Larry Bird's 25 Greatest Career Moments to Honor Larry Legend's 57th Birthday
This is a man who won three championships, three MVPs and joined the 50/40/90 club while competing for a scoring title. He's as sure a Hall of Famer as there is, and he's usually found on most people's lists of the top 10 players in basketball history.
A lifetime member of the Boston Celtics, Larry Legend left an indelible impression on anyone who watched him play during the 1980s and the early portion of the 1990s, and he's doing the same for everyone who happens to see one or more of his highlights on YouTube or NBA TV.
Culling 25 greatest moments from a career full of them is an impossible task, but here's what we've got. I'm not embarrassed to admit that there are some missing; that's an inevitably because he had way more than 25 great moments.
Don't hesitate to leave your own favorites in the comment section below.
Note: These moments proceed in chronological order, and all stats, unless otherwise indicated, come from Basketball-Reference.
Left-Handed Bank Shot Against the Sixers
The entire Eastern Conference Finals between the Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers was intense, but no play was more memorable than the final made shot from the field.
With the game tied at 89, Bird sent the C's to the NBA Finals, where his team would face off against the Houston Rockets, thanks to the bucket you can see above.
A mid-range jumper off the dribble is tough enough. But making it under such ridiculous pressure while shooting with the wrong hand?
Well, that's something that only Bird could do.
Still No Idea How He Made This
It's tough to disagree with the title of the embedded video: "Larry Bird best play of his career."
The difficultly level of this shot is simply off the charts. And you thought the left-handed bank in transition was hard...psh!
As soon as the ball left his hands during this 1981 postseason contest, Bird knew that he'd missed the attempt. Beyond that, he knew exactly where the ball was going next. Just watch how early he takes off after the sphere has started on its upward trajectory.
Before anyone else could react, Bird chased down the rebound on the baseline, switched hands from right to left in mid-air and drilled the ensuing put-back attempt. No matter how many times you watch that sequence, it's still stunning.
Winning the 1981 NBA Title
The first NBA title of a superstar's career is always special.
For Bird, it came in 1981 after he and the Celtics beat the Houston Rockets in six games. Cedric Maxwell may have won Finals MVP thanks in large part to his 28-point, 15-rebound outing in Game 5, but that doesn't diminish what Bird did.
Although he struggled with his shot throughout the series, Bird closed it out with 27 points to finish the '81 postseason averaging 21.9 points, 14.0 rebounds and 6.1 assists per game while shooting 47 percent from the field.
And as a reward for all his efforts, he was able to hoist up the first of his three Finals trophies.
2-for-1 Record Special
On March 30, 1983, the Indiana Pacers were no match for Bird's heroics.
Despite the litany of great players who have thrown on a Boston uniform, all of them paled in comparison to Bird on that night. He broke Sam Jones' 28-year-old record of 51 points by dropping 53 against Herb Williams, Clark Kellogg and Co.
Amazingly enough, he needed only 30 shots to do that, thanks to a 21-of-30 performance from the field and perfection on his 11 shots from the charity stripe.
But that record—one that would only stand for a little while (more on that later)—wasn't the only one Bird would set that night. He also dropped 24 points in the third quarter, which remains the franchise record for most points in a single quarter.
Game 7 Triple-Double
The day? May 13, 1984.
The location? The Boston Garden.
The opponent? The New York Knicks, though there may as well have been no one else on the court other than Bird.
The Hick From French Lick began things with a fadeaway from the baseline, a left-handed bank that hit well above the square and a deep jumper, all in the first quarter. By the end of the fourth, he'd recorded 39 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists for a Game 7 triple-double.
It was the nail in the coffin, one that ended a hard-fought battle against the Knicks that saw Bird average over 30 points per game.
Game 4, 1984 NBA Finals
Talk about a memorable game.
This wasn't Bird's greatest performance of the 1984 NBA Finals—he struggled with his shot too much for it to be called that—but it became quite a memorable one. Though Kevin McHale clotheslining Kurt Rambis stole headlines and historical attention, it was Bird who hit the game-winning shot in overtime to even the series.
