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How many rings does Larry Bird have? The answer is three, but there’s so much more to the story.

Bird and fellow Boston Celtics legend Bill Russell are widely considered the top two players in franchise history. The former was a 6-foot-9 star who could shoot the lights out and may be the best passing forward to ever play in the NBA. The latter was a 6-foot-10 center whose defense-first mindset changed the landscape of the game.

Russell began Boston’s dominance during the 1956-57 season. He won the first of his 11 championships as a rookie before claiming eight straight titles from 1959 to 1966. He added two more in 1968 and 1969, giving him a total of 11 rings.

Bird joined the NBA for the 1979-80 season, earning Rookie of the Year honors after his 21.3-point, 10.4-rebound season average. By his second season, he’d won his first championship. While Bird didn’t have nearly the rings Russell did, he earned his fair share and may have left a couple on the table.

Larry Bird and the Boston Celtics dominated in the 1980s

Larry Bird of the Boston Celtics in action during an NBA game circa 1984 at The Boston Garden in Boston, Massachusetts.
| Focus on Sport/Getty Images.

The year before Bird came into the NBA, the Celtics finished with a record of 29-53. As a rookie, he guided Boston to a 61-win season and a berth in the Eastern Conference Finals, where the Celtics were ousted by the Philadelphia 76ers in five games.

The following year, aided greatly by a trade with the Golden State Warriors that brought Robert Parish and Kevin McHale to Boston, the Celtics won their first title of the decade.

After consecutive years of failing to reach the championship round, Red Auerbach swung another trade, this one with the Phoenix Suns. Auerbach sent Rick Robey to Phoenix and took in veteran guard Dennis Johnson. For the next four years, the Celtics reached the NBA Finals.

With four future Hall of Famers in Boston, Bird remained the centerpiece. He earned MVP honors for three straight years from 1984 to 1986.

While the Celtics owned the Eastern Conference for much of the ’80s, the Los Angeles Lakers did the same out West. In each year of the decade, either the Celtics or Lakers reached the NBA Finals. They squared off against each other three times.

Bird finished his 13-year career with the three championships, winning titles in 1981, 1984, and 1986.

Bird had a shot at two more rings, but losing in the ’87 Finals was the most painful

The Celtics rallied to defeat the Lakers in ’84, capitalizing on a momentum-turning clotheslining of Kurt Rambis by McHale in Game 4 that helped even the series. Boston won in seven games.

The following year, Rambis and the Lakers exacted their revenge. Not only did they beat Boston in six games, but they clinched the title and celebrated on Boston’s court. While that was painful to watch, it wasn’t as tough as what happened in Game 4 of the 1987 NBA Finals.

Facing the Lakers again, the Celtics dropped the first two games in LA but had the next three games at home under the 2-3-2 Finals format. Boston won Game 3 by a 109-103 score.

The Celtics appeared well on their way to tying the series, holding a 16-point lead in the third quarter of Game 4. With 3:30 to play, the Celtics held an eight-point lead but let it slip away. The Lakers won when Magic Johnson hit his famous “junior, junior, junior skyhook” in the middle of the lane. LA won 107-106 in a back-breaking, confidence-crushing loss for the Celtics.


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“We’ve gotten beat here before, but the way we let that one go really hurts,” Bird said before practice for Game 5, per United Press International. “Our mental toughness is just not what it used to be.

“I really liked our chances (for the series) last night,” Bird said. “If we could have just got that one, it would have been a different series. I wanted to win all three at home and go out there for two games because I know we could win one. But winning two?”

The Celtics did win Game 5, but the Lakers closed out the series back home with a 106-93 victory.

Most players would take three championship rings. Bird had an opportunity to fill one hand with five, but the rival Lakers made sure that didn’t happen.