Larry Bird and the Little Things

Such is the legend of Larry Bird that you tend to forget the things that other, more human players end up becoming known for.

For instance:

Did you know that Larry Bird was the first player since Elgin Baylor who made it a practice to throw the ball off the backboard in order to get it back so he could lay it in? After Bird had done so in a 1982 game against the Bullets (getting himself a 3-point play), one of his teammates was aghast. "You should have heard McHale," laughed Bird. "He said, 'Damn, Larry. It's a close game!' "

And, to the question "Did Larry Bird ever goaltend?" the answer is "Yup." On Feb. 9, 1988, he goaltended an Akeem Olajuwon shot in the course of a 44-point (17-for-27) effort against the Rockets. This is the same Olajuwon he beat in a jump ball in the first quarter of Game 6 during the 1986 Finals. It defied the laws of physics, but Bird did it.

On Jan. 24, 1982, Bird had two up-and-down violations in the same period (third) during a home loss to the Portland Trail Blazers.

On Jan. 2, 1981, he went scoreless while shooting 0 for 9 from the floor during the famed "Eight Bricks and a Block" game in Oakland. Two nights later, he scored 12 seconds after the opening tap, hit his first six shots and had 33 points in a victory over Portland.

The Celtics were famous for the hordes of so-called Green People who cheered them from coast to coast during the Bird Era, but it may have reached a peak in 1988 when cries of "Lar-ree Lar-ree" came rolling down from the rafters . . . at Madison Square Garden.

Larry Bird had 61 teammates, not counting exhibition game mates. The tallest was Artis Gilmore, at 7 feet 2 inches. The shortest was Andre Turner, at 5-9 (or so).


The Kid said...

Sure Larry Legend was popular in New York, there are a lot of Celtics fans over here in NY.

Lex said...

Larry seems to be in a bit of "taken for granted" mode among celtics fans these days.

Garnett harkens back to Russell. Russell won more championships than Bird, and KG won a championship more recently.

A good book project would be to see exactly how good larry bird was from 79-87.

If you look back on this blog, we do know that Bird has two or three of the best five year team records of all time.

Larry deserves a period of reconsideration where he's at least pondered as the all-time best candidate.

Bert A. Ramirez said...

Lex, I think Larry Bird was the best player in the game from 1979 to 1988, when he averaged a club-record 29.9 points per game, or just before he underwent double-heel surgery and a back operation that eventually spelled the end of his career. And just to support this theory, the Celtics had the best overall record during the time Bird played for them in the '80s and early '90s, though the latter saw that record gradually plateauing.

For the record, there's no player in NBA history, including the great Bill Russell and Michael Jordan, who led his team to a better win-loss mark in the regular season than Larry. During the Bird era, the Celtics compiled a 751-315 mark, a remarkable .715 winning percentage that goes further up to .736 (660-237) when one considers only the games that Bird actualy played in.

By comparison, Russell's Celtic teams had a winning percentage of .704 (and nobody had a better clip in those days than Russ' teams) while Jordan's had a success rate of .685 (that even excludes MJ's two seasons with Washington and those two years in Chicago in 1985-86 and 1994-95 when he didn't play the full season).

To further emphasize Bird's value and influence, the Celtics never had a losing month when the 6-foot-9 forward was in the lineup, posting a winning mark for a record 61 consecutive months from 1979 to 1989, a string that ended only when Bird missed all but six games in the 1988-89 campaign after undergoing that double-heel surgery. In Bird's 13 years, in fact, the Celtics only had six losing months, five of them when he didn't play a single game. In the sixth (4-6 in April 1991), he was in the lineup in only three of his team's 10 games.

That winning record is one of the reasons I always believed Bird was a better player than Magic Johnson, who is often ranked ahead of him on many chroniclers' all-time lists.

But this fact is undeniable: Bill Russell is certainly the greatest winner in American team sports history and Michael Jordan may be the greatest player on both ends of the court in basketball annals but there's nobody who had a greater influence on his team's fortunes in terms of win-loss record than Larry Legend.

- Bert A. Ramirez

Michael Adams said...
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