Skip to main content

Larry Bird and Bernard King each had themselves quite a year during the 1983-84 season. The two found themselves as the frontrunners of the MVP race. Bird’s all-around game led the Boston Celtics to the best record in the NBA at 62-20. King’s explosive offensive game helped carry the New York Knicks into the playoffs.

In fact, the two stars squared off against each other in a heated battle in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. It was an intense series that featured two teams that didn’t like each other. It also featured fights, flagrant fouls, and ejections. The series went seven games, with Boston prevailing. Although the MVP winner hadn’t been officially announced yet, Celtics forward Kevin McHale let everyone know who won during that series.

Larry Bird and Bernard King put on a show in the 1984 playoffs

Bernard King of the New York Knicks in action against Larry Bird of the Boston Celtics during an NBA game circa 1985 at the Boston Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. | Focus on Sport/Getty Images.

The 1984 conference semifinals proved just how important homecourt advantage was. Bird’s Celtics squared off against King’s Knicks in the econd round of the postseason. Fortunately for the Celtics, they were the top seed.

The home team won every game of the series, and both stars shined at various moments. King was clearly on the minds of the Celtics. The offensive-minded guard averaged 42.6 points in the best-of-five series against the Detroit Pistons in the previous series. The Celtics insisted that wouldn’t happen against them.

 “He ain’t getting 40 on us,” Cedric Maxwell said then, per Sports Illustrated. “We’re going to stop the b***h.”

Early on, Max was right. King had 26 points in Game 1 and then 13 in Game 2 as Boston took a 2-0 series lead. Boston might have gotten too confident after the first two games.

“They’re in the grave and we’ve got the shovel in our hands,” Celtics forward Kevin McHale said after Game 2. “We’ve just got to keep pouring dirt on them.”

King scored 24 in a 100-92 victory in Game 3. He then exploded for 43 in Game 4 as the Knicks evened the series with a 118-113 win.

“We held him, we pushed him, we were draped all over him,” Maxwell said. “The guy was just unreal. The shots that Bernard hit are shots that not too many people are going to hit.”

King went for 30 in Game 5, but the Celtics cruised to a 121-99 win. In Game 6, King hit the 40-point mark again, netting 44 in a 106-104 win, but Bird outscored King 39-24 in Boston’s series-clinching Game 7 win.

Kevin McHale unofficially announced the MVP winner after Game 7

Throughout the season, Bird and King led the way in the MVP race, with Magic Johnson a distant third. King averaged 26.3 points and 5.1 rebounds. He also shot 57.2% from the floor in 77 games. Bird put up 24.2 points and 10.1 rebounds while shooting at a 49.2% clip in 79 games.

During the playoff series, the MVP race was on the minds of many.

Each time Bird went to the foul line at the Boston Garden, Celtics cans chanted “M-V-P.” Whenever King took a foul shot at Madison Square Garden, Knicks fans did the same. It was a tight race, and the winner was still about a month away from being officially announced.

McHale took the decision-making process into his own hands after Boston clinched the series with the Knicks after a convincing 121-104 win. In that game, Bird went 13-for-24 from the floor and 12-for-12 from the line. He finished with a triple-double, collecting 12 rebounds and 10 assists to go along with his 39 points.

That was enough for McHale to publicly declare a winner in the MVP race.

“The Knicks’ MVP won the games in New York,” said McHale. “The league’s MVP won the games here.”

Bird was officially announced as the winner on June 25, 1984. According to The New York Times, he received 52 first-place votes and 652 points from 76 reporters and broadcasters. King finished second with 373 points. Johnson was third with 305. The MVP was the first of three straight for Bird.


Danny Ainge Explains How Playing With Larry Bird While Playing for Bill Fitch Humbled Him