6.16.2013

Assessing Larry Circa 1985



He's a certified local treasure, like Sam Adams, James Michael Curley and Arthur Fiedler. It's conceivable that you might someday find yourself walking across the Larry Bird Footbridge to the Esplanade, or that you'll hear Officer Bill report that traffic is backed-up all the way to Larry Bird Boulevard.



In six years since moving from Terre Haute, Ind., to Brookline, Bird has delivered two NBA championships and become the first forward in the history of the league to win back-to-back MVP awards.

The Massachusetts State Bird did the impossible this year - he played better than he did in his 1983-84 MVP campaign. His scoring average went from 24.2 to 28.7, his shooting percentage from 49 to 52 and his rebounding average from 10.1 to 10.5. He led the NBA in minutes played and registered personal bests in blocked shots and three-point percentage.

Bird was also great theater. He had a thirst for the dramatic and rarely disappointed the Celtic fandom. On a team loaded with people who feel absolutely nothing at crunch time (Dennis Johnson, Cedric Maxwell, etc.), Bird had the iciest water in his veins.

He had consecutive buzzer-beater, game-winning shots against Portland and Detroit in January. One month later, he eschewed a chance for the second quadruple double in NBA history (30 points, 12 rebounds, 10 assists, 9 steals) when he sat out the fourth quarter of a blowout in Utah. Nine days after helping Kevin McHale to a franchise-record 56 points, Bird smashed the record with 60 against the Hawks in New Orleans. "I told Kevin he should have gone for 60," Bird said with a laugh.

A new public cockiness accompanied the dramatics. Insulted when folks said Robert Reid and Paul Pressey were "Birdbusters," Bird torched Reid for 48 and Pressey for 47 in the final month of the regular season. When Cleveland Cavalier fans chanted, "We Want Bird," at the end of a play-off victory over the Celtics in the Richfield Coliseum - a game Bird had to miss because of recurring pain in his right elbow - Bird promised, "They want me, they got me. Both barrels." He scored 34 points and had 14 rebounds and 7 assists as the Celtics eliminated the Cavs one night later.

As the playoffs progressed, it was obvious that bone chips in that elbow were giving Bird more trouble. He wouldn't acknowledge the pain and resorted to other weapons. He shot with his left hand, passed, rebounded and took the shots he had to take to keep the defense honest.

Twenty-eight years old, independently wealthy and internationally famous, Bird still has the personality and work ethic of a small-town factory hand. He reduces concepts to their simplest terms and hesitates to show you how much he has.

On the court, Bird remains the consummate teammate. He has never lost his direction. Every move is the right move, every decision is the right decision. There is only one goal. Winning.

"I really don't need anybody to build my ego," he says. "I've already proven that a white boy who can't run and jump can play this game."

His contract calls for five more seasons, and Bird indicates that he'll retire when it's up. That would make the 1984-85 season the exact middle (sixth of 11 years) of Bird's career. If 1984-85 stands as his peak, no one will feel cheated. Then again, maybe there's something better ahead. We all thought Bird's 1983-84 season would never be topped . . . but it was.

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