As Larry Bird Closed In on the 1st of 3 Straight MVPs, He Showed Just How Little He Cared About the Award
The best part about Larry Bird wasn’t the fact he won three straight MVPs. It wasn’t how he won Rookie of the Year and then guided the Boston Celtics to three championships in the 1980s. It isn’t even that he’s considered by some to be a top-five NBA player of all time.
What’s best about Bird is he never changed. With the Celtics, he was the same guy he was at Indiana State and the same guy he was at Springs Valley High School in French Lick, Indiana. Bird never cared about glory. Fame and fortune never changed him. Individual achievements didn’t motivate him. He was all about winning.
Larry Bird won three MVPs and two titles in three years
After winning Rookie of the year in the 1979-80 season, Bird and the Celtics won the first of their three NBA titles the following season. Boosted by one of the best trades in franchise history, the Celtics added future Hall of Famers Robert Parish and Kevin McHale to team with Bird. In their first year together, they defeated the Houston Rockets in the 1981 NBA Finals.
From 1984 to 1986, however, is where Bird really shined. In the 1983-84 season, he averaged 24.2 points and 10.1 rebounds as the Celtics went 62-20. Aided by the acquisition of Dennis Johnson in a trade with the Phoenix Suns, the Celtics went 62-20 and defeated the rival Los Angeles Lakers in the 1984 NBA Finals. Bird was named the league’s MVP.
The following season, Bird put up even bigger numbers, averaging 28.7 points and 10.5 rebounds. Boston won 63 games that season, but the Lakers got their revenge on the Celtics, knocking off Boston in the championship round. Despite losing in the Finals, Bird chalked up another MVP honor.
The 1985-86 season may have been Boston’s best ever. The Celtics went 67-15 and made a third straight trip to the Finals. Before the season, the Celtics traded for veteran and oft-injured center Bill Walton to come off the bench and spell Parish and McHale. Walton wound up playing in 80 games and coming away with the Sixth Man of the Year award. Bird claimed his third MVP, and the Celtics defeated the Rockets in six games in the championship round.
MVP awards meant very little to Bird
Bird’s goal was never to win an MVP. Team goals were much more important. In 1984, he and Bernard King of the New York Knicks were the favorites for the MVP. Bird was asked about the MVP race in May 1984, and he answered in typical Bird fashion.
“I don’t worry about that, I worry about my next opponent,” he said, per United Press International. “I got one of those (MVP trophies) in college, and it’s sitting at home, not doing anything for me now.”
Playing team basketball was the only way Bird knew how to play. It was instilled in him at an early age and stuck with him throughout his playing and coaching career.
“Everyone wants the ball, and everyone would like to score 20 points, but I have been in a team-oriented concept from the time I started,” he said then. “If I started playing one-on-one, I wouldn’t be very effective.”
Bird was effective throughout his career, earning 12 All-Star appearances in his 13 seasons. The lone non-All-Star year came during the 1988-89 season. That year, he played six games after having surgery to remove bone spurs in both heels. He was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1998.
Bird is arguably the best passing forward in NBA history, While he put up big numbers, he made everyone else around him better, and that’s just how he wanted it.