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Larry Bird isn’t usually atop the list when the NBA GOAT conversation takes place. While the Boston Celtics legend is a top-10 player of all time — and arguably a top-five player — the top spots always seem to be reserved for Michael Jordan or LeBron James.

Red Auerbach, the former Celtics coach/GM/president, once called Bird the “greatest player to ever put on a uniform.” In another conversation, he also pointed out why many people won’t feel that way.

Larry Bird is one of the best to ever suit up in the NBA

Larry Bird of the Boston Celtics drives on Greg Ballard of the Washington Bullets during an NBA game circa 1985 at the Capital Center in Landover, Maryland. | Focus on Sport/Getty Images.

Bird was never the quickest, flashiest, or most athletic player in the NBA, but he always got the job done. Arguably the best passing forward to ever play in the NBA, Bird could do it all. In the mid-1980s, there was nobody better, and that was backed up by his three straight MVPs.

When Bird came into the league during the 1979-80 season, he immediately turned the franchise around. A year after winning 29 games, the Celtics, with Bird leading the charge, won 61. He was named Rookie of the Year.

The following season, Auerbach orchestrated a franchise-altering deal that helped the Celtics win three championships in the decade. Boston held the first pick in the 1980 NBA Draft and got together with the Golden State Warriors. The Celtics sent that top pick, along with the No. 13 selection, to Golden State for veteran center Robert Parish and the third pick. At No. 3, they selected Kevin McHale.

In their first year together, the trio of Bird, McHale, and Parish won the first of their three ’80s championships. From 1984 to 1987, the Celtics reached the NBA Finals, winning it all in ’84 and ’86. From 1984 to 1986, Bird was the league MVP.

Bird played 13 seasons in the NBA and was a 12-time All-Star. He averaged 24.3 points and 10.0 rebounds. Bird was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1998.

Auerbach said you had to look beyond the numbers with Bird

Bird never led the league in scoring. He was never the best rebounder, nor did he ever dish out the most assists. If Bird needed to be great at something, he’d do it. If the Celtics needed a 40-point night out of Bird, he’d pull it off.

While Bird is one of the all-time greats, it’s the stat-happy fans that won’t ever throw his name into true GOAT consideration. This was something Auerbach called to attention long before GOAT talk was ever a thing. During Bird’s third straight MVP year, Auerbach insisted Bird’s greatness went way beyond the stat sheet.

“The one thing you have to avoid when you talk about Bird is statistics,” Auerbach told Sports Illustrated in March 1986. “It’s his presence, the total way he commands attention on the court, that counts.”

Auerbach was right on the money. While Bird wasn’t always getting that quick first step on defenders, he was always a couple of steps ahead in the mental game.

When the Celtics unveiled a statue of their future Hall of Famer in 1988, Auerbach paid Bird the biggest compliment.

“I’ve done a lot of soul-searching,” Auerbach said, according to United Press International. “I’ve decided, quite frankly, that he’s the greatest player ever to put on a uniform.”

It’s tough to convince others of that these days.