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Larry Bird knew how to wow fans, opponents, and teammates. The Boston Celtics legend even found a way to impress the immortal Red Auerbach.

Bird’s talents resulted in three consecutive MVPs and three NBA championships. In his second year in the NBA, he brought the Celtics the first of their three titles in the 1980s when they defeated the Houston Rockets. During that series, Bird pulled off some magic, authoring an eye-opening play that Auerbach said was the best he’d ever seen.

Larry Bird was worth the wait for Red Auerbach and the Boston Celtics

Lewis Lloyd of the Houston Rockets attempts to block the shot of Larry Bird of the Boston Celtics during an NBA game circa 1984 at The Boston Garden in Boston Massachusetts. | Focus on Sport/Getty Images.

Although Bird was named Rookie of the Year for the 1979-80 NBA season, the Celtics selected him in the 1978 NBA Draft. Auerbach took a chance and drafted him as a junior while at Indiana State. Bird, however, elected to play his senior year of college. The Celtics held his rights until the 1979 NBA Draft.

Negotiations between Bird and the Celtics went down to the wire. Dialogue between Auerbach and Bird’s agent Bob Woolf got heated at times.

“I hope you don’t believe those numbers I’ve been seeing in the papers,” Auerbach told Woolf in their first meeting, according to Sports Illustrated.

“Of course not, Red,” Woolf replied. “I’m thinking a lot higher.”

“Bird’s a cornerman, that’s all he is,” Auerbach said. “And that makes him the least important of the three major positions – center, fast guard, then corner.”

Negotiations came down to the final month.

“It was very civil,” said Woolf. “He’d blow up, then we’d work some more. Red goes through life like hot lava.” 

Bird signed a five-year rookie deal worth $650,000 per year, making him the highest-paid NBA rookie ever.

Bird made a play in the 1981 Finals that Auerbach said was the best he’d ever seen

The Celtics made their way to the championship round in 1981 after a grueling seven-game series with the Philadelphia 76ers. Boston rallied from a 3-1 deficit against Philly in a battle of two teams with the best record in the NBA.

In Game 1 of that series, Bird put on a show with 18 points, 21 rebounds, and nine assists. The biggest part of that performance came early in the fourth quarter when he showed exactly why it’s important to follow your shot.

Bird took a shot from just beyond the right elbow and immediately realized it was off target. He hurried in for the rebound, collecting the ball in the air while throwing it back up and in with his left hand. Boston rallied from a six-point deficit to win 98-95.

After the game, Auerbach called Bird’s heads-up play “the greatest play I’ve ever seen,” according to

Auerbach then went on to make a prediction that eventually came true.

“Larry Bird is a player of destiny. He’s going to go down in the history of this game,” Auerbach said.

Heavy favorites in the series, Boston lost Game 2 at home but went on to win the series in six games.


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