Boston’s Best Bet | Larry Bird

In 1978, Larry Bird was drafted by the Boston Celtics in the first round. The Celtics Organization gambled on the youngster from French Lick. He was the sixth overall draft pick. Larry was drafted as a college student, attending Indiana State University. Despite being drafted into a professional basketball career opportunity, Larry went on to complete his senior year and continued to play basketball at the college level. The Celtics retained the right for him to join the team the following year. After being awarded several national collegiate basketball awards, Larry Bird relocated to Boston in 1979.

Larry Bird dominated the rookie class and was named the NBA Rookie of the Year for the 1979-80 season. Larry played his entire very successful career of 13 seasons as a member of the Celtics organization. The Celtics were crowned NBA Champions three times during Larry’s tenure as a Celtic player. The first championship win occurred during Bird’s second season.

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Consistency describes Larry Bird’s play best. He consistently scored an average of 20 points per game in eleven of his thirteen years on the hardwood. His career average was 24.3 points per game. He also averaged 10 rebounds per game during his career. He also achieved the triple-doubles status in fifty-nine games spanning his 13 year career. He ranks fifth in the NBA for this feat. Wilt Chamberlain is fourth with 78 over a 14 year career. Jason Kidd ranks third with 105. Magic Johnson ranks second with 138, spanning the same time as Larry Bird. Oscar Robertson holds the record for most triple-doubles. He accumulated 181 over a fourteen year career.

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Larry Bird’s sharpshooting skills were honed by repetition. He also practiced with his eyes closed. He did this while shooting three-pointers. His work ethic and perfectionist attitude made him a fan favorite. He was often seen diving out of bounds, over tables, and into the sidelines to chase a loose ball. Playing fearlessly tough basketball with a smile was his trademark. Stepping onto the court, he created excitement and accelerated the pace of the game.

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The Celtics had needed a superstar to redefine their program. Crowds and enthusiasm had dwindled during the late 1970s. The Celtics’ record speaks for itself. The 1977-78 season was wracked with losses. They only won 32 games out of an 82 game season, losing fifty games. The following year, the losing was worse and fans departed in droves. They lost 53  out of 82 games. The arrival of Larry Bird breathed new life into the organization. Bird had a history of drawing a crowd to previously low attendance games. His final high school game in a small town was attended by approximately 4,000 people. The games at Indiana State University became sell-out crowds. Students were standing in line for hours to get tickets for the game. The ISU team was undefeated until a run-in with Earvin “Magic” Johnson and his Michigan teammates in the NCAA Tournament Championship Game.  Magic burst Indiana State University’s bubble with a stunning performance, but Bird flew on into the NBA and crowds flocked to watch the Celtics play.

 

Larry Bird and Magic Johnson entered the NBA during the same season. Magic had won the NCAA Tournament and had an imposing presence on the NBA court, but Larry Bird’s inspiring accomplishments in the NBA designated him the NBA Rookie of the Year. He was invited for the first time to the NBA All-Star Game that year as well.

His first season in the National Basketball Association, the Celtics began a climb to the pinnacle from a drought-filled place. The Celtics won an additional 32 games and became division leaders. Larry Bird averaged 21.3 points per game during his rookie season. He pulled down an average 10.4 rebounds per game, and he became an excellent pickpocket on the court. Statistics show he was credited with 143 steals in his rookie year. Larry Bird’s skills also included three-point shooting. He made 58 field goals from beyond the arc. He was second in the league in assists, with an average of 4.5 assists per game. It was not long before Larry Bird made an appearance in the NBA Finals.

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The 1983-84 season was the culmination of Bird’s hard work during practice. That year, he was credited with an average of more than 7 assists and was nearly perfect from the free throw line at 90 percent. Averaging more than 20 points per game proved his mettle on the court. The Championship Series matched the Celtics against the Los Angeles Lakers. This was the first post-season battle between Magic Johnson and Larry Bird since the fateful meeting in the NCAA Tournament. This time, the outcome was reversed. Larry Bird and the Celtics overpowered the Lakers in the seven game series. Bird scored 34 points during the Celtics’ Game 5 win. He also had an outstanding shooting night during Game 7. He earned a double-double. He scored 20 points and snatched 12 rebounds off the boards. His outstanding performance earned him the title of Finals Most Valuable Player. The next year was a rematch in the Finals, but Larry Bird was suffering from injuries to his elbow and fingers. The Lakers won in six games, but Larry Bird walked away with the season’s Most Valuable Player award for the second year in a row. The third consecutive trip to the NBA Finals led to a Celtics win. Additional titles such as The Sporting News Man of the Year, the Associated Press Male Athlete of the Year, the NBA MVP, and the Finals MVP were bestowed on Larry Bird, the talented young man from Indiana.

— Marneen