Larry Bird remains one of the NBA’s greatest players. Bird’s illustrious career with the Boston Celtics featured several legacy-defining moments and a few championship celebrations. However, the Hall of Famer used his first words to Bernard King to express his true feelings toward him.
Larry Bird’s iconic NBA career
Bird spent his 13-year NBA career with the Celtics, where he established himself as an all-time great.
The Indiana State product further built on the franchise legacy by adding another decorated chapter. Behind his dominance, Bird guided the Celtics to tremendous sustained success, earning three NBA titles, two NBA Finals MVP awards, three regular-season MVP honors, 12 All-Star selections, nine All-NBA First Team nods, and the retirement of his No. 33 jersey with the Celtics.
He also remains the only forward in league history to capture three straight regular-season MVP awards. Bird accomplished it all, cementing himself as one of the greatest players to step on an NBA court.
However, he couldn’t help expressing his true feelings to a fellow Hall of Famer regarding a pivotal career decision.
Larry Bird’s first words to Bernard King didn’t sugarcoat his feelings: ‘Bernard, you cost me a championship’
During his five-year stint with the New York Knicks, Bernard King became one of the league’s best talents.
King entered free agency after the 1986-87 season, eyeing a chance to compete for an NBA title. It quickly led the Celtics into the picture as the star forward visited the team, speaking with Red Auerbach, coach K.C. Jones, and team president Alan Cohen.
The conversation led King to voice he shared a mutual interest in joining the franchise. However, things moved in another direction as the Washington Bullets offered a more substantial contract that became too hard to turn down.
In the first meeting against the Bullets the following season, Bird didn’t mince his words concerning King’s decision.
“Bird was one of those guys I never spoke to in all the years we played against each other — never,” King recalled during an interview with SiriusXM NBA Radio. “But my first game of that (next) season with the Washington Bullets, who do we face? The Boston Celtics.
“Bird walks by me, and he said, ‘Bernard, you cost me a championship.’ And he kept moving.”
The Celtics were fresh off losing to the Los Angeles Lakers in the 1987 NBA Finals. In the 1987-88 season, Boston fell in six games to the Detroit Pistons in the Eastern Conference Finals. Meanwhile, King averaged 17.2 points that year, pushing his way to 28.4 points per contest in the 1990-91 season at age 34.
Simply put, King’s presence could have been the difference in Bird earning a fourth NBA title.
NBA legacy remains forever cemented
The Celtics’ path in the late 1980s could have taken a much different route with King in the mix.
Boston struggled in the final two seasons of the decade, falling via a pair of first-round playoff exits, including a sweep at the hands of the Pistons. Meanwhile, Bird’s last two years featured the back-to-back 50-win campaigns, but each ended in a second-round playoff departure.
However, it’s hard to ignore Bird’s ailing health as it forced him into retirement after the 1991-92 campaign. King could have eased the workload, but the lack of another NBA title or two for the star forward doesn’t diminish his legacy.
It may forever pain him that he has two fewer championships than longtime rival Magic Johnson, but it doesn’t damage his reputation. Bird is an all-time great who helped lift the league into what it has become today.