5 Stories On Why Larry Bird Was the Greatest

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“I’d go back to the playgrounds of Detroit and those guys would ask me, Is Larry Bird really that good? And I’d answer, ‘Larry was so good, it was frightening.’ [Magic Johnson]

 

Every NBA subplot this year – the Warriors 73 wins, Kobe’s retirement, the current playoffs – has proven there is one incontrovertible fact about professional basketball: people go bonkers if you put anything other than “Jordan” next to “Greatest”. I know, I know. My opinion is minority. I don’t care. I have watched the NBA like a hawk for over 30 years and Larry Bird and Magic Johnson are 1A and 1B for greatest ever. For all sorts of reasons, like how both could control a game without taking a shot. I’d put Jordan 3rd and I’m sure that renders my opinion void to many, but that doesn’t bother me. That’s how I see it.

This isn’t an article about statistics. For the big three of points, rebounds and assists per game, Larry Bird was a career 25-10-6 player. He consistently shot 50% from the field, 40% from three and 90% from the line. He took a 29 win team and made them a 61 win team in his rookie year. This isn’t about putting his career accomplishments in the right context. All of his career stats are affected by the years at the end of his career when his back was done. By his own words, people told him he would cut his career short because he would not stop diving for loose balls. But Bird would not change the way he played. (Another reason why he’s the greatest). He could have easily twice as many championships if he gotten to play Shawn Kemp in the Finals instead of the Kareem/Magic/Worthy Lakers. Or if Len Bias hadn’t died. Or if he would have stopped diving for loose balls.

But Bird was much more than statistics and facts. He was stories. Stories that prove how rare a talent he was. Stories that prove he was, as Kenny Smith told TMZ one time, the best trash talker ever. Stories that prove he was a killer from Day One in the NBA and didn’t need six years of losing (because Bird was never on a mediocre or losing team) to develop that reputation. I could tell a thousand of these and I hate to leave any out. I could tell of the time he scored 20 on 9-10 shooting in the fourth quarter vs. Atlanta in Game 7 of the 87 Eastern Conference semis to out-duel Dominique Wilkins. Or the time he outscored Dr. J 42-6, which sparked a fight between the two. Or the time he got bored on a road trip in Portland and scored 27 points through three quarters shooting with his left hand1.  Or the time he walked into the locker room of the first ever three-point shooting contest and said to his competitors, “Which one of you ladies is finishing second?” before he proceeded to win that year and the next two years2. But those stories can wait for another day. Magic used to say that on the basketball court, he feared no one.  Except Larry Bird. These five stories capture that greatness to me like no others.

5. The Concussion Comeback

Towards the end of his career, Bird was a mess of injuries. He would wear a back brace at night when he slept, get up and go to practice or to the game, and then come home and put on the back brace again. In 1991, the Celtics were tied 2-2 in a five game first round series with the Indiana Pacers. The night before Game 5, Larry Bird spent the whole night in the hospital due to pain in his back. But Larry would have played in a wheel chair if he to, so he was in the line-up. Just before halftime, Bird made a bad pass that got stolen and in an attempt to save the ball he dived on the floor but slipped and slammed his head in the Garden parquet floor. He was diagnosed by the team trainer with a concussion and was told his night was over. With Bird out, Boston got down in the 3rd quarter to the Pacers. The players were dejected and the crowd was restless. But Bird defied orders and when the trainer turned his back, walked out of the training room and back onto the court.  Like the Calvary.  The crowd came alive.  The mood in the building shifted. And with 32 points, Larry Bird led the comeback to win the series3.

4. Calling himself and his teammates ‘A Bunch of Sissies’

Bird didn’t enjoy the limelight and was a man of few words in the media. But when he did speak, what he said had potency. And after enduring an epic 33-point Finals massacre in Los Angeles in Game 3 of the Finals in 1984, Larry didn’t mince words. He said he and his teammates played like a bunch of women. And this is part of what made Bird such a great player and leader. Instead of being offended by this, his team responded to having their manhood challenged. McHale clotheslined Goggles Rambis. Cedric Maxwell taunted James Worthy with a choking symbol. Bird didn’t just talk it, he walked it by getting in Goggles Abdul-Jabbar’s face at one point and shoving Michael Cooper unnecessarily on an in-bounds play. These things changed the tone and the direction of the series completely, as Boston forced overtime just one game after being blown out. And for good measure, Bird nailed the clutch shot of the game, breaking a 123-123 tie in the final minute of OT, which proved to be the winning shot. The Celtics won the series for their second championship in four years.

3. The Xavier McDaniel Game-Winner

Xavier McDaniel tells this story with a sense of awe, which is what makes it so good. Bird was notorious for telling guys he was going to shoot it in their face and then doing it, but no one has a version quite like this one.

Boston was tied on the road at Seattle late in the game and Boston called TO. Celtics coach K.C. Jones called a play for Dennis Johnson but Bird nixed it in the huddle4. He determined he would get the ball. When they broke the huddle, he walked up to McDaniel, who was guarding him and said, “I’m getting the ball. And I’m going to shoot it right here in your face and win this game.” And then the play happened, Bird got the ball and shot it in the same exact spot he told McDaniel he would and made it, exactly as he told McDaniel he would. And won the game. And McDaniel says Bird looked at him as if to say, “I didn’t mean to leave 2 seconds on the clock.”

