№13: Larry Joe Bird Player Spotlight | Who are your top five NBA players who have never won an NBA title? | + More!
April 7, 2021
Welcome to the tedi.substack.com weekly newsletter! At the beginning of each week*, this newsletter will touch on any number of entertaining, informative, or (possibly) useful topics.
This week’s spotlight is on my all-time favorite basketball player: Larry Joe Bird. By my calculations, Bird (in an official capacity: be it as a player, coach, or team executive) has been a part of the NBA for 31 years. More on “The Hick from French Lick” in the section below.
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My new weