Larry Bird turns 60 on Wednesday, and while the Boston Celtics great and current Indiana Pacers president of basketball operations hasn’t played since 1992, his impact is still being felt on the NBA today. There are a million reasons we love the so-called Hick from French Lick, but in honor of Larry Legend hitting the big 6-0, here are 10 of our favorites:
He's a winner
The Celtics were coming off a 32-win season when they drafted Bird sixth overall in 1978 and a 29-win season when he first played for them in 1979. Within a year, Bird had Boston back atop the division with 61 wins. By year two, Bird won the first of his three NBA titles, and in the mid-’80s, Bird won three consecutive MVP awards and took Boston to four consecutive NBA Finals, winning an additional two. For his career, Bird won an astounding 73.6 percent of the 897 regular season games in which he appeared, and during the 13 years Bird spent in the league, only teammate Robert Parish had more overall victories and only Magic Johnson totaled more win shares.
He's a legend
From the very start, Bird racked up awards, bringing home the 1979-80 rookie of the year in his first season, and over the course of his time in the league, Bird won just about every honor the NBA has to offer. In addition to those three consecutive MVPs — a feat matched only by Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain in league history — Bird was a two-time Finals MVP, a 12-time All-Star, a nine-time All-NBA first team selection and a member of the NBA's 50th anniversary all-time team in 1996. Two years later, he was inducted into the Hall of Fame, and then in 2010, they inducted him again, as a member of the 1992 Dream Team.
NBAE/Getty ImagesDick Raphael
He's an epic trash talker
There are so many stories about Bird’s reputation as an unmatched trash talker that it’s hard to narrow down a favorite. There’s the time he came out of a blowout against the Jazz one steal shy of a quadruple-double with a quarter left to play, then stated that he’d “already done enough damage” when asked why he didn’t ask to go back in. Then there’s the time Bird reminded a young Reggie Miller that “I’m the best (expletive) shooter in the league,” and the time he told Chuck Daly that he was “going to go for 60” if the Pistons coach didn’t put a man on him. (At the time, Bird was being guarded by Dennis Rodman, one of the greatest defenders to ever play.) On Valentine's Day 1986, Bird played a game against Portland left-handed, then scored 47 just because he could. He also once refused to shake hands with Dominique Wilkins, telling Wilkins, "You don’t belong in this league, homes," and even called his own Boston teammates “a bunch of sissies” during the NBA Finals — and there are plenty more tales where those came from.
NBAE/Getty ImagesDick Raphael
He's the original 3-point marksman
Bird entered the league at the same time as the 3-point line, and while the 3-pointer wasn’t nearly as widely-used then as it is today, Bird was one of the first to show how dangerous the shot could be. As a rookie, Bird finished third in 3-point percentage among players with at least 30 attempts (he made 58 of 143), and while he averaged fewer than one 3 per game for his career, there was no one who could shoot the deep ball better during his era. Case in point: When the league introduced the 3-point contest at the 1986 All-Star Game in Dallas, Bird started the night by asking the other contestants, “Who’s going to finish second in this thing?” then went out and won. Bird also won in 1987, then made it a three-peat in ‘88. In that contest, Bird never even bothered to take off his warm-up jacket, then walked off the court with a finger in the air before his contest-winning shot even fell through the hoop.
He defined clutch
Of course, Bird making big shots in big moments was nothing new. There was never much doubt who would have the ball for the Celtics with a game on the line — often, Bird even would tell opponents 1) that he was getting it, and 2) where he was going to shoot from — and over the course of his career, Bird made dozens of those buzzer-beaters and game-winners. He also could make huge defensive plays when the occasion required it, and he’s considered to be one of the clutchest players of all time.
NBAE/Getty ImagesAndrew D. Bernstein
He did it all
Bird was as well-rounded as they come, and there was very little he couldn’t do on a basketball court. In his NBA debut, Bird went for 14 points, 10 rebounds and five assists, and over the course of his career, he totaled 59 triple-doubles, still good for fifth in league history — though Russell Westbrook and LeBron James are closing in. If you needed him to score, he’d score (he had multiple 50-point games, including a 60-point effort). If you needed him to distribute, he was an amazing passer who could do that too (see his triple-double numbers), and with several 20-rebound games, the 6-9 Bird proved he could crash the glass with the best. Additionally, Bird made the league’s all-defensive second team three times, and to date he’s one of just seven NBA players to join the 50-40-90 club in a season by shooting 50 percent from the field, 40 percent from 3 and 90 percent from the free throw line.
His rivals respected him
Given his on-court accomplishments, it’s no wonder Bird’s rivals respected him so immensely, even if he gave them fits and regularly insulted them on the court. Bill Walton, Bird’s presenter at his Hall of Fame enshrinement, described Bird as “the hardest worker I ever saw,” and added that Bird was “the epitome of what it means to love this game and play it with passion.” Wilt Chamberlain went so far as to say that “If I had to have a forward to start a team, I would take Larry.” Magic Johnson, at his own Hall of Fame enshrinement, described Bird as “what a basketball player should be,” and Michael Jordan has described Bird as the greatest trash talker he ever faced — and that’s high praise coming from another of the league's Trash Talkers In-Chief.
NBAE/Getty ImagesAndrew D. Bernstein
He's a pretty good executive (and was a pretty decent coach)
Bird didn’t spend long coaching, leading the Pacers for three seasons starting in 1997, but he made the most of the opportunity before stepping down in May of 2000. In his first season on the bench, Bird set a franchise record with 58 wins (19 more than the year before), reached Game 7 of the conference finals and won Coach of the Year. The next year Bird was back in the conference finals, and in his final year, Indiana won its only conference championship since joining the NBA. Sure, a lot of the credit for his success goes to his assistants, who are widely regarded as having coached those teams, but Bird’s abilities as a delegator are nothing to scoff at either. That’s been evident during his two stints as a Pacers executive, as well. During his first, from 2003-12, he won the NBA’s Executive of the Year — making him the only person to ever win MVP, Coach of the Year and Exec of the Year — and during his career he’s been responsible for drafting Danny Granger, Tyler Hansbrough, Paul George and, most recently, Myles Turner. That doesn’t mean all of his decisions have been brilliant, as he facilitated the draft-day trade that sent Kawhi Leonard from Indiana to San Antonio and traded for Roy Hibbert, but overall, the good calls have outweighed the bad.
USA TODAY SportsTrevor Ruszkowski
He's a pop culture icon
Bird’s personality doesn’t exactly scream “movie star,” but he’s made appearances in several major basketball-related films over the years, including Blue Chips, Space Jam and Celtic Pride. In the ‘90s he also starred in the iconic McDonald’s “nothing but net” ad alongside Michael Jordan, then made an appearance in the 2010 reboot with Dwight Howard and LeBron James. And as the icing on the cake, Twitter’s bird logo — or “Bird” logo, rather — is named Larry, after Bird, as well.
- The Boston Globe - The Boston GlobeBoston Globe via Getty Images
He's active philanthropically
It’s not talked about much — and that’s by design — but Bird is quite engaged when it comes to charity, as well. He just likes to keep it quiet. “All of my donations are sort of made under the table,” Bird told Indianapolis Monthly in 2014 before a fundraiser at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. “I don’t need the publicity. I’m not doing it for the publicity. But I do care. And that’s what matters most.” That attitude, Bird says, is a result of his poor upbringing, and in a sport and a world where excess is so common, it’s refreshing to know that Bird hasn’t lost touch with his roots. “We were greatly benefited by gifts and different things throughout my life as a young child,” Bird added in the interview with Indianapolis Monthly. “So it’s only fitting that I give back.”