In just his second year in the NBA, Larry Bird secured the first of his three NBA championships, that coming in the 1981 NBA Finals against the Houston Rockets. For the second straight season, Bird averaged a double-double (points, rebounds) and life in the NBA was good. In that 1980-81 season, the Boston Celtics won 62 games and defeated the Rockets in six games for his first title that he later claimed was “too easy.”
Larry Bird has no problem adjusting to life in the NBA
Bird played his college basketball at little-known Indiana State, where he and Magic Johnson’s Michigan State Spartans squared off for the NCAA title in 1979. Although the Sycamores weren’t a powerhouse, Bird made them one that season. Their competition was questioned but the Celtics still made Bird the highest-paid rookie when he reached the NBA.
Bird briefly questioned whether could make the jump to the NBA, just as he did when he went from high school to college. It didn’t take long, however, for him to gain his confidence and realize he was as good as his competition.
“I played against guys that I thought were really good when I came in the league, and after playing against those guys I’d say, ‘Well, he’s not that good,’” Bird told The Undefeated. “And I think that goes back to the thinking when I was younger and I played at a small high school: I’d score a lot of points, get a lot of rebounds, but you don’t play against anybody.
“Going to Indiana State, it was the same thing. But when I got into the pros, I had thoughts in my head: Can I do this? Once I got in here, I thought it was pretty easy.”
For the first six years of his pro career, Bird averaged a double-double, quickly proving he could play with the big boys. He won three consecutive MVPs from 1984-86 and was a 12-time All-Star in his 13 seasons.
Larry Bird’s first NBA championship was ‘too easy’
First, he claimed the NBA Rookie of the Year honor. The next season, he was a champion. while he didn’t seem to realize it then, that first title with the Celtics was “too easy,” Bird later said.
The Celtics were heavy favorites against Moses Malone and the Rockets and didn’t disappoint. Boston won in six games, with Cedric Maxwell securing the MVP of the series.
Boston went back to the Finals in 1984 and faced Magic and the Lakers. It was then that Bird realized how challenging it was to win a championship. He addressed it right before the deciding Game 7 in Boston.
“The first is always sweet, but I think this will mean more than when we beat Houston (in the 1981 finals) because we are underdogs against the ‘unbeatable’ Lakers,” Bird said sarcastically about the hyped-up Lakers, per United Press International.
“I didn’t appreciate it the first time. It was too easy. This will be a lot different.
“It means a lot this time because it is the first year for K.C. (Jones, the Celtics’ new head coach), and we’ve regrouped after the disaster last year.”
The Celtics were swept by the Milwaukee Bucks in the ’83 postseason.
The Celtics and Lakers became NBA finalists every year in the ’80s
Every year in the 1980s, either the Celtics or Lakers made an appearance in the NBA Finals. They faced off against each other three times, with the Celtics winning in 1984 and the Lakers claiming victories in ’85 and ’87.
In that ’84 series, the Lakers dominated play but the Celtics managed to come out on top. LA stole homecourt advantage with a Game 1 victory in Boston and looked to make it two straight. The Lakers let Game 2 get away when Boston’s Gerald Henderson stole a James Worthy pass intended for Byron Scott and turned it into a game-tying layup. Boston survived in overtime.
Boston wound up winning Game 7 in 1984 with another strong performance from Maxwell, who led the Celtics with 24 points. Bird was named Finals MVP.
The teams met again in ’85 with the Lakers gaining sweet revenge. After the Celtics defeated the Rockets in ’86 for their third title under Bird, the Celtics and Lakers matched up again in ’87 with LA winning in six games.
The Celtics vs. Lakers rivalry may go down as the best in all of sports, and that’s when things really got serious for Bird.