2. “The Steal.”

Isaiah Thomas is one of the greatest point guards in NBA history and was good at making decisions and coming through in the clutch.  But in Game 5 of the 1987 Eastern Conference Finals vs. Boston, he had a chance to seal the game with a simple inbounds pass after Bird had lost the ball out of bounds with five seconds left. And Thomas did inbound the ball, making a simple pass to a wide open Bill Laimbeer just a few feet away from the Boston basket. But out of nowhere, like a superhero, Bird flew in and stole the pass and assisted to Dennis Johnson for the winning bucket. I’ve watched this play a million times and you can clearly see Bird break on the pass before Thomas threw it. That was Larry Bird in a nutshell.  He was the Mentalist on the hardwood, two or three moves ahead of everyone else5.  Teammate Danny Ainge would say years after the game, “They forgot about Larry Bird.”

1. Setting the Garden record with 60 points.

Kevin McHale scored 56 points to break the Boston Garden record in 1986. Larry Bird immediately predicted the record would fall6. And less than two weeks later, Bird went out and scored 60 vs. the Atlanta Hawks on an array of shots that has to be seen to be appreciated. The story from that night is that Larry was so hot, he was calling his shots every time down the floor, taunting the helpless Hawk players trying to guard him (“glass,” “from the wing,” “Where do you want this one?” etc.) and near the end of the game called “from the trainer’s lap.”  And he came down and got fouled about 27 feet from the basket, threw the ball up, the shot went in and he fell in the trainer’s lap–on purpose–on the sidelines7. Cameras caught two Atlanta players, Cliff Levingston and Eddie Johnson, going nuts in amazement on the bench after that play, standing up, high-fiving, laughing, because they could not believe what they had just seen8. To quote Quinn Buckner, Bird’s teammate in Boston at the time: “Larry was so good that night, the Hawks were giving each other five.”

So if you give me one pick to start a basketball team of any era, I will go with Bird.  Not even a question.  Because not only would have the greatest player ever, I’d have the greatest stories to tell.

 

 

  1. For good measure, he went back to his right hand in the fourth and finished with 41 points and a triple double.
  2. The following year fellow participant Dale Ellis said Bird was quiet before the competition. Bird’s response: “There was no need to talk. We all knew who was going to win.”
  3. I have all the respect in the world for Michael Jordan.  But this is why the Flu Game (which was more accurately ‘flu like’ symptoms) doesn’t impress me that much. Bird never did things like fall into the arms of a teammate dramatically to show the world his pain. Bird just played without all the hysterics.
  4. As it’s told by Jones, he told them the play was for DJ and Bird said, “No. Give it to me and tell everyone to get out of the way.” Jones said, “Larry, you play. I’ll coach.” And then said, “Okay, we’re giving it to Larry and everybody get out of his way.”
  5. James Worthy once stated that he’d rather guard Michael Jordan than Bird for this reason.
  6. This is how I know Bird could have averaged 35 PPG for a season or 30 for his career.  He was too unselfish. Except this one time.
  7. The shot didn’t count, but it was real and it was spectacular.
  8. Hawk players say that  Atlanta coach Mike Fratello called a team meeting after the game to show the video of the two guys celebrating over and over and then to reprimand them for cheering for the other team. He fined them both $500.

Gowdy Cannon

I am the pastor of the bilingual ministry of Northwest Community Church in Chicago. Our church is intentional in trying to bring English and Spanish speakers together in worship and community. My wife, Kayla, and I have been married two years. I teach ESL (English as a Second Language) classes to adult immigrants in my community. I am, at times, a student at Moody Theological Seminary in Chicago. I love The USC (the real one in SC, not the other one in CA), Seinfeld, John 3:30, Chic-Fil-A, Dumb and Dumber, the book of Job, preaching and teaching, and arguing about sports.

51 thoughts on “5 Stories On Why Larry Bird Was the Greatest

  • April 29, 2016 at 9:17 am
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    Arguably Larry Bird is my favorite player of all time. No doubt, one of the greatest ever. You’d definitely want him and Magic on your team. Good article, Gowdy. You definitely know your sports.

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    • April 29, 2016 at 10:07 am
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      Thank you Steve. I’m actually a bit embarrassed that I have a shelf full of sports biographies – Bird, Holtz, Spurrier, Marino, the 1966 NCAA Basketball Championship – but very few other kinds of biographies. I watch unhealthy amounts of Bird stuff on Youtube. I got the Worthy quote from the ESPN SportsCentury documentary series. Which I’ve seen like 12 times.

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      • May 17, 2017 at 7:15 pm
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        Larry bird is the greatest all around player. Not johnson not jordan.jordan overrated.

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  • April 29, 2016 at 10:03 am
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    Gowdy, thank you! Great, great, great article. And it just happens to be 100% true.

