Just how great was Boston Celtics legend and NBA Hall of Famer Larry Bird?
You know you’re a legend if your nickname includes the very word.
Larry Bird, also known as ‘Larry Legend,’ is one of the most famous faces in NBA history and is arguably the greatest player in Boston Celtics history – we can’t forget about Bill Russell.
Bird spent 13 seasons with the Celtics, leading Boston to five NBA Finals appearances and three NBA titles in the process – in 1981, 1984 and 1986.
Bird won Finals MVP twice and NBA MVP three straight years from 1984-86. He was a 12-time NBA All-Star and 9-time All-NBA First Team selection. He is the only player in NBA history to have two seasons where he shot 50 percent from the field, 40 percent from three and 90 percent from the free-throw line – in 1986-87 and 1987-88.
He won Rookie in the Year in 1980, All-Star Game MVP in 1982 and won the NBA Three-Point Contest three times between 1986-88.
The Last Dance has given us a glimpse into 1980s NBA basketball, but we haven’t seen too much of Bird and the Celtics outside of Michael Jordan’s 63-point playoff outburst against Boston in 1986 and when the Celtics walked off the floor after losing to the Detroit Pistons in the 1988 Eastern Conference Finals.
Part of the reason, however, is that the docuseries has focused mainly on the Chicago Bulls’ struggles overcoming the Pistons. But before that, the Pistons had to overcome Bird and the Celtics in a similar fashion.
From 1988-90, the Pistons defeated the Bulls in the Eastern Conference Playoffs en route to three consecutive NBA Finals appearances. But from 1984-87, the Celtics represented the East in four consecutive NBA Finals, defeating Detroit in the playoffs in 1985 and 1987 behind Bird.
Remember this play from Game 5 of the 1987 ECF?
A moment Celtics fans will never forget! 😱
— NBA TV (@NBATV) August 2, 2018
Bird averaged 27.1 points, 10.4 rebounds and 7.6 assists in that 7-game series.
So, just how great was Larry Bird? Skip Bayless and Shannon Sharpe compared Bird to current NBA great LeBron James on Wednesday, after LeBron gave a nod to Bird on his Instagram over the weekend.
“I think [James and Bird] are closer than people think,” Sharpe said. “LeBron scores the ball a little better than Larry. He can get downhill a little better than Larry could. I think Larry’s a better rebounder for the simple fact that Larry guarded people that were closer to the basket … I think Larry Bird is the second greatest small forward in NBA history behind LeBron James.”
"I don't think people realize how talented Larry Bird was. He could score the basketball when the 3-point shot was not involved. He finished 2nd in the MVP race 3-straight years before he wheeled off and won 3 consecutive MVPs…He was dominant."@ShannonSharpe pic.twitter.com/bumP6Ejwiy
— FOX Sports (@FOXSports) May 6, 2020
In his Instagram story on Sunday, James said, “MAN HE WAS SO COLD!!!! CRAZY SKILLS. #LARRYLEGEND #ANYERA”.
Bayless said that Bird was in fact, colder than LeBron, dating all the way back to college.
“Larry Bird took a bunch of nobodies at Indiana State all the way … to the national championship game against Magic Johnson. That was extraordinary. And then, he rose up again in the NBA and became Magic’s arch rival … Larry Bird was a little better rebounder than LeBron … Obviously, Larry was a much better shooter than LeBron ever dreamed of being … LeBron was right. This man was so cold that he was even a little colder than LeBron has been.”
"I rank LeBron all time at #9. #8 on my list is Larry Bird. Larry Bird was just a little better than LeBron James has been through almost 17 years. Killer will, mental toughness, clutch gene — Larry Bird was a bad man." @RealSkipBayless pic.twitter.com/FtHUxoEhM8
— UNDISPUTED (@undisputed) May 6, 2020
Bird and Los Angeles Lakers great Magic Johnson indeed ruled the NBA for the better part of the 80s. From 1980-89, the Lakers made the NBA Finals eight times and the Celtics made it five times.
Bird holds career playoff averages of 23.8 points, 10.3 rebounds and 6.5 assists.
Former NBA player Jay Williams said Thursday that Bird’s size and shooting ability would translate across all eras, and that Bird would be as much of a force today as he was decades ago.
“I think he might average 30 [today] … He could get anywhere he wants to be and shoot over smaller players and he was one of the most crafty players the game has ever seen. I think his game translates to any time period.”
You’d be hard-pressed to find someone who didn’t think Larry Bird was one of the greatest of all-time and couldn’t have played in today’s game.
Larry Bird was a problem 🔥
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) May 3, 2020
He even had nights where he challenged himself in-game.
In 1986, Larry Bird decided to play left-handed against the Blazers and “save his right hand” for the Lakers two nights later.
He finished with:
◽️ 47 PTS, 14 REB, 11 AST
◽️ 10 of 21 FG made lefty
That was a bad man.
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) May 5, 2020
Hopefully it’s clear now why Larry Legend’s doubters are few and far between – if they exist at all.