clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Celebrating Happy Bird-day week for Larry Legend

As Bird turns 59, here are as many reasons (and a few more) illuminating why he was so legendary

Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

By Professor Parquet

On December 7, Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day, Celtic legend Larry Bird quietly turned 59. To celebrate his birthday week, here are as many reasons (with a few extra to grow on) reminiscing on what made Bird an all-time NBA superstar of the highest order.

1. Larry Bird is the #1 passing forward ever, hands down, with LeBron James and Rick Barry distant runners-up. No one rivals him in terms of creativity, court vision, anticipation, court awareness, unselfishness, touch and sheer passing acumen. He averaged 6.3 assists per game in his career, a record for forwards at his retirement.

2. Larry won two NBA Finals MVP awards, in 1984 and 1986.

3. Bird is still the only non-center to win three straight season NBA MVP regular season awards, from 1984-86.

4. Larry Legend carried Boston to four straight Eastern Conference crown from 1984-87, a feat not since surpassed and even more impressive considering how strong the East was in the 1980s.
He also won four NBA foul shooting crowns (1984/86/87/90), topped by a 93 percent season in 1989-90.

5. Larry led Boston to five NBA championship series appearances(1981/84/85/86/87).

6. Bird led the East to victory in six of his first seven All-Star Games from 1980-86. The only loss, in 1985 at the HoosierDome in Indianapolis, came when Bird had to leave the game in the second half after being elbowed in the nose and mouth by Adrian Dantley. The injury forced Larry out of the contest in his home state, and by the time he returned, the West had taken control.
In addition, six is the pick Boston used to select the relatively unknown Bird as a junior-eligible in the first round of the 1978 draft.

7. Bird wore number seven on the original Dream Team that stormed its way to Olympic gold at Barcelona, Spain in 1992.

8. Larry shot eight for eight from the foul line in game seven of the 1984 Finals to help beat Los Angeles 111-102 and win the 14th championship, one of the most memorable, in franchise history.

9. Bird was named first team All-NBA in each of his first nine seasons, a feat surpassed only by Bob Pettit with 10. Only season-ending double Achilles surgery in November of 1988 ended his streak early in season 10.

10. Larry averaged exactly 10.0 rebounds per game in his career. Bird yanked down 8,974 boards in 897 career regular season games from 1979-92. In 164 career playoff games, he upped that average to 10.3.

11. The number of three-pointers in a row Bird sank to beat Craig Hodges in the finals of the first NBA All-Star long distance three-point shootout at Dallas in 1986. Larry won the first three such shootouts, all in dramatic fashion.

12. Bird was named to the All-Star team in each of his 12 full seasons. Only in 1989, when he missed 76 games, was he not named to the mid-season classic.

13. Larry Legend drained all 13 free throws he tried in Boston's game 7 1987 Eastern semifinals 119-113 comeback win over Milwaukee.

14. Bird's 14-foot pull-up banker in transition in the final minute of game 7 in the 1981 Eastern finals broke an 89-89 tie and gave Boston a 91-90 win over arch-rival Dr. J and the 76ers. Also, 14 is the number of assists he doled out in game 6 of the 1992 eastern semifinals vs. Cleveland in his final home game.

15. The number of times Bird and Boston beat Johnson and the Lakers in 37 career NBA season meetings.

16. The number of NBA Finals game wins Bird led Boston to over five championship series.

17. Twenty-three days past his 35th birthday, in his final season Bird pulls down 17 rebounds in a win at the Clippers. Two days earlier, he grabbed a season-high 19 caroms at Denver. Larry grabbed more defensive rebounds in the 1980s than any other forward.

18. The longest win streak Boston enjoyed in Bird's career, a club record at the time set in 1981-82. Ironically, Bird came off the bench as a sixth man for much of the streak as he returned from a fractured cheekbone courtesy of a Harvey Catchings elbow.

19. Bird scored 19 points, grabbed 12 rebounds and passed out five assists to win MVP honors as he led the East to a 120-118 win in the 1982 All-Star Game at New Jersey.

20. Larry scored 20 points and grabbed a dozen rebounds to help Boston defeat the Lakers in game seven of the epic, thrilling 1984 NBA Finals.
Two years earlier in the 1982 eastern finals vs. Philly, Bird grabs 20 rebounds and scores 20 in a 114-85 game five blowout of the 76ers.