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    • April 29, 2016 at 10:07 am
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      Thanks, Len! I fully expect to be lambasted.

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  • April 29, 2016 at 10:10 am
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    “He could have easily twice as many championships “.,,

    This is where your argument falls apart badly. Because Magic does have twice as many championships. And Magic played against the supposedly greatest player? It’s just a silly argument. Every little anecdotal story you have for Bird can be matched with stories from Magic.

    The line where Magic gives some respect to Bird with the “fear” line doesn’t negate all the other facts that Magic simply outshines Bird in any “greatest” conversation.

    As far as Jordan: that’s an odd outlook on the flu game. There were no “hysterics”.

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    • March 12, 2017 at 12:15 pm
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      Magic was a great player. But as someone else somewhere said, “Magic made the easy play look hard, while Bird made the hard play look easy”. That is, Magic brought attention to himself by over-exaggerating his passes and what-not, while Bird could make a difficult play look routine, and did not try to draw attention to himself. Also, Bird was a great shooter, while Magic was barely passable. And Bird was great on defense (bear in mind that in basketball, one-on-one defense is only one part of defense, and usually a minimal part at that — in the game, being aware of situations and using basketball IQ to foresee a play and disrupt it is more important), while Magic was not. Bird made several All-NBA Defense Second Teams, and had a great “defensive rating” (Top 100 all-time, I think?), while Magic’s was average or only slightly above-average, I believe. And Bird was a far better rebounder. So, I don’t know where you get the idea that “Magic simply outshines Bird in any ‘greatest’ conversation”.

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      • March 12, 2017 at 5:18 pm
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        Agreed! Some people just want to count rings.

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  • April 29, 2016 at 10:20 am
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    My point about Bird playing against the best was that he played against the “Kareem/Worthy/Magic Lakers” – Magic did not have to play against his own team. I also do not bash Magic in this article. He was 1B. The two players are virtually insperable. But Bird has the better stories to me. Hence, he’s my favorite and gets the article.

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  • April 29, 2016 at 10:33 am
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    And that image that Phill shared is a lasting image of that game. Everyone knows Jordan fell into Pippen’s arms because he was so exhausted. It all seemed played up to me.

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    • June 14, 2016 at 10:35 am
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      in his prime (first nine seasons), Bird was the dominator of the 80,s. Let’s see: 1980, Magic won the tittle and the MVP finals, but loss to Bird the Rookie award, and Larry was fourth in the MVP season, (won by laker’s Kareem Abdul Jabbar) while Magic is out of the nomine. 1981, Larry won the tittle and was second on the MVP season (Julius Erving first, Kareem third, Moses Malone fourth). Magic? 11° position. 1982, Magic won the tittle, but lost again to Bird in the valoration. Larry was second (again) in the MVP season and Magic takes the 8° position. 1983: Larry second (again), Magic third. 1984: Larry won the tittle against the Lakers of Magic and Kareem. Won the Regular Season MVP and won the MVP finals. Magic was third in the MVP RS and Kareem fourth. 1985: Kareem and Magic won the tittle, Magic was second in the Regular Season MVP, Kareem won the MVP Finals. Larry Bird won the Regular Season MVP again. 1986: Larry won the tittle, won the MVP regular season (again) and the MVP finals. Magic was third in the RS MVP (Dominique Wilkins was second). 1987: Magic Won finaally your first MVP Regular, won the tittle and the MVP Finals. Jordan was second and Bird third. For the FIRST TIME Magic have a better season than Bird. 1987: Magic won the tittle again, but Jordan came first in the MVP regular season, and Larry Bird second. The MVP finals was James Worthy. In 1989 Bird plays only 6 games, and never go backm to his prime again because his injuries. In his periode Magic won the RS MVP’s of 1989 and 90. So, in his prime, Larry Bird was almost ever over Magic Johnson. I´m only based in facts. No opinions or subjetives theories. See you

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      • June 14, 2016 at 10:56 am
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        The point of this article was to tell stories, not give a bunch of facts and stats. I tried to make that clear from the outset. Facts are great and I prefer them normally, but they can be slanted. The MVP is a subjective award so even within facts you have subjectives. Titles are team awards and while a player has great influence on it, I think the Lakers always had a better team than the Celtics did and it was Bird’s elite play that enabled them to win in 84. I could argue all day for Bird based on facts and stats as well. But I love his stories and wanted to tell them. Thanks for the comment!

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        • December 12, 2016 at 9:18 am
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          “Facts are great and I prefer them normally, but they can be slanted.” — Gowdy Cannon

          I find this comment extremely, amusingly ironic. Of course you prefer facts and stats when they fit your bias (Manning and Marino), but you ignore them when they don’t (Larry). You can’t stick true to your own criteria.

          But this was a well-written piece…from the heart. I admire that about you, Gowdy. I have heard all those stories about Larry Legend before reading this. In the words of Michael Wilbon, “Larry Bird was a bad man.” Complete respect for him. Definitely all-time starting 5, along with Magic, MJ, Lebron, and Bill Russell.

