My first memories of the NBA are from the 1990 NBA Finals when the Detroit Pistons swept the Portland Trailblazers in 4 games to win their second straight NBA title. I then became a very big Isiah Thomas fan, someone who was a guard like myself who could take over a game at any time… unlike myself! I then became fascinated with the great point guards (Thomas, John Stockton etc), but the best of all time and my favourite PG ever was Magic Johnson. To be able to do what he could do at his size was video game like, and I couldn’t get enough of it. I purchased the Johnson video “Always Showtime” on VHS and wore it out, watching it over and over again much to the dismay of my mother! But I then felt I was cheating on Magic… I found a new NBA love.
Larry Bird has been connected to Magic Johnson since their epic NCAA title game in 1979. Since that day they met in the NBA finals 3 times with Magic’s Lakers winning in 1985 and 1987, Bird’s Celtics taking the crown in 1984. Even though “Always Showtime” was a video about Magic, Larry Bird was featured quite prominently. This is when he became my favourite NBA player of all time.
I guess I saw a little of myself in Bird, a kid from the country who became consumed by basketball once it came into his life. Someone who would play on whatever court was free and stay for hours, whether it be with friends or by himself. Someone who wouldn’t care if it was stinking hot or pouring rain, there was always time to take some shots. Of course, I’m sitting here blogging about it while Bird went on to become one of the 10 greatest players in NBA history! But his story captivated me like no other athlete before or since.
I’ve owned 2 Larry Bird jerseys and would love to add either a 1992 Olympic jersey or an Indiana State NCAA jersey to my wardrobe (if my wife read this, she’d get the hint!). I’ve owned the Bird biographical movie “A Basketball Legend” (both on VHS and DVD) and have watched the 1992 game against Portland where he scored 49 points in a double OT classic more times than I can count. There are 2 things that endear me to Larry Bird… his overall story and the way he plays the game of basketball.
You always hear about pro athletes that overcome odds. Family tragedy, poor neighbourhood, trouble with the law etc etc. Larry Bird appeared to be someone who never sought out the spotlight. He was part of a family that battled to make end meet, giving him a work ethic that would help him reach the near immortal status he holds in the NBA community. A glowing testament to his reserved personality was walking away from one of the most prestigious college basketball programs (Indiana) and deciding on a small town college (Indiana State) that prior to Bird’s arrival had NEVER played in the NCAA tournament.
Bird then headed to the Boston Celtics, a franchise that had won 13 of the 30 NBA championships held since the 1949-50 season. So, needless to say, he had a little bit to live up to! So… how did he do?
- 3 NBA titles
- 3 consecutive MVP’s (only Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain have ever done that)
- 2 time NBA Finals MVP (1984, 1986)
- 9 time All-NBA first team
- 12 time NBA All Star selection
- Only player in NBA history to average at least 24 ppg, 10 rpg and 6 apg over a career
- 1 of only 8 players to shoot at least 50% FG, 40% 3PT and 90% FT (only Bird and Steve Nash have done it at least twice)
- Member of the Gold Medal winning 1992 US Olympic team
- Inducted to the NBA Hall of Fame in 1998
Pretty well I’d say!
But for me, that only tells part of the story. As someone who has never been a one-on-one player I take pride and appreciate good team play. There weren’t many better games than watching Chicago and Utah in consecutive NBA Finals (1997 & 1998) where the ball would move as well as any team has in NBA history. With players like Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and John Stockton on the floor you were watching some of the greatest players ever and their ability to get their teammates involved was wonderful. The Golden State Warriors of the past 2 seasons are cut from a similar mould. Even though the individual brilliance of Stephen Curry is almost unparalleled, they rack up assist totals most current teams can’t match.
The best highlights I remember from any Larry Bird game are the terrific passes he would make to the likes of McHale, Parish, Johnson etc. Some have no right to even be tried let alone result in an easy hoop for the Celtics… but it happened time and time again. I like to think that the best part of my game is my passing (not much of a creative scorer!) and I have the great players like Bird to thank for that.
It’s almost sad that the game has become so reliant on the 3 point shot that players like Bird, so dependant on ball handling and fundamentals, are almost a thing of the past. All players want to do these days is to stand 23 feet from the hoop waiting for a pass. This is why I don’t hesitate to play my “A Basketball Legend” DVD whenever I feel a little nostalgic. And that is why Larry Bird is my favourite NBA player of all time.