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NBA 75 Series: #8 Larry Bird

Updated: Aug 27, 2022

Coming in at #8 on my NBA 75 Greatest Players of All Time list is a man who dominated the NBA in the 1980s alongside Magic Johnson, where they formed a rivalry for the ages and won three straight MVPs; a man who has three titles to his name, is by far the baddest “white” boy to ever play the game, and is perhaps the second greatest Boston Celtic of all time, behind Bill Russell: Larry Bird! Bird was born on December 7, 1956, in West Badens, Indiana, to his mother, Georgia, and father Joe, who was a veteran of the Korean War. Bird’s parents were of Irish, Scottish, and Native American descent; weird how he ironically became arguably the greatest Celtic ever, don’t you think?

Bird was raised in French Lick (hence the nickname), where his mother worked two jobs to support Bird and his other five siblings after his parents divorced while he was in high school. Bird’s childhood would make him tough mentally, whether it was growing up extremely poor or the result of his father committing suicide a year after his parents divorced. So how did Bird deal with all this grief? He would use basketball as an escape from all his struggles at home and go on to star at Spring Valley High School, where he would dominate as a senior with averages of 31 points, 21 rebounds, and four assists per game to become his school’s all-time leading scorer.

Bird’s prowess in high school would help him receive a scholarship to play college basketball for the Indiana Hoosiers in his hometown. He would drop out less than a month later due to being introverted and shy and not liking big crowds. He decided to attend Indiana State University to play for the Indiana State Sycamores, after a year of enrolling at Northwood Institute and working at municipal jobs.

He was absolutely astounding in his three years as a Sycamore, averaging over 30 points per game throughout his collegiate career (30.3), according to Basketball Reference, which is absolutely absurd! He was also a tremendous rebounder, averaging over 11 per game each season and 13.3 for his career. Bird also was a solid passer for the Sycamores, with 4.6 passes per game, and defender, with 2.6 steals per game.

Bird was an absolute game-changer for the Sycamores, helping revitalize the basketball program by leading them to an undefeated 33-0 season until they met the Michigan State Spartans in the 1979 National Championship, who had (what would ultimately be his rival in the NBA) Magic Johnson. The Spartans would defeat the Sycamores 75-64 to win the national title, holding Bird to just 19 points on 7-of-21 (33%) from the field in the most watched college basketball game in history, with 35.1 million viewers on NBC that night.

Despite the bitter loss in the national title game, Bird still had an illustrious collegiate career, from being named the National Player of the Year in 1979, to All-American multiple times, to being named the MVC (Missouri Valley Conference) Player of the Year twice, and much more.

Bird would then move on to the NBA, where he was selected sixth overall to the Boston Celtics in the 1978 NBA Draft; however, he did not play in the NBA in the 1978-79 season because he did not sign with the team immediately, which allowed him to play his senior season at Indiana State that season, where he faced Magic in the title game, in what would be the beginning of a rivalry that would rejuvenate the fledgling NBA.

Bird signed a five-year, $3.25 million deal with the Celtics, the richest deal in sports history at the time. Boy, did the Celtics get him at such a bargain because he immediately turned the Celtics into title contenders his rookie season by helping them improve their record to 61-21, a 32-game improvement from the previous season.

He averaged 21.3 points, 10.4 rebounds, 4.5 assists, and 1.7 steals per game for the season, which helped him become an All-Star as a rookie and be named Rookie of the Year as well. He also was an All-NBA First Team selection as a rookie! Talk about a transformational player. The Celtics were eliminated by Julius Erving and the Philadelphia Sixers in the Conference Finals. However, it didn’t take long for Bird to reach the pinnacle, and the Celtics would win a title in 1981 with Bird, the great Nate “Tiny” Archibald, rookie Kevin McHale, and Robert Parish, all of whom are Hall of Famers.

Ultimately, he became the “Hick from French Lick” or “Larry Legend.” The rival to Magic’s Showtime Los Angeles Lakers of the 80s, Bird was a cold-blooded assassin in the clutch, never fearing the moment, no matter how big it was. Despite lacking elite athleticism, Bird made up for it with a deft shooting touch, a high basketball IQ, and the knowledge of how to use his body. He is arguably the greatest passing forward ever, alongside LeBron.

The 1984 Celtics are among the greatest teams ever, playing with Hall of Famers Kevin McHale, Robert Parish, and Dennis Johnson. He won three straight league MVPs (84-86), one of only three players to ever do that (the others are Wilt and Russell). He is a 12-time all-star, a three-time champion, two-time Finals MVP, 10-time all-NBA, All-Star Game MVP, NBA ROTY, three all-defensive teams, and he won the three-point shootout three times. He is also one of nine players to become part of the vaunted 50-40-90 club, doing it twice in his career.

He and Magic helped save the NBA, in what was an imperative time for the league that looked like it was going to go out of business. They helped usher in what is considered the golden era and the start of the modern era of basketball which saw great players like Michael Jordan, Hakeem Olajuwon, and others come into the league. Fan interest skyrocketed, and the Celtics and Lakers formed a compelling rivalry for the ages.

Bird and Magic will forever be linked together, and rightfully so. But one thing is for sure, the “Hick from French Lick” is simply the baddest white boy to ever play the game!

He just might be the coolest Bird you’ll ever know.

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