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          • December 12, 2016 at 9:38 am
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            I think the facts fit me for Bird, I was just trying to show some humility. I wanted to take a different route than using facts and data to make an argument. Because stories are fun and most of my favorite athletes don’t have these types of legendary stories. or if they do I don’t know them. All the Bird stories come from others and not from him.

            But thanks, I do love Bird. As Mike mentioned above, if he didn’t break down after year 9 or so, he would be higher up on most lists I think. But he wouldn’t change the way he played. And I love him for that.

          • December 12, 2016 at 10:05 am
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            Yes, I admire him for that, too. A true sportsman. But I also admire how an MJ did change his game (a couple times) in order to compete at a higher level. Both guys were extremely hard workers, which is why they are 2 of the best.

  • April 29, 2016 at 12:01 pm
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    I know you didn’t bash Magic but of course I would disagree with the “1B” status. But your point is Magic had to play against the “best” or the “greatest”. And he managed to win the twice as many championships that Bird couldn’t win.

    It seemed played up to you because you were predisposed to not like Jordan. I mean what was played up about it? You think Jordan said to himself, “I’m going to show the world my pain by falling into the arms of my teammate so a good picture will be taken and it will make me look great!”? That doesn’t make sense. Jordan never played it up at all. He was all business.

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    • April 29, 2016 at 12:08 pm
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      Bird played against the Lakers: Magic+Kareem+Worthy, etc. Magic didn’t play against the Lakers. Your counterpoint has no relevance to my argument. I also gave other reasons why he didn’t win more.

      As far as the “play up” the picture shows it. You have a child named “Jordan” so you are predisposed to see it how you want as well. And yes, your Jordan quote is exactly what I think Jordan wanted. It makes total sense. He got what he wanted – more cred for his reputation by an image. Images are everything is the US these days. Jordan was a marketing genius. Ever heard of Nike?

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  • April 29, 2016 at 12:30 pm
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    Jordan was a master at image and branding. That, coupled with his incredible skill level, is why he is still as beloved and revered as he is. But make no mistake, he knew exactly what that moment would do for his image.

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    • December 12, 2016 at 10:12 am
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      I disagree strongly with this notion. Which of us, competing in a youth sports league, or high school, or collegiate level sports ever thought during the climax of a single game about how our image was perceived when we were in the heat of battle, especially if it meant showing some sort of weakness or disability? I know I never did. I wanted the enemy to think I was at my strongest. MJ is way too much of a competitor to ever knowingly show fatigue or weakness. This wasn’t Lebron cramping up in the Finals. It was a warrior expending everything he had, even if it wasn’t at full strength.

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      • December 12, 2016 at 10:29 am
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        Jordan would never show true weakness. But that’s part of the point. He played it up to play mind games with his opponents and also (IMO) to have lasting images of himself for this game. Jordan wasn’t as sick as he came across in that game. But he played up how sick he was to his advantage.

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        • December 12, 2016 at 11:22 am
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          I do think he was that sick. He’s playing for a championship. We’re not talkin’ ’bout practice, we’re talkin’ ’bout the game itself, the championship, the one he goes out there and dies for. We ain’t talkin’ ’bout practice.
          Jerry Rice did the same thing in Super Bowl XXIX, playing with a fever and flu-like symptoms. He caught 3 TD’s. They willed their bodies to compete through the pain and sickness. The great players can summon up the physical strength when they need it because they are so mentally tough. It’s relying upon adrenaline and mind over matter. I have no doubt Larry Legend has done the exact same thing a few times, as did MJ. He just wasn’t quite as exhausted and dehydrated every game like he was during that one.

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          • December 12, 2016 at 11:52 am
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            I have no doubt he was sick and played inspired basketball. I also have no doubt he could have made it back to the bench without any assistance. I believe Bird would have denied any offers for assistance in this case. That is a fundamental difference between the two of them to me.

  • April 29, 2016 at 12:34 pm
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    Well I love your dedication to the conspiracy theory. I can assure you the “marketing geniuses” at Nike and their Ad agencies made some millions from their work—and they are happy to have people give Jordan the credit for that work. The truth is Jordan has never done anything successfully on his own except play basketball. You don’t really think he runs Jordan Brands at Nike do you?

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    • April 29, 2016 at 12:40 pm
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      Yep. That’s exactly what I said.

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  • April 29, 2016 at 12:56 pm
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    As far as I know, Jordan didn’t take the picture, and didn’t publish it in any newspaper or internet site. That has zero to do with being a genius at marketing. Just as the nuts and bolts of what happens at Nike isn’t what I’m referring to. None of your counterarguments are speaking to any point I am making. And, in other news, we are down to one of the most insignificant points of the whole 1700 words I wrote.

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  • April 29, 2016 at 12:57 pm
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    Getting back to the article…

    Bird was my favorite player of all time. But, his best days were almost behind him by the time I really started following the NBA closely. I do wish I had been older when Bird was younger. And I love these stories.

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  • April 29, 2016 at 1:03 pm
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    I love the stories too. They are more obscure than the Jordan stories, but they give the big picture. I’ve statted sports too much in my life. I want to tell more stories.