He finished with 29 points and 21 rebounds in that Game 4 outing, but no shot was more memorable than the most crucial one. After Magic Johnson turned the ball over, Bird fought for position and then hit a fadeaway over his archrival almost as soon as he touched the ball.
Winning the 1984 Title
Bird would go on to dominate the "Heat Game" the next time the Lakers and Celtics squared off, and that would help spur Boston on to the second title of his career.
During that Game 5 outing, the air conditioning wasn't working at the Garden, so the players were forced to endure temperatures that reached 97 degrees. It didn't faze Bird, who recorded 34 points, 17 rebounds and two assists in the 121-103 victory.
But it's not just that game that earns a spot. Instead, we have to immortalize the entire series, as it produced the second title and first Finals MVP of Bird's carer.
He finished the seven-game series averaging 27.4 points, 14.0 rebounds and 3.6 assists per contest.
Who Cares About Quadruple-Doubles?
"I already did enough damage. Why go for it if we're up by 30?"
That's what Bird had to say, according to Albert Lin in the Sports Illustrated archives, after he torched the Utah Jazz for 30 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists in the first three quarters of a February, 1985 contest. The small forward also had nine steals, so it wouldn't have been too difficult for him to record a quadruple double and join the exclusive fraternity.
But with his team up 24 points going into the fourth quarter, Bird didn't feel any need to chase numbers.
He never did.
He Should Have Got 60
On March 3, 1985, Kevin McHale broke Bird's single-game scoring record by pouring in 56 points against the Detroit Pistons. Right then, Bird knew that it wasn't going to be enough.
As relayed by The Tribune Star's David Hughes, Quinn Buckner—a former teammate of Bird—remembered the following:
I remember after Kevin scored his 56 points, someone asked Larry what he thought of Kevin getting 56 and he said, ‘He should have got 60.' Then Larry goes out and gets that number a few days later. It was one of those things where you just had to kinda laugh, knowing Larry.
Nine days later, that's exactly what Bird did. He went for 60 against the Atlanta Hawks to re-establish himself as the record-holder.
1986 Three-Point Contest
It's one of the most famous trash-talking stories that features Larry Bird. And that's saying something, as you could sit down and regale a crowd with hours of tales about his legendary mouth.
Before the 1986 Three-Point Contest, Bird walked into the locker room and looked around at the collection of the league's best shooters. Then he said something along the lines of, "I'm just trying to see who'll come in second."
That would be Craig Hodges.
I don't even need to tell you who came in first.
Winning MVP (3 Times)
Let's combine three moments into one.
Larry Bird was named the league MVP three times in his career, and they all came in consecutive fashion. From 1984 to 1986, no one in the NBA could top him, and he racked up quite a bit of hardware.
In fact, Bird is one of only nine players to ever hoist up the MVP trophy at least three times in his career, joining Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Michael Jordan, Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, LeBron James, Julius Erving, Magic Johnson and Moses Malone.
But Bird, Wilt and Russell are the only players in NBA history to three-peat in the voting.
How's that for impressive?
Sure, Let's Go Lefty
How do you top 47 points, 14 rebounds, 11 assists and the game-winner with three seconds left in the fifth period?
You make seven left-handed shots, leaving everyone wondering just how ambidextrous a player could be.
Such was the case for Bird, who wasn't content to use only his right hand on Feb. 14, 1986 against the Portland Trail Blazers. Even though it was Valentine's Day, he wasn't showing Rip City much love during the one-point overtime victory.
A Masterclass Against the Houston Rockets
Let's begin with a couple quotes, courtesy of ESPN Classic.
The first comes from the mouth of K.C. Jones, who was coaching the C's at the time: "Larry Bird is where he wants to be. He has reached the pinnacle of basketball."
Second, we have Jim Peterson, who was playing for the Houston Rockets: "I saw him take on five guys by himself. He's the best. At times, he doesn't seem to need teammates."
These quotes were in reference to Bird's 29-point, 11-rebound, 12-assist game to close out the 1986 NBA Finals against the Rockets. But on top of those numbers, he was everywhere on defense and played with so much heart that he was even able to win a jump ball against Hakeem Olajuwon.
