"The Hick from French Lick." "Larry Legend." Larry. When Larry bird burst onto the national basketball scene in 1979, leading his unheralded and unknown Indiana State Sycamores to the NCAA national title game against the publicity machine that was Earvin "Magic" Johnson and Michigan State, few observers felt that Larry was much more than a very good college player. Talented, yes, but too slow, too weak, too reliant upon his outside shooting- too this, too that.
A generation later, Bird is widely, almost universally, viewed as the greatest small forward to ever play in the NBA. Ever. He is mentioned in the same breath with Wilt Chamberlain, Michael Jordan, Lebron James and yes, Larry's old friend and nemesis, Magic. The kid from small-town Indiana became the toast of America's premier NBA franchise, the Boston Celtics, and carried not only Boston but all of New England along for his incredible ride, a ride that came to an end with 3 NBA titles, 5 NBA Final's appearances, 3 MVP awards and too many jaw-dropping moments to count.
The Boston Celtics are, were and always will be known for their roster of Hall of Famers. Red Auerbach. Bill Russell. John Havileck. Kevin Garnett. Even Bill Walton got in on the act as a Celtic. But Larry might have been the best of them all.
Larry Bird was that rare player ("A rare Bird") who made the players around him better. When he arrived in Boston for the 1980 NBA season, after his thrilling journey through the NCAA tournament the previous spring, the once-proud Celtics had just completed a terrible season, limping home at 29-53. The team that Auerbach, Russell, Cousy, Havlicek and Cowens had built was a shambles. The NBA record 13 titles seemed but a distant memory.
Then Larry happened. In that first season, the Celtics improved their win total by 32 games and the best record in the Eastern Conference. The Celtics lost in the conference finals to the 76er's but there was no question "Celtic Pride" had returned, embodied by their young 6"9" Small Forward. The very next season (1981) the Celtics won their first title under Bird.
Bird was considered the best passer in the game other than Magic, an incredible accolade for a forward. He was a fantastic rebounder, averaging over 10 boards in his career, and team defender (he averaged 1.7 steals per game for his career). But of course, he is best remembered for his scoring. Bird averaged over 24 points per game for his career and had one four year period where he averaged over 25 points (1984-88). In that span the Celtics won 2 titles, played in four Finals and Bird netted 3 MVP trophies.
Bird ended his career as a 12 time All-Star. He was a Finals MVP (twice), an All-Star game MVP, the Rookie of the Year, an All-Defensive team selection and a multiple NBA First-Team selection. Along the way he managed to destroy his competition in 3 straight 3-Point Shootouts, have his jersey retired by the Celtics and be named to the All-Time NBA team. He also found time to win an Olympic Gold Medal with the "Dream Team" in 1992.
Larry Bird was the Mother of all competitors. His rivalry with Magic is the stuff of legend and could (and has!) filled entire books. His trash-talking, which he almost always backed up, amazed and shocked his contemporaries. His last-second clutch shooting and heroics are too numerous to list. His competitive fire and drive to be the best were the gold standard among professional athletes of his time.
"The Hick From French Lick." "Larry Legend." Larry. All that and more, the "Birdman" will forever be remembered as one of the greatest players to ever put on the Boston Celtic's uniform and step out onto an NBA floor.