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  • April 29, 2016 at 2:12 pm
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    I didn’t speak to this in the article, but one of the things I appreciated about Bird was how he was above the whole race thing. No doubt playing in Boston and being white helped bring in white fans but it was never something he really embraced or thought much about – in his own words. He grew up playing against black players and he just was like them on the court. To hear 80s stars – of all races – speak about Bird in such reverent tones is cool to me. It was a good example of how skin color didn’t matter. Way too often, it does.

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  • April 29, 2016 at 3:21 pm
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    Good article, Gowdy. Bird’s first 8-9 years are as good or better than anyone else’s in league history. He won 3 MVPs and rookie of the year before Magic had ever won any individual awards, plus he had 3 titles. Then the injuries hit and he missed a lot of games and was never the same. I value longevity in any discussion of greatest ever so I am not sure where I would put him exactly, Top 5 for sure.

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    • April 29, 2016 at 3:30 pm
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      I think I would be happy if people would keep him in the Top 5 of a mythical “starting 5” of all time. Even if you put Lebron in, find a place for Bird. Do it. He deserves it. There were other change to the 1980 Celtics from the dumpster fire from the year before, but Bird was the key to the that turnaround. He makes everyone better. The McHale’s, the Maxwells, etc.

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  • October 27, 2016 at 12:46 pm
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    I consider Wilt Chamberlain as the GOAT, but I liked Bird and Magic (even though I hated the Celtics and Lakers with a passion in the 80’s).

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    • October 27, 2016 at 1:15 pm
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      Chamberlain definitely has good evidence behind him. It hurts that I never saw him play. Just a tad too young.

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  • November 20, 2016 at 9:38 pm
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    Heart and toughness help to define the “greatest”. On those counts, LeBron, for instance, does not come close to Bird.

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    • November 21, 2016 at 10:29 am
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      Good point! Larry was among the toughest.

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  • February 26, 2017 at 9:07 pm
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    Larry Bird played in parts of 13 seasons, the 1st 9 of which were relatively healthy. The last 4 during which he played 186 games and missed 142. Whether he was missing the last 76 games of the 1988-89 season because he had surgery on both heels or he was lying on his stomach in front of the Celtics’ bench (because he could not sit when he wasn’t in the game—or his lower back would lock up), Bird was just not the same player he was his 1st 9 years. His relative lack of longevity no doubt hurts him with many in GOAT discussions. But if we look at just those 1st 9 years when he was reasonably healthy—his claim to “best player in the world” is stronger than anyone else’s during that time period (which was a—if not THE—golden age in the NBA’s 70-year history). Consider that he beat Magic Johnson for ROY in a landslide in 1979-80. And that he finished ahead of Magic for MVP in 8 of those 9 years. And that Larry is just 1 of 3 players in the history of the NBA to be All NBA 1st Team his 1st 9 years in the league (Bob Pettit and Oscar Robertson are the other 2). And that Bird was either 1st or 2nd in MVP voting for 6 straight years (1980-81 thru 1985-86) something only Bill Russell has ever done. He won 3 straight MVPs (1983-84 thru 1985-86), something only Chamberlain and Russell have ever done. Bird also slipped in 3 straight All NBA Defensive 2nd Team honors—something Magic never did. I don’t thing our best and brightest sabermatricians have yet to create the metric that captures Bird’s value. Bird so far has not been properly valued by the stat community—-and yet he still had great stats. 20+ years after he retired, Bird was still the only player in the Top 10 in Postseason points, rebounds, assists and steals. The difference in the Celtics’ winning was so profound when he played (VSwhen he didn’t): the Celtics were 29-53 before he arrived and 61-21 in his 1st year (still the largest increase in wins with only 1 player changed in the starting lineup). Boston was 57-25 in 1987-88. The same players were 22-24 without Bird in 1988-89 to start the year before making trades. In 1991-92, Boston started the year 29-5. Then Bird hurt his back and missed the next 22 games. The same players that went 29-5 with Bird, then went 10-12 without him. Even a physically shot Larry Bird had an impact: during his last 1.5 seasons, in which he really fought back issues, Boston was 48-23 with Bird VS 20-17 without him. Bird played on GREAT teams. But they were only great with him playing. The same players who were 61-21 in 1979-80 with Bird were 29-53 in 1978-79 without him. The same players who were 57-25 with Bird in 1987-88 were 22-24 without him in 1988-89. The same players who were 77-28 in 1991-92 & 1992-93 were 30-29 in those same 2 seasons. Quick math on the results of Boston “with Bird” VS “without Bird” during these periods:
    Celts plus Bird: 195-74.
    Celts minus Bird: 71-94.
    That’s akin to 59-23 with Bird VS 35-47 without him. With the same players. Remarkable.
    Some of the other things I noticed & grew to appreciate about Bird: he could score 40 and be the player most likely to burn his skin on the floor diving for a loose ball as if his place on the team depended on it. He was not about numbers/ stats, yet his were very good—-and other players did not lose their numbers for him to get his. Some players manage to get theirs’—-at the expense of their teammates. Bird also did whatever was needed to win. Some great players play the individual game they like, and require their teammates to compliment them, even if what those players are being asked to do isn’t really allowing them to maximize their true strengths. Bird facilitated teammates, played to their strengths, and complimented them. Some stars get numbers for themselves, that if they weren’t there, 90% of those things would be done by somebody else anyway. Just looking at how much less winning was being done when Bird wasn’t playing tells me that he did things that were NOT being covered if he wasn’t playing. That’s what makes him great. The Celtics played 1 playoff series without Bird. They were swept. They played 5 playoff games without Bird. They lost every time. If I had my choice of any player that I ever saw play (and my watching goes back to the 70s), I’d pick Bird. If I couldn’t have him, I’d want Magic.

