:
- 1998 Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame
- 1996 NBA 50th Anniversary All-Time Team
- 3 NBA MVP (Most Valuable Player) Awards (consecutive)
- 12-time NBA All-Star
- 2-time NBA Finals MVP
- 9-time All-NBA First Team
- 4-time league-leader in free-throw percentage
- 1992 U.S. Olympic Dream Team Gold Medal
- 3-time NBA 3-point shootout champion
- 1982 NBA All-Star MVP
- NBA Rookie of the Year
- NBA All-Rookie First Team
Did you know?
“Larry Legend” is the only person in the history of the NBA to be named Rookie of the Year, League MVP, Finals MVP, and All-Star MVP as a player and Coach of the Year and Executive of the Year with the Indiana Pacers after his playing career was over.
Check out these inspirational Bird quotes and sayings.
1992 Olympics and Retirement
Bird’s playing days came to a close after the 1991/92 season because of a painful back injury.
After the NBA season that year, he decided to play on the United States basketball team—the original Dream Team—at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona. The team dominated the competition and won the gold medal.
Bird announced he would not be playing the next season, dogged by back (and foot) problems over the latter half of his career. He retired at age 35. His number 33 jersey was retired to the rafters of Boston Garden by the Celtics.
At Bird’s retirement ceremony in 1993 at the Garden, Magic Johnson said, “there will never, ever, ever be another Larry Bird.” Truer words could not have been spoken.
Head coach and front office executive
After his playing career finished, Bird took the position of Special Assistant with the Celtics. In 1997, he became head coach of the Indiana Pacers. Although he had no previous coaching experience, Bird became NBA Coach of the Year with a 58-24 record.
After leading the team to division titles and a spot in the 2000 NBA Finals, he resigned from his position based on a promise to coach for only three years. He then became the Pacers president of basketball operations until 2017 and remained with the team as an advisor.
By Greg Johnson with Mike O’Halloran
Greg writes about football and basketball. Mike is the editor of Sports Feel Good Stories.
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