On Monday, Boston Celtics icon Larry Bird celebrated his 64th birthday. The three-time NBA champion is well-known as one of the best players in NBA history, and has a laundry list of accomplishments and highlights.
The three-time league MVP had a career that very few players will even come close to replicating. “Larry Legend” is among a rare class of basketball players and deservedly so. In fact, the NBA recognized Bird in 1996 by adding him to their 50th Anniversary All-Time Team. Two years later, the Naismith Hall of Fame inducted him into their 1998 class. In addition, he became a two-time member of the Hall of Fame when he was inducted as part of the “Dream Team” in 2010.
The legend’s career accomplishments and accolades could go on forever. So to celebrate Bird’s 64th birthday, let’s look back and appreciate a handful of his best moments on the court.
“The Steal” in Game 5 of the 1987 NBA Finals
The Boston Celtics versus Detroit Pistons matchups in the ’80s were some of the most fiercely contended games in NBA history. One particular play during the 1987 NBA Finals highlighted how great Bird was as a passer, not just a shooter. Arguably his most famous assist and steal came in one hectic play at the end of Game 5.
For reference, if the Pistons had won Game 5, they would have been in the driver’s seat heading back to Detroit. With the series tied up at 2-2, a Pistons victory would leave them one win away from the NBA Finals. However, Bird had other ideas.
“Larry Legend” went from zero to hero within a matter of seconds as the game came to an end. With only 10 seconds left, the Celtics trailed 105-106. Bird drove to the lane trying to make a game-winning layup, but had his shot blocked as he reached the rim. Bird fell to the ground and the ball ended up out of bounds, with the Pistons taking over possession.
It looked like the game was wrapped up, especially since the Pistons just had to inbounds the ball and run out the remaining five seconds. But, Bird didn’t give up. Bird pounced on the inbounds pass to Pistons point guard Isiah Thomas. In a seamless motion, he stole the ball and passed to teammate Dennis Johnson who darted towards the basket for a quick layup. With one second left, the Celtics won the game and went on to win the series and the 1987 NBA Finals.
Bird Wins the 1988 3-Point Contest in Style
The Celtics legend is known as one of the greatest shooters in NBA history. Any argument on the topic will undoubtedly include his name. After already winning the previous two 3-point contests during All-Star weekend, Bird came back for the three-peat.
Before the contest, Bird engaged in some epic trash talk with his fellow competitors. He simply asked the other contestants before the rounds began, “Who’s coming in second?”
Of course, Bird moved on to the final round of the 3-point contest. Going into the last one-minute round of the event, Bird needed 16 points to beat Dale Ellis’ score. He had so much confidence in his shot, he famously kept his warm-up jacket on throughout the round.
Bird struggled a bit and had to make three out of his final five shots from the final rack. In true “Larry Legend” fashion, he missed the first two, but hit the next three in a row to earn his third straight title. Additionally, while taking the final shot, he went ahead and celebrated by raising his pointer finger high in the air since he knew his shot was going in.
“Larry Legend” Scores 60 Against the Atlanta Hawks
In March of 1985, another Celtics legend and teammate of Bird, Kevin McHale, broke Bird’s single-game scoring record. The big man dropped an impressive 56 points against a tough Pistons team, but Bird wasn’t having it.
Another teammate, Quinn Buckner, told reporter David Hughes of The Tribune-Star about Bird’s thoughts after McHale broke his record.
“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,'” Buckner recalled. “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.”
McHale held the Celtics single-game scoring record for only nine days before Bird promptly took it back.
Bird and the Celtics Top the Lakers in Epic 1984 NBA Finals
Where to even begin with such an epic championship series? During the 1980s, the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers ruled supreme over the NBA. The two juggernauts finally clashed that decade in the finals in 1984 and it did not disappoint.
Previously, the Lakers won championships in 1980 and 1982, and the Celtics won in 1981. Finally, NBA fans had the matchup they’d been waiting for. Fans were treated to the stuff that legends are made of during a series that took all seven games to decide the winner.
Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, Robert Parrish, Dennis Johsnson, and Danny Ainge of the Celtics went toe-to-toe with the “Showtime Lakers” who had Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabaar, James Worthy, Bob McAdoo, and Byron Scott. For perspective, eight of those players are in the Naismith Hall of Fame.
By Game 4 of the series, the Celtics trailed 2-1 in a must win matchup. The game was memorable for numerous reasons. McHale stole the headlines when he clotheslined the Lakers’ Kurt Rambis, which almost started an all-out brawl. But, Bird being Bird, he had an insane game dropping a vital double-double in a match that went to overtime. He scored 29 points and added 21 rebounds. Yet, he most importantly hit the game-winning shot to tie the series over Magic Johnson.
Game 5 became known as the “Heat Game” in Boston because the Garden’s air conditioning stopped working. The players suffered through 97-degree temperatures, but Bird dominated anyway. He scored 34 points, grabbed 17 rebounds and added two assists in the huge 121-103 win.
The Lakers won Game 6, forcing the series to go the distance to a Game 7. Bird and the Celtics finally prevailed, taking down the “Showtime Lakers” on June 12, 1984. Bird won his second of three championships and earned his first NBA Finals MVP award for his spectacular play. He finished the seven-game series averaging 27.4 points, 14.0 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game cementing his place in NBA history.