21. Bird yanks down 21 rebounds in both game one of the 1981 NBA Finals vs. Houston (a 98-95 win), and again in game four of the 1984 Finals at Los Angeles (a 129-125 overtime victory). Both victories were critical to winning the crown each year.

22. The number of points the ambidextrous Bird scores LEFT-HANDED in a 48-point outburst at Portland in 1985.

23. Bird scores his career All-Star Game high total of 23 points in the 1986 classic. Despite adding eight rebounds, seven steals and five assists in the East win, Isiah Thomas out-polls him to deny Larry his second ASG MVP award.

24. The number of days he spent on the campus of Indiana University as an unheralded freshman in 1974 before dropping out. Leaving IU and the conservative offense of Bob Knight allowed him the freedom to create he enjoyed at ISU that he would not have had at Indiana.
Also, 24 is the uniform number he briefly wore as a fifth-year first baseman on the Indiana State baseball team, and roughly his career NBA regular season ppg average (24.3). Larry also averaged 23.8 ppg in 164 career playoff games, which is exactly two full NBA seasons.

25. In his first year on the Indiana State varsity, unheralded sophomore standout Bird leads the Sycamores to 25 wins against just three losses by averaging 32.8 points and 13.3 rebounds a game. However, because they were a new member of the Missouri Valley Conference, they were ineligible to represent the MVC in the NCAA tournament. The Sycamores instead went to the then-prestigious NIT and lost 83-82 to Houston, led by Otis Birdsong.

26. Larry Legend averages 26.7 ppg in the epic seven-game win over Philadelphia in the 1981 Eastern Conference Finals, arguably the greatest playoff series in NBA history. Boston rallies from 1-3 down to win the series, becoming just the third team in league annals to do so, up to that time. The Celtics win game five 111-109, game six 100-98, and game seven 91-90 on Bird's bank shot in the final minute.

27. The number of points Bird averaged in winning Finals MVP honors in 1984. Also, the total he tallied in the title-clinching sixth game of the 1981 NBA Finals.
In addition, 27 is the total number of games Bird did not start in his NBA career over 897 regular season contests.

28. Bird averages 28.7 points a game in 1984-85, and 28.1 ppg in 1986-87. In 1986-87, he becomes the first NBA player to author the 90-50-40 triple crown of shooting by making 91 percent from the foul line, 52.5 percent overall from the field and 40 percent beyond the three-point arc.

29. The number of points Bird scored in the title-clinching sixth game of the 1986 NBA Finals blowout of Houston. He also grabbed 11 rebounds and dished out a dozen assists to win series MVP honors.

30. With McHale injured for the first 21 games, in his age 32 year of 1987-88 Larry picked up the slack and recorded his highest pro ppg average, rounded up from 29.9. Bird finished third in the NBA in scoring that year behind Jordan and Wilkins, who each shot much more. It remains the highest-scoring single season in Celtic history.

31. Rookie phenom Bird drains nine shots in a row and ends up with 31 points and 12 rebounds as the Celtics beat the 76ers in game two of the 1980 Eastern Conference Finals, 96-90.
Also, the number of NBA Finals games Bird played in five title series.

32. The jersey number at UCLA, Portland and the Clippers worn by superstar center Bill Walton. Big Bill was the only player Bird's mom recalled Larry looking up to and emulating as a high schooler - primarily due to his unselfish, superb passing. Later, Walton became Bird's teammate and good friend on the Celtics from 1985-87, winning a title together in 1986 on arguably the greatest team in NBA history. He had to wear 5 in Boston because 32 was taken by Kevin McHale, Bird's 12-year Hall of Fame teammate who also idolized Walton growing up in Minnesota.

33. Wearing jersey number 33, Larry led Indiana State to the 1979 NCAA finals with 33 consecutive wins. To put that achievement in perspective, the Sycamores are the last team - 36 seasons ago and counting - to reach the title game undefeated.

34. The number of points Bird scored in the sauna contest, game five of the 1984 Finals played in 97-degree heat and humidity at the old Boston Garden. Larry shot 15 of 20 from the floor, sank both of his trey tries, and snared 17 boards to lead the Celtics to a 121-103 blowout that put Boston ahead 3-2 in the classic series. Also, he scored 34 in the memorable 1988 game 7 shootout vs. Dominique and Atlanta.

