It was announced yesterday that a Bill Russell statue will be built in the heart of downtown Boston at City Hall Plaza. There, the legacy of the greatest champion ever will live forever.
Russell has more than earned this statue, and in fact, it is quite overdue. Not only do his incredible on-court achievements, including his unparalleled 11 championships, stand out, but so do his off-the-court achievements, such as his fight against racism and the great strides he made in that area as the first African-American NBA coach and the recent Medal Of Freedom he was awarded by President Barack Obama.
He was the ultimate professional and champion, and still remains a model for all players.
But he is not the only Celtic that merits an honor as high as a statue in Boston. In the storied history of the Boston Celtics, with all of the great players that have put on Celtic green, two names stand above the rest.
The first is Bill Russell, for initially making the Celtics the most dominant team in all of sports, and the second is Larry Bird, for extending that dominance nearly two decades later. And, just as much as Russell, Larry deserves a statue.
In terms of tangibles, Bird had them all. For his career, he averaged 24 points, 10 rebounds, six assists and two steals per game. He also won three championships, three MVPs, was a 12 time All-Star and the list goes on and on. He won the NBA Coach of the Year award because, like Russell, he was also a successful coach.
But the case for Bird getting a statue is far different from that of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar asking for a statue for himself because Magic Johnson has one. In all of the tangibles, Kareem is superior to Bird, and as much as it pains me to say it, Kareem was a better player than Bird.
But a statue is earned through more than just statistics and trophies. And Bird, unlike Kareem, transcended just stats and trophies.
Like Russell, Bird was an ultimate winner. He was dedicated to winning basketball games, and would do whatever it took to do just that. Whether it was scoring, getting others involved, playing defense or crashing the boards, Larry would do any and all of those things on a nightly basis in order to win.
Not only that, his commitment off the court was unparalleled. He was, without question, the hardest-working NBA player ever, and possibly the hardest-working athlete ever. A friend of mine lived down the street from Bird during his days in Boston and recalled that every time you would drive by his house, he would be out shooting.
On top of that, he was also the toughest player to ever grace the hardwood. On numerous occasions, he played through pain unimaginable to the average person. He was dedicated to playing and winning, and no injury or pain was going to keep him from doing just that.
Also, like Russell, he was a dominant force during his time, and they both had great rivalries that transcended just themselves. Russell was constantly competing with Wilt Chamberlain. While Wilt was constantly putting up gaudy stats, Russell was constantly beating him.
But Bird's rivalry with Magic Johnson was perhaps more compelling because they both wanted the same thing. More than anything else, they wanted to win. This created some of the greatest games and series between the two of them and saved the NBA. It truly was the greatest rivalry in sports, and we will never see anything quite like it again.
He was also similar to Russell in the racial barriers he broke down. He is the greatest white player to ever play basketball, and made people forget about race when watching the game. He transcended color on the court.
Bill Murray said it best in Space Jam, when he informed Michael Jordan that, "Larry is not white. Larry is clear."
And unlike Kareem, who was one of the least fan-friendly players of all time, Bird was enamored with the fans, and gave back to them whenever he could with autographs and public appearances.
My father always tells the story of meeting Larry Bird and then witnessing him pitch wiffle ball to every little kid on the beach. To this day, he still talks about how nice and down-to-earth Larry was.
Larry deserves a statue, and I hope it doesn't take as long for him to get one as it did for Russell, because in that case, we would have to wait until the year 2034 to see one of Larry get built. If you ask me, his statue should have been built the day he retired.
The bottom line is this. Larry has made his case for a statue in the same way that Russell made his. Larry gave everything he had to the fans, and the city of Boston, both on the court and off it.
It is now our turn as fans, and as a city, to repay him by giving him everything that we have right back, and the highest honor we can give him is a statue in Boston.
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