For every game-winner Bird made, he dove into the first row after dozens of loose balls to save possessions for his team. For every highlight reel, how-the-hell-did-he-do-that pass, there was a simple swing pass that kept the Celtics’ ball movement crisp and led to smooth execution. For every award he won, there were hundreds of times he outhustled quicker players to get to a loose ball.
It was for that whole package that I loved Larry Bird. He was cocky, but he earned it. He was a 6’9 forward, but he was the best passer on the Celtics and maybe in the entire league. He was exceptionally gifted in so many areas, but he worked as hard as anybody in the league. He has some highlights that would make even Michael Jordan jealous, but his biggest contributions were often the so-called “little” plays that go unnoticed in the box scores. He was considered to be slow and unathletic, but he put together a career that is only rivaled by a very elite few.
Bird was a player who brought joy to the game of basketball. He was able to bring grown men to their feet, constant applause to an arena, and a sense of community to all of Boston. Because he was a selfless superstar, teammates loved playing with him. They revered him as much as any fan did, looked up to him like I did when I was a little five year-old shivering in a fit of unbridled excitement.
Since that first game, I’ve followed Larry Bird in every way I possibly could. I’ve rehashed all his moments on “ESPN Classic,” I’ve read and reread his autobiography, “Drive,” and I’ve watched “Larry Bird: A Basketball Legend” a million times. Worshipping him from the time I was three or four years old, I still get wound up every time I see one of his old highlights – even the ones I’ve seen over and over.
They take me back to that time when I was five, a bundle of innocent ecstasy among a crowd full of pleased spectators.
I don’t remember who the Celtics played that day, I don’t even remember if they won.
But I sure as hell remember the feeling I got from being in the same building as Larry Bird.
I’ve never met you, Larry, but if I did I would tell you how much I admired you, for the way you played, the way you worked, and the way you acted. You were a poor country boy who made it to the pinnacle of the sport I love through an unrivaled work ethic, and you can’t imagine how much I respect you for that.
Happy birthday, Larry. I wish you all the best.