35. In the heated 1979 NCAA semifinals vs. DePaul, Bird scores 35 points on an astounding 16-for-19 shooting night to lead Indiana State past the Blue Demons 76-74 and advance to the finals with a perfect 33-0 record. Bird adds 16 rebounds and nine assists in his tour-de-force performance, one of the greatest in Final Four history.

36. In a Sunday CBS televised game vs. the Clippers during his rookie season on January 27th of 1980, Bird scores 36 points and burns Joe Bryant (Kobe's dad) with a classic ploy. Having picked up his dribble on the left baseline as Bryant bodied up tight to him on defense, Bird faked a pass around Jellybean's right shoulder, pulled the ball back and quickly drained a jumper before the journeyman forward knew what happened. An angry Bryant, who nearly suffered whiplash reacting to the epic fake, was not amused as Boston won by 23.

37. Bird scores 37 points in each of the first two of eight straight wins over Chicago and Michael Jordan (he netted 38 and 41 in two others) Boston records during the 1986-87 season vs. the Bulls. During their mid-1980s heyday, Boston beat Chicago and MJ 17 times in a row behind Larry, who averaged 36 ppg against the Bulls that regular season.

38. Bird grabs a school record 38 rebounds as a Springs Valley High School senior in a game vs. Bloomfield.
Also 38 is the percentage, rounded up, that Bird shot from three-point land in his career (37.6). This was an era where players shot and practiced far fewer three's.

39. The number of points Bird bombed the Knicks with in game 7 of their 1984 eastern semifinals to lead Boston to a 17-point, series-clinching win over their ancient foe and one of his personal rivals at the time, Bernard King. Larry added 12 rebounds, three steals and 10 assists in one of his greatest playoff games ever. He drained 12-12 from the foul line and shot 13-24 from the floor.

40. Larry tallied 40 points in a three-point game one, first round series win over Cleveland to open the 1985 playoffs in strong fashion.

41. The number of minutes (40.6) ironman Bird averaged per game to lead the NBA in the grueling Boston 1986-87 title defense season. Decimated by injuries and the death of top pick Len Bias, Boston leaned heavily on Bird, who lost 17 pounds down the stretch of the season.
In the brutal 23-game 1987 playoff gauntlet Boston ran to a fourth straight Finals, punctuated by consecutive seven-game epics vs. Milwaukee and Detroit played over 26 days, Bird gutted his way through an NBA record 1,015 playoff minutes, playing 44.1 per game.

42. The number of assists Bird doled out in the 1981 championship series vs. Houston, nine more than any other player in the six-game win.

43. The clutch Bird scored 43 points against Detroit in game five of their 1985 eastern semis series to put Boston on top, 3-2. He also added 13 rebounds and five assists in the 130-123 victory, and the Celtics went on to eliminate Detroit in six.

44. In the final game of his college sophomore season, Bird scores 44 points and grabs 14 rebounds for Indiana State in the first Div. I post-season game in school history. But they lose 83-82 at eventual runner-up Houston in the NIT despite Bird canning 19 of 28 shots from the field.

45. Larry guns in 45 points at Charlotte in his penultimate season of 1990-91. The soon to be 34-year old drains 18 of 28 fielders, hits all nine free throws and grabs eight boards while dealing out eight assists in a 135-126 victory.

46. Over the last six playoff seventh games of his career, Bird makes ALL 46 free throws he attempts. Overall, in eight game seven showings, he shoots 57 of 60 at the charity stripe (95 percent).
Also, in his comeback season of 1989-90 Larry tears up Orlando with 46 points in a 130-127 victory. He sinks 19 of 33 shots from the field, passes out 10 assists and grabs eight rebounds at the old "O-rena."

47. Larry burns another favorite victim, Detroit, with 47 points on November 27, 1985. Boston won 132-124 as Bird hit on 17 of 33 from the floor and sank all 13 of his free throws.

48. Bird burned the Hawks for 48 points on his 28th birthday of December 9, 1984 in a 128-127 win at the Garden. Larry canned 20 of 32 shots from the floor, and eight of nine at the foul line while adding 14 rebounds.
Later that same season on Jan. 27, 1985, he again scored 48 and nailed a fading-out-of-bounds three from the deep left corner at the buzzer to beat another favorite team he loved to burn (Portland) - BY THE SAME SCORE of 128-127! He canned 17 of 28 shots, including two treys, and nailed all 12 free throws he attempted.

