Yesterday on NBA TV they had the March 15, 1992 double OT game between the Celtics and the Blazers. In that game, Larry Bird finished with 49 points, 14 rebounds, 12 assists and 4 steal. I just sat in amazement watching him. Sometimes we forget how truly great Larry Bird was.
Bird shouldn't have been that good. He wasn't fast. He wasn't athletic. He couldn't jump. But somehow, Larry Bird became one of the greatest basketball players ever. He compensated for his lack of speed and athleticism by having an immaculate work ethic. In Magic Johnson's biography he makes fun about Bird's mediocre athletic talent, slow feet and minuscule vertical leap but he immediately adds that Bird was the only player he truly feared. As Magic Johnson said of Larry, "There will never, ever, ever be another Larry Bird." Tommy Heinsohn said of Bird, "Larry was playing chess when everyone else on the court was playing checkers.
I started thinking about all the wonderful memories I had of watching Bird play. All of the game winners and improbable shots he hit. All of the incredible passes that he made. When he won the first three 3 point contests. His last 3 point contest where it came down to having to hit every shot on the last rack and he walked toward center court with his finger in the air before the money ball even went in the basket. Just so many times he did the improbable, or even the seemingly impossible. With Bird on the floor, Celtics basketball was always exciting.
There was the 60 point game against the Hawks and the duel with Dominique Wilkins. There was that game where Bird registered a triple double (30 points, 12 rebounds, 10 assists) in only three quarters of play against the Utah Jazz. Despite being only one steal away from a quadruple-double, Bird sat out the fourth quarter. After the game, he said "I already did enough damage. Why go for it if we're up by 30?" And there was the playoff game against the Pacers where he dove after s loose ball and came crashing face-first onto the Boston Garden floor. He went to the locker room but came back in the 3rd quarter despite a concussion and a severe headache, Bird scored 32 points on 12 for 19 shooting, leading Boston to victory for the game and the series. After the game he said that he was seeing 3 baskets and he just aimed for the middle one.
And then, perhaps his most memorable play, in Game 5 of the 1987 Eastern Conference Finals against the Detroit Pistons, with five seconds remaining in the fourth quarter and Boston trailing the Pistons 107-106, Bird stole the inbound pass from Isiah Thomas that was intended for Bill Laimbeer. With the clock ticking down and with his momentum carrying him out of bounds, Bird turned and fired the ball to a cutting Dennis Johnson, who converted a layup with 1 second left to win the game for Boston. That play saved the series for the Celtics, who, had they lost Game 5, would have had to win Game 6 in Detroit (where they were winless in the series) to force a decisive seventh game. Instead, after losing in Detroit, Boston won Game 7 and advanced to the Finals.
Bird was the embodiment of "Celtics Pride." He was a classy, confident, hardworking player who thrived on pressure and inspired teammates to excel. In addition to his three championship rings, Bird piled up an awesome collection of personal achievements. He became only the third player (and the first non-center) to win three consecutive NBA Most Valuable Player Awards. He was a 12-time All-Star, a two-time NBA Finals MVP and a nine-time member of the All-NBA First Team. He led the league in free-throw percentage four times.
The year before Bird joined the Celtics, they were 29 and 53 and at the bottom of the league. When Bird joined the Celtics, his impact was immediate. With the addition of Bird, the team improved to 61–21 in the 1979–80 season, posting the league's best record. He was one of the greatest ever and as Magic said, there will never, ever be another Larry Bird. He was truly an amazing player.