Larry Bird is widely regarded as one of the greatest basketball players in the history of the NBA. Younger fans have developed the belief that Larry Bird was a player who simply shot from the outside. Older fans know better. To simply cast Larry Bird as an unconscious long distance shooter is to ignore the best parts of his game.
The “Hick from French Lick” as he was often called, was a different breed of basketball player. He really could do it all. At 6’9″ with the ball handling skills of a guard, Bird would and could play every position on the court. He could take inside. He could shoot the three. He was an outstanding post player. He could find the open man as good as any top point guard, often dazzling fans and bewildering opponents with an array of no look and touch passes. In his best seasons, he was as unstoppable as any player in the game has ever been. Tommy Heinsohn said that watching Larry Bird during the 1985-86 season was like watching “a cat play with a mouse.”
Many people will point to Bird’s scoring average and say that he wasn’t that dominant. This does a disservice to his all-around game. Any avid Celtics fans, watching during the mid-80s, knew that Larry Bird could go off for 40 a night whenever he chose. He was so good during those seasons that he could pick and choose his spots and when he wanted to score. The fact of the matter is Larry Bird’s scoring average demonstrates his greatness as a team player. Bird left points out on the court every night. Because he was a championship oriented player, Bird involved his teammates. People playing around Larry Bird knew that if they simply worked hard and got open, they were going to get opportunities. Bird knew that by giving his teammates opportunities, they would work harder because they were happier and more satisfied with their role on the team, thus leading to greater possibilities for winning. Stats were not that important to Bird. He was more concerned with winning.
And win the Celtics did during the Larry Bird years. They reached the finals in 5 out of 7 years, winning three titles. They were eventually dethroned in 1988 as Eastern Conference Champions by the Bad Boy Pistons, who would play in 3 straight finals and go on to win titles in 1989 and 1990. However, even in those later years, Bird was still a force to be reckoned with. Because Bird “mopped the floor with his body” as Artis Gilmore once told him, injuries got the best of him at a young age. He played until age 35, the last 5 years of his career being riddled with injuries. Many a Celtics fan has wondered “what if” when thinking about what might have been had Bird been fully healthy during those later years.
Larry Bird’s career per game stats:
Rebounds: 10 Assists: 6.3 Points: 24.3
Video: Larry Bird: A Basketball Legend