49. The number of points Bird scored in a March 15, 1992 double overtime 152-148 thriller win over Portland late in his final season. The point total is the highest ever amassed in NBA history for a triple-double.
In addition, Larry's running one-footed trifecta just before the buzzer forced the first OT. He also grabbed 14 rebounds and passed out a dozen assists in the win over the eventual NBA finalist Blazers.
He also scored a school-record 49 points in his final college regular season game vs. Wichita State, the first time Indiana State was featured on national TV - albeit in an NBC Saturday regional telecast.

50. On March 10, 1986 at Dallas, Bird scorched the nets for 50 points on 18-33 field goal shooting and 10-11 foul line accuracy. However the Celtics lost to the Mavericks, 116-115. Larry added 11 rebounds and five assists in their first-ever loss to the Mavs. Dallas was so excited about beating the champs that the team made a highlight video out of that game for posterity.

51. In the 51 regular season and playoff games the Celtics play during the 1985-86 season, Bird leads Boston to an incredible 50-1 record. The Celts go 40-1 at home, the best such mark in league history, and are a perfect 10-0 in the playoffs as they sweep to the club's 16th crown. After an early December loss at home to Portland, Boston wins its final 41 home games that season and post-season.
The 67-15 Celtics are regarded by many experts as the greatest team ever, with Bird and McHale at their peak, Parish and DJ playing at an All-Star level and Walton winning Sixth Man of the Year honors.

52. Bird shoots 52 percent from the field as a college junior, scoring 30 points a game while grabbing 11.5 rebounds and doling out 3.9 assists over 32 contests. He earns All-American status and Indiana State goes 23-9 after a 13-0 start elevates them to as high a ranking as fourth nationally.

53. Larry scores a then personal-best 53 points against Indiana on March 30, 1983. He scorches the nets on 21-30 field accuracy and splashes all 11 of his foul shots in a 142-116 blowout triumph. His outburst breaks the club regular season single-game record of 51 points set by Sam Jones.
On a lighter note, 53 was also the jersey number of pal and early 1980s Celtic teammate Rick Robey. Bird and Robey were beer-drinking buddies who frequently filled pillow cases with the excess brew from the post-game locker room spread for the duo to down later. Rick, seen as a bad influence on Larry, was dealt in 1983 for future Hall of Fame guard Dennis Johnson.

54. The number of points Larry scored in a high school game as a senior for Springs Valley.
Also, the number of minutes Bird played at age 35.5 during his final season in his epic 49-14-12 triple-double in the 152-148 win over Portland in mid-March, 1992.

55. In the 55 career home games Larry Bird played at Indiana State the Sycamores went 54-1, with the only loss coming to a fine Creighton team. ISU goes 81-13 overall in his three varsity seasons, where Bird scores 2,850 points (30.3 ppg) and grabs 1,247 rebounds (13.3) while dishing out 434 assists (4.6 avg.)

56. Bird guided Indiana to a 56-26 record and their first (and only) NBA Fnals appearance in 2000. He then retired after three seasons coaching the Pacers with a 147-67 regular season record (.687 win pct.). His teams also went 32-20 in the playoffs, winning seven of 10 series and going at least to the conference finals each year.

57. The average number of wins per season for Boston during Bird's career spanning 1979-92.

58. The number of wins Larry coached the Indiana Pacers to in his first season, a club record that won him Coach of the Year honors.

59. Larry's current age and his total number of career regular season triple-doubles, fifth all-time.

and two to grow on...
60. Larry poured in a personal-best and still Celtic club record 60 points vs. the Hawks in New Orleans on March 12, 1985. Bird shot 22-36 from the floor and 14-15 at the foul line. He would have had more if the refs hadn't disallowed continuation on a falling out of bounds 29-footer he rimmed in while careening into the Hawk bench after being fouled. He was so hot and made so many difficult shots in that game that even Atlanta players were high-fiving one another on the bench.

61. The combined number stat line (30 points, 12 rebounds, 10 assists and nine steals) Bird amassed in just THREE quarters of play in a 110-94 win at Utah on February 18, 1985.
With Boston up comfortably 90-68 after three periods, Bird declined to go back in the game to get one more steal in order to record the rare quadruple-double, and instead sits out the entire fourth quarter.
"I'd already done enough damage to them," he explained after the game.

To contact the author directly, you can email Cort Reynolds at

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for the Celtics Blog Daily Roundup newsletter!

A daily roundup of Boston Celtics news from Celtics Blog