In an unprecedented move by coach Red Auerbach, the Boston Celtics chose Larry Bird with the No. 6 at the 1978 draft. Entering the NBA at the start of the 1979-80 season, Bird become a global icon of the sport alongside Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan.
Many credit these three NBA stars with saving the league in the ’80s. But Bird had some thoughts on his role in basketball.
The ‘big three’ saved the NBA?
Here’s what Bird had to say to The Undefeated about saving the league: “There’s a lot of people who helped save this NBA, it didn’t start with us. Maybe we helped in some way as far as the competition we had in college and going against one another. But I do think we brought a different aspect to the game when we came in.”
We think Bird is spot on with his comments. In the ’60s and ’70s the NBA was viewed as a very rough and hard-hitting league, with constant fighting between players. Along with Magic and MJ, Bird was able to bring a new style of play to the game, which made it exciting for fans to watch again.
Bird elaborated in that excitement, especially between he and Johnson: “We both liked to pass the ball. We liked to try to make other guys better … Just how we played the game and approached the game, I think, made a big impact throughout the league as far as watching the game.” Bird’s humility is honorable.
Larry Bird’s Hall-of-Fame career
Looking at Bird’s career, there’s no denying why he’s normally on everyone’s “10 greatest players of all time” list. During his 12-year career, Bird was a three-time NBA champion, earned two NBA Finals MVP awards, made 12 All-Star teams and was named to the All-NBA team 10 times.
These accolades, along with his skill on the court (24 PPG, 10 RPG for his career), and ability to trash talk with the best players in the league made him a fan sensation. His duels with Magic Johnson only made both of their careers more memorable.
Bird’s battle against Magic
After squaring off against each other in the NCAA Men’s tournament national championship game in 1979, it was only a matter of time before Bird and Magic squared off in the NBA Finals. The first meeting was in 1984, with the Celtics coming out on top. Bird won the NBA Finals MVP award.
They faced off in 1985 and again in 1987, with the Lakers coming out on top. Their rivalry was one of the best in pro sports at the time. It was clear that the NBA was in great hands with two superstars at the helm.
Do they get enough credit?
There is no doubt that Magic and Bird receive a lot of the credit for saving the NBA, and they clearly deserve it. Without the heated rivalry their teams reignited, the league may not be as popular as it is today without that ’80s fanbase.