It was a true masterclass in every aspect of the game, and it allowed the Celtics to close out the season with a title and a remarkable 50-1 record in the Boston Garden.
Stealing a Game Against the Pistons
If the Detroit Pistons had won Game 5 of the 1987 Eastern Conference Finals, they would have had a chance to close out the series at home. Larry Bird wasn't going to let that happen.
In what would become one of the most famous plays of his career, Bird jumped the passing lane and stole the ball away from Isiah Thomas, who was inbounding it to Bill Laimbeer. Just as he was on the verge of going out of bounds, the forward whipped the ball to Dennis Johnson for a layup with one second remaining.
All of a sudden, the Celtics went from looking desperate to boasting a 108-107 lead with virtually no time left on the clock.
And it was all because Bird saw the whole floor and knew it was the right decision to leave his man.
Close of the 1988 Three-Point Contest
Let's allow NBA.com's Darren Misener to take it away, as this is his favorite All-Star memory:
No, this was Larry Bird, he would back up his words—something that meant a lot to a young basketball fan. It sticks with me to this day. After tying Ellis with 15 points and with the last ball, the money ball, in his hands Larry Legend fired and a second later with the ball barely off his fingers, turned and walked away with his index finger in the air.
Behind him the money ball splashed in and Bird remained the Man, not just of the Three-Point Shootout, but of basketball for many of us.
If that ball doesn’t fall, Bird’s gesture becomes a joke that would live to this day. But that was part of Bird’s charm, there was no way that red-and-white money shot was going astray
Shootout Against Dominque Wilkins
Who can forget the legendary shootout against Dominique Wilkins and the Atlanta Hawks during Game 7 of the 1988 Eastern Conference Semifinals?
No one who watched it. That's for sure.
'Nique got the best of the individual battle, recording a sensational 47 points, but it was Bird who took over down the stretch. He finished with 34 points on only 24 shots, but even more importantly, it was he who actually led his team to victory.
I can't describe his play down the stretch any better than the embedded video does. Regardless of whether or not you've seen the highlights, give that one a watch.
Game-Winner over Xavier McDaniel
At first glance, that play doesn't seem like anything other than yet another game-winner in a career filled with them. But nothing could be further from the truth.
Here's 4SportBoston.com's Stew Winkel on Bird's legendary jumper over Xavier McDaniel:
Bird then walked onto the court and told Xavier McDaniel, who was guarding him, 'I’m going to get [the ball] right here and I am going to shoot it in your face.' As McDaniel remembers it, he responded by saying, 'I know, I’ll be waiting.'
Then in about that exact same spot, Bird gets the ball and buries a shot right in McDaniel’s face, turns to Xavier and says, 'I didn’t mean to leave two seconds on the clock.' McDaniel said of that play, 'He wanted to shoot it with zero seconds on the clock. I just walked back to the sidelines, like damn.'
Other than "damn," what else can you say? There's a reason Larry Legend will always be remembered as a trash-talking phenom.
Rewinding the Clock
Injuries had kept Bird to only six games throughout the 1988-89 campaign, and it was abundantly clear that his back was going to prevent the 33-year-old forward from hitting the stride everyone had become so accustomed to over the years.
Or so they thought.
Then he turned back the clock against the Atlanta Hawks on Nov. 10 in front of a capacity crowd at the Boston Garden.
During the 117-106 victory, Bird recorded 50(!) points, 13 rebounds and seven assists, shooting 19-of-25 from the field and 11-of-12 from the charity stripe. There would be no repeat of the shootout against Dominique Wilkins, either.
Bird's defense—and the efforts of his teammates—held the Atlanta star to only eight points on 2-of-14 shooting.
Merry Bleeping Christmas
History has immortalized this moment a bit incorrectly, as the game in question wasn't actually on Christmas Day, but rather Dec. 26, 1990.
Before the game, Larry Bird told Chuck Person—with whom he had a lengthy individual rivalry—that he had a Christmas present for him. Well, Larry Legend got the better of the Indiana Pacer throughout the night, recording 22 points, seven rebounds and 12 assists that just made Person's line look awful.
