Greatest Players in NBA History: Larry Bird

In this blog I pick one of the top players in NBA history as voted on in this project and discuss some of his career accomplishments…in other words, what made him so great that he deserves a spot among the greatest? This week’s player is Larry Bird, the most intimidating NBA player of my childhood.

My first favorite NBA player was Julius Erving...Dr. J.  My second favorite player early on was Earvin Johnson...Magic.  As such, my most hated player was Larry Joe Bird.  I hated him because he ALWAYS hit the the call...made the play that made my favorite players' lives miserable.  He was like a robot out there.  If he took a key shot I just closed my eyes, because I knew it was going in.  If Doc's 76ers were up by one point with five seconds left I was petrified, because I knew the Celtics were going to go to Bird.  Hatred and fear of Larry Bird made the Boston Celtics my least favorite sports franchise.

But here's the thing...I only hated him because he was so darn GOOD!

On paper Bird was an unlikely superstar.  He was a 6-9 combo forward that wasn't especially quick, couldn't jump especially high, and wasn't especially strong.  But my gosh, was he an offensive genius.  He could make every shot in the gym, and what's more he KNEW that he could make every shot in the gym.  Bird's confidence and swagger were out of this world, which is why he made so many huge shots.  But Bird's impact was about much more than scoring...he was also blessed with some of the greatest court vision that I've ever seen.  Outside of Magic Johnson, I've never seen another player that big who could see the court and pass like that.  Add in a real knowledge of angles and grittiness that also made Bird very strong on the boards and deceptively good as a team defender, and you get a player that some argue is the greatest of all time.  Some facts about Bird:

1) Bird joins Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell as the only three players in NBA history to win the MVP award in three straight seasons.  He also finished in the top-2 of the MVP vote for six straight seasons and was top-4 in each of the first nine seasons of his career. 

2) Bird broke Chamberlain's record for consecutive seasons averaging at least 20 points, 10 rebounds and five assists per game by doing it in five straight seasons.  In NBA history only Bird and Kevin Garnett have accomplished this feat.

3) As a rookie Bird led the Celtics to one of the greatest single-season turnarounds in NBA history, as the Celtics improved from 29 wins the year before Bird's arrival to 61 wins in Bird's rookie year, a 32-game improvement.  This achievement helped Bird win the Rookie of the Year in 1980 over fellow rookie Magic Johnson.

4) Everyone thinks of offense when they think of Bird, but Bird also was a three-time member of the NBA All Defensive 2nd team and led the entire NBA in defensive win shares in four seasons.

Where do you weigh in on Larry Legend?  Who was better between him and Magic? 


By: Chris Liss
On: 3/14/2012 10:33:00 PM
One thing I love about Magic and Bird is that their games were so unconventional. A 6-9 PG who pushed the pace, and a 6-9 combo forward with elite PG passing skills and shot-making ability. The typical star is a physically dominating big man with strength and athleticism, an unstoppable scoring guard, or a score/pass PG. Bird and Magic had more unique games.
By: Thomas Callahan
On: 3/15/2012 12:31:00 AM
I was a Showtime fan back in the day too. But the 87 conference finals vs. Detroit---I almost started to love the guy.

Never liked him. Just straddled between love and hate.

Asking to choose between him and Magic isn't a fair question to either of them, IMO.
By: Poincare
On: 3/15/2012 3:51:00 AM
I grew up in Southern California and graduated from high school in 1984, so I grew up watching the showtime Lakers. I always hated the Boston Celtics, Red Aurebach and his stupid cigar in particular. I never hated Larry Bird for the simple reason that I respected his game oh so much. I will admit that at that time I always though Bird was a better player (ever so slightly) than Magic. One vivid memory I have is of the first NBA game I ever saw Bird play--during which I went from saying to myself,"this lard-ass is supposed to be the greatest young player in the game?!..." in the first quarter to saying,"this guy is the best player I've ever seen in my life..." by the fourth quarter. It was a pleasure watching him play basketball. One of my favorite players ever, quite possibly my favorite, and indisputably one of the true all-time greats.
By: Jason Thornbury
On: 3/15/2012 12:05:00 PM
One of the best things about Bird was when he called out his teammates in the middle of the NBA Finals. Can you even imagine that happening in today's PC public-relations world? I love how he and Magic hated each other in the beginning too. That doesn't happen anymore either.
By: nayfel
On: 3/15/2012 5:11:00 PM
I think Kobe is more Bird than Michael with his "win at all costs routine". All Bird cared about was winning, to the extent that h even argued with McHale about his perceived lack of practice. Bird couldn't understand how someone could have a life outside of basketball and took that to mean that they simply didn't care enough. But, Bird doesn't realize, or didn't seem to realize, was that it was the competition that fueled him, not basketball itself. Even now, on Bill Simmons' podcast, he recently said that if the Celtics had Len Bias when he got hurt in late 80s, he would have retired. That, to me at least, shows that it was winning that he was consumed with, and so if his spot and the Celtics were fine and going to win, then he simply would have retired. He didn't speak like Magic and say he wishes he could have played longer, and that he always wished he could have went out on his terms. To the contrary, he almost seemed to say that he knew that his level of competition and will to win was unsustainable for more than a decade or so. It all came down to winning and the desire to do whatever it took in order to prevail.

Oh, and he was the best player on possibly the best team of all-time, 86 Celtics, and seemed to always be a level above the rest.

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