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    • February 26, 2017 at 10:39 pm
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      Excellent, Excellent comment. Compliments my article superbly with data I didn’t know.

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      • February 26, 2017 at 10:56 pm
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        Thank you. Full disclosure: I hated the Celtics & to a lesser extent the Lakers throughout most of the 80s. The Celtics in particular beat whomever it seemed I was rooting for. I became a Bird fan though, after he calmed the racial storm the media was trying to fuel after Rodman and Isiah said some knuckleheaded things following the shocking Celtics Game #5 win VS Detroit in the 1987 Eastern Conference Finals. At some point, you just have to acknowledge greatness.

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  • February 26, 2017 at 10:41 pm
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    A couple of things on Chamberlain (keep in mind that I did not get to watch him play live when I knew what to look for): he was so big, so athletic and so skilled that it just wasn’t fair to everyone—-so they changed the rules to pump the brakes on his dominance. He was ahead of his time, and in some respects this fact makes him a unique case for GOAT. With that said, we must be cognizant that while the widening of the lane because of Chamberlain’s dominance is a notch in his belt—that after the lane was widened from 12 to it’s current 16 feet, Wilt’s dominance was lessened to a degree. I think 36.8 ppg was the most he ever averaged with a 16-foot lane. And while this is very impressive, it’s not quite the 50.7 ppg he averaged with a 12-foot lane. Jabbar averaged as many as 34.8 ppg on a 16-foot lane. Jordan average 37.1 ppg with the current lane. So Wilt’s historically most absurd scoring marks are somewhat compromised. There are also a few head scratcher /Wilt stories for me. I’ll talk about this one: one year, Wilt played for a team that finished 31-49 and was last in the NBA in scoring defense. Wilt averaged 44+ppg, so the natural response is “well you can’t blame Wilt”. But can anyone is all honesty swear that Wilt was (A) doing what the team most needed from him? Or was he (B) showcasing his individual talents at the expense of his team? The pace that Wilt’s team played at helped him score 44 ppg, but that style completely neutralized Wilt as a defensive factor. My immediate reaction is that NO team in the early-mid 1960s with Wilt Chamberlain on it should be 18 games under .500 or be LAST in the NBA in scoring defense. They should be FIRST. With him playing rim protector and the shooting of the Era being what it was—-Wilt’s team should have been hard to score on. Instead, they were the easiest team to score on. Wilt was doing something wrong, frankly. Something that diametrically opposed what was best for the team and it’s chances to win. And this I hold against him. To what degree, I don’t know. Stories abound that he was hard to coach. I can’t say I know this to be true. Wilt’s team got a new coach the next season and with mostly the same players, finished 1st in scoring defense and I believe went to the NBA Finals (losing to the Celtics). Chamberlain’s FGA went down, his assists per FGA increased, his scoring dropped about 20%, but he was more of a defensive factor and the team won. Was the problem that Wilt was difficult? Or was the coach of the 31-49 team terrible? I don’t know. But it appears that a player scoring 44+ppg doesn’t always help the team as much as doing some other things might. And I think a greater player would have a better handle on what those things were. And DO them. JMO.

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    • August 5, 2017 at 2:45 am
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      Hi….thanks for the article, it was great. I disagree with the idea of Chamberlain being the greatest of all time. I followed the Lakers closely during the 60’s and the NBA in general. Several points….a. I read that the Lakers were asked to vote on whether they wanted Chamberlain to join the team and that the unanimously voted against it. b. having followed basketball from 1965 on…..I can tell you that Chamberlain was such a diva in so many ways. He was so thin skinned. If a sports writer said, “All Chamberlain can do is score points” ….then he would go out the next game and do almost nothing besides pass the ball. And he would say that after the game. He was one of the reasons the Lakers lost the Finals to the Celtics in 69 because he was feuding with Van Breda Kolf. Anyway…..great talent but he was not that great of a team player, IMHO.

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  • February 27, 2017 at 1:22 am
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    A little more on Magic & Bird. They are the only 2 players in NBA history to average 60+ wins for every 82 games played. Bird went to a 29-53 team. Magic went to a 47-35 team and played his rookie year with the league’s MVP in Jabbar. Bird’s center (Dave Cowens) was one of the 50 Greatest honored in 1997—but retired after 1 year with Bird. Meanwhile, back in LA, it was Kareem—not Magic—who amassed the most Win Shares for the Lakers from 1979-80 thru 1985-86. That period included 5 of Magic’s Finals appearances and 3 of his Championships. The Lakers were the team of the decade in the 1980s, but it wasn’t Magic over Bird as much as it was Magic and Kareem (and early on it was really Kareem and Magic). Bird had some wonderful teammates—-but none of them ever usurped Bird as the team’s best player or were ever mentioned in GOAT discussions like Jabbar was/ is. The Lakers were in 8 of the 10 Finals in the decade of the 80s, winning 5 Finals. Boston was in 5, winning 3. The Sixers were in 3, winning 1 and the Pistons were in 2, winning 1. The Eastern Conference cannibalized itself as the Lakers swept relative patsies out West—or executed the “gentemen’s sweep”, whereby they would go up 3-0 on some flotsam or jetsam team from Denver, Dallas or Utah, then lose Game #4 on the road and then close out the series in 5 as some combination of Milwaukee and Philly (and later Detroit & Atlanta) murdered each other over 7 games for the right to exhaust all their tanks against Boston in the Conference Finals so somebody could limp into the Finals against a healthier, more rested, waiting Lakers team. That’s got a little to do with the Lakers’ success, too. I recall the 80s Finals. Jabbar was eating the 2-headed Philly center alive (Caldwell Jones and Darryl Dawkins) and Magic was having a nice complimentary series as was Jamaal Wilkes. Jabbar hurts his ankle bad in Game #5 and rests up for Game #7 back in Inglewood, CA. The Lakers without Jabbar win the title in Philly after Wilkes and Magic score 79 points. And Magic is named Finals MVP. His Game #6 line reads 42 points/ 15 rebounds and 7 assists. Which is fantastic. But the truth is that Jabbar had 3 monster games in the series and without playing in Game #6, he still led everyone in points, rebounds and blocks. As a matter of fact, Jabbar was voted MVP, but the network made a couple voters change their vote to Magic for TV because Jabbar was 3,000 miles away and they wanted a trophy presentation. This is in Jabbar’s book. One of the voters who flipped even called Jabbar to apologize. Magic has gotten a lot of mileage out of that Finals MVP and he actually wasn’t the initial winner. The peculiar Finals MVP and his assisting Jabbar in those 1st two titles helped to supplement his resume in his rivalry with Bird early on as Bird was ROY, and 1st Team All NBA his 1st 9 seasons. Conversely, Magic was not All NBA 1st Team until his 4th year. He wasn’t even 2nd Team until his 3rd year. Things really got heated up for those 2 in 1983-84. To the great pleasure of the NBA.

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    • March 12, 2017 at 5:15 pm
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      More awesome info. This will all go in my files and I will use it when morons like that guy on Outkick the Coverage try to say that Dirk Nowitzki are better than Bird.

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      • March 28, 2017 at 11:28 pm
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        Dirk is a wonderful player. But he is no Larry Bird—and it’s not close. This is no insult to Dirk. Bird was just that rare player who could control a game without scoring… and he could score with anybody. Dirk has been very productive, but he doesn’t/ didn’t control games like Larry. I recall watching Bird play against the Rockets in the mid-80s and you can watch You Tube clips. Houston had Olajuwon and a healthy Ralph Sampson—and 30 years later, the NBA still doesn’t have bigs who ran like them, up and down the floor, dunking and blocking shots. Watch a You Tube video of them against Utah circa 1985. Utah was huge with Eaton and Kelley and Bailey and Jeff Wilkins—-and Sampson and Olajuwon just wrecked them. Then watch Bird against that same Houston team. He dropped 48 on them. Passed the ball to Parish for a dunk through Olajuwon’s legs! He scored inside, outside. And he’d grab 15 rebounds against them. Bird could make the best look silly. Dirk wasn’t THAT level. My only guess is that the folks who put Dirk above Bird or near him just really didn’t ever see Bird play live. It’s ignorance, really. There’s no shortage of people who have very hard opinions of Bird who were about 7 years old when he retired. Kinda foolish. JMO.

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      • August 2, 2017 at 6:31 pm
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        As much as I do admire Dirk Nowitzki and believe he was the last superstar to ever win a championship in a team that wasn’t a super team and how I think he’s top 15 all time no one is better than the greatest of all time Larry Bird

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  • March 12, 2017 at 12:27 pm
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    There will never be another Magic. There will never be another Bird. There will never be another Magic-Bird rivalry, with all of its levels. It was destiny.

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    • March 12, 2017 at 5:13 pm
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      Agreed! I doubt any rivalry has saved any pro sport like that one did.

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      • March 28, 2017 at 11:34 pm
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        It’s true. I remember going to the book mobile to buy my Pro Basketball Handbook every year when the NBA Finals were still on tape delay! With Bird and Magic, CBS started running live doubleheaders on Sundays. Game 1 was Boston VS someone and Game 2 was LA VS someone. They changed the league.

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  • August 2, 2017 at 6:41 pm
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    Thank you for the great read truely interesting however I just would like to ask you a few questions if you don’t mind
    1)Greatest Finals moment ?
    2)Greatest Trash talk moment ?
    3) Most underrated player right now?
    4)Most underrated player ever?
    5)Greatest players never to win a championship in a team?
    6)Bird or Magic ?
    7)Isaiah Thomas or Kyrie Irving?
    8)who’s triple double season was more impressive:Oscar Robertson or Russell Westbrook?
    9)do you agree with Oscars comments about how he hates people from this era throw away players from the eras before like they are nothing ?
    10)Kobe or LeBron?
    11)Who deserved the MVP in THAT season:Wilt averaging 50 (and scoring 100) in one game),Oscars triple double or Bill Russell
    12)Make the Greatest team of each basketball era an who would win?
    13)would you rather be the player who on the court never allows anyone on the opposition to score via lockdown defence (like Kawhi Leonard) or average 75 ppg
    14) Did Kevin Durant a traitor for leaving the okc? And who is the biggest traitor in the NBA ever and why
    Thank you.
    Regards,

    KD from Birmingham, England

    Reply
  • August 2, 2017 at 8:47 pm
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    Great questions! I’d love to read anyone’s answers.

    1. I think the greatest Finals moment was Jordan’s last shot in 1998. It was storybook perfect. I was rooting for Utah so it has no sentimental value to me; it was just great. If Magic hadn’t made the baby sky hook in 87 Game 4 I think Larry’s 3 to put them ahead would have been it.

    2. Just about anything of Larry’s. I’ll go with him telling all of the Lakers in 87 Game 4 he was going to make that three and there wasn’t a thing they could do to stop it. Bonus points because it was the Finals.

    3. Klay Thompson or Rudy Gobert.

    4. I want to say Larry because if he really is #1 then all these rankings I see where he’s 6th or worse make him underrated. Yet I’ll take him out since this whole article is about him and say Kobe or Dwayne Wade.

    5. Barkley. Stockton was never a true superstar to me and Karl Malone choked more often. Patrick Ewing wasn’t nearly as good as Chuck.

    6. Bird. But I respect Magic greatly.

    7. Tough one. I’ll say Isaiah since he has done more with less but Kyrie is on the way up and if he can carry a team far in the playoffs after he gets traded then I’ll say him.

    8. Tough because I have a hard time evaluating players before 1980. I didn’t watch and so I don’t know. I’ll say RW’s but while admitting era bias.

    9. Yes, I do but that cuts both ways. Older fans like me are constantly harping on how bad the NBA is right now even though it’s awesome.

    10. LeBron because I can’t escape the criteria that makes Bird the best. But Kobe is closer to LeBron and Jordan than most say.

    11. Again, not knowing the era it’s hard to say. But based on the criteria I use I’d probably favor Russell.

    12. 80’s would win. I’ll give line ups later.

    13. I’d rather score 75 and dish out 10 assists.

    14. No, he’s not because it’s his right. What LeBron did was worse though I don’t think any of them are traitors.

    Reply
  • August 3, 2017 at 2:13 pm
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    I didn’t watch the NBA before the 80’s wasn’t old enough. But from then until now I’d say Top 9 players from each decade would be:

    80s: Magic, Bird, M. Malone, Dr. J, Kareem, Isaiah Thomas, McHale, Worthy, Dominique
    90s: Jordan, Hakeem, Barkley, K. Malone, Stockton, Drexler, Pippen, David Robinson, Rodman
    00s: Shaq, Duncan, Kobe, Nash, Jason Kidd, Garnett, Iverson, Dwayne Wade, Nowitzki
    10s: LeBron, Durant, Curry, Westbrook, Leonard, Dwight Howard, Chris Paul, Anthony, Chris Bosh

    The 10s are at a bit of a disadvantage only having 8 years to this decade instead of 10, but most of those guys played a bunch in the 00s.

    I think Magic and Bird are too committed to winning to lose. Each of the 4 teams has incredible players. I see no clear weak team. But I see the two best players I’ve ever seen on the 80s team. It didn’t take them 6 years to decide they wanted to win.

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    • August 6, 2017 at 4:23 pm
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      Thanks for answering my questions but I think in my opinion the most underrated NBA player of all time is Dennis Johnson and if I need any proof Larry Bird said he was the greatest ever player he played with in fact I’ll leave the links to some awesome tribute videos I found I highly recommend you check them out :

      https://youtu.be/tQYs5rsSud0

      They have also made some other incredible videos such as:

      https://youtu.be/O4Td5QRfzj4

      https://youtu.be/maS9smxRubI

      https://youtu.be/4lHYvuCePbk

      https://youtu.be/tNZvNs6r800

      Also would be greatly appreciated if you carry on releasing great reads like this filled with not only stories but your opinion say make an article on if you think say D-Rose should’ve won the MVP over LeBron

      Also I realized I made a grammatical errors on my original post I should’ve put is Kevin Durant a traitor

      Thank you

      KD,15 from Birmingham , England

      Reply

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