But the coup d'etat came when Bird hit a three-pointer late in the fourth quarter, then turned around to look at Persons, who was sitting on the bench. As the ball fell through the net, he had only three words to say.
"Merry [word I can't print here] Christmas."
Even More Rewinding
A few years later, Larry Bird looked washed up on some nights.
During the 1990-91 regular season, he averaged 19.4 points, 8.5 rebounds and 7.2 assists per game while shooting 45.4 percent from the field. It was arguably the worst season of his career.
But then the playoffs rolled around, and the 34-year-old forward started to play like vintage Bird in the first round against the Indiana Pacers.
He recorded a triple-double in a Game 1 victory, then checked into the local hospital to have his back looked at. The next three performances were modest, and it looked like his postseason could be over during Game 5 when he hit his head on the parquet floor of the Garden during the second quarter.
Except it's Bird we're talking about.
He ran out of the tunnel following halftime, then proceeded to take over, finishing the game with 32 points, nine rebounds and seven assists, shooting 12-of-19 from the field. So much for Father Time or fears of a broken jaw.
Just go ahead and fast forward to 6:43 in the embedded video if you don't feel like watching all of Bird's heroics on March 15, 1992. Heavens know why you'd want to skip them, though.
That off-balance three-point shot that could have turned into a four-point play sent the nationally televised game against the Portland Trail Blazers to overtime, and the C's would eventually emerge victoriously with a double-overtime win.
But that was by no means Bird's only impact on the game as he helped stave off Clyde Drexler, who dropped 41 points that night.
The Legend finished with 49 points, 14 rebounds, 12 assists, four steals and a block for the 59th triple-double of his remarkable career. It was his last, and it may very well have been one of his best, especially because no player has ever scored more points in a trip-dub.
Only 15 games have ever seen a player record 40 or more points in such a performance. Bird claims three of them, and only he and Michael Jordan have put up at least 47 points in a triple-double.
Bird did so twice.
Back injuries plagued Bird throughout the 1991-92 season, and he even sat out four of seven games against the Cleveland Cavaliers during the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
It was the last time the future Hall of Famer would suit up in the NBA, but that doesn't mean he was done with his basketball career.
Instead, Bird joined the Dream Team in Barcelona for the 1992 Summer Olympics. As you probably know, that's one of the most famous—and best—basketball squads of all time. It wasn't until after he averaged, according to NBA.com, 8.4 points per game en route to winning a gold medal that he announced his retirement from the NBA.
Bird may not have been the star of that team, but it was certainly a highlight in a legendary career.
"There will never, ever, ever be another Larry Bird."
Nothing more needs to be said.
Making the Hall of Fame
Sure, it was a foregone conclusion that Bird was going to be enshrined in the Hall of Fame, but that doesn't make it any less special.
Bird was inducted in 1998, and you can view his official HOF biography below:
In 1979, when Larry Bird joined the Boston Celtics, he launched a new era in basketball, both in Beantown and throughout the NBA. Bird got his start in a small Indiana town, where he led Springs Valley High School to the state sectional championship. In 1979, Bird led Indiana State to the NCAA Championship Game. Turning pro at a time when the league and the Celtics needed a boost, Bird and fellow rookie sensation Magic Johnson rejuvenated the NBA world. Bird's court savvy, deft passing and clutch shooting forever redefined the small forward position and turned the Celtics into winners. When Bird retired in 1992, he held or shared 27 Celtics' records and brought three more NBA championship banners to Boston (1981, 1984 and 1986). At the end of his legendary 13-year career with the Celtics, Bird's famous number 33 jersey was retired by the team.
Now let's end on a lighthearted note, as Bird produced one of the most memorable sets of commercials in NBA history.
This is the less famous of the two—you've surely seen the first part of this series—but it's hilarious in its ridiculousness. Not only does Charles Barkley make an appearance, but Jordan and Bird make even more impossible shots than they do in Part 1.
Then again, if we've learned anything from remembering his career, it should be that impossible doesn't exist for Larry Legend.
You can doubt his ability to make a shot from outer space, but he may well make you pay for that belief.
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