‘Pistol’ Pete Maravich Said Larry Bird Was the ‘Very Best’ Player in the NBA Before His Death

lt’s sometimes easy to forget that Pete Maravich played his final NBA games with the Boston Celtics, teaming with a superstar rookie named Larry Bird.

The pair of legends only played 35 games together in that 1979-1980 season after the Utah Jazz waived Maravich, but “Pistol Pete” was clearly impressed. Bird, of course, quickly became one of the best players in the NBA and is considered by many to be one of the best players of all time.

And before his tragic death in 1988 at the young age of 40, Maravich was one of those people.

“Pistol” Pete Maravich and Larry Bird were teammates on the Celtics

Larry Bird and Pete Maravich
(L-R) Larry Bird; Pete Maravich | Focus on Sport/Getty Images; Focus on Sport/Getty Images

By the time Maravich came to the Celtics in 1980, his play was nowhere near the level that had made him a five-time NBA All-Star, a four-time All-Pro selection, and a one-time scoring champion. And Boston didn’t need him to be that player as Bird had come to town and made an immediate impact. He averaged 21.3 points, 10.4 rebounds, 4.5 assists, and 1.7 steals to win NBA Rookie of the Year, beating out Magic Johnson.

Maravich contributed 11.5 points per game off the bench in 26 regular-season games with the Celtics and participated in the postseason for the first time since 1973, his penultimate season with the Atlanta Hawks. In the second round of the playoffs (the Celtics had a first-round bye), Boston swept the Houston Rockets, who were playing their final season in the Eastern Conference.

But the Celtics were soundly beaten in the Conference Finals by the Philadelphia 76ers, and that was the end of Maravich’s career as he felt his knees couldn’t take anymore.

Maravich later called Bird the ‘very best’ player in the NBA

While Maravich’s career had come to an end, Bird’s was obviously just beginning, and he led the Celtics to an NBA championship the following season. Two years later, Larry Legend won the first of three consecutive NBA MVP awards, a streak during which he won two more titles, also winning NBA Finals MVP both times.

In 1987, Maravich appeared on ESPN’s Up Close and told host Roy Firestone why he thought Bird was the best player in the NBA.

“I think he is the best, you know. Larry is not really the best rebounder in the NBA; he is not really the best passer, I don’t think, he’s not the best dribbler, he’s not the best shooter, he’s not the best scorer. He’s just the very best.”

Pete Maravich on Larry Bird

Is there a better description of Larry Bird than that?

Bird averaged 24.3 points, 10.0 rebounds, and 6.3 assists per game during his Hall of Fame career. But he never led the NBA in any of those categories. In fact, the only categories in which Bird was ever the league leader were average minutes played (twice) and free throw percentage (four times). But there’s no doubt he was one of the best all-around players of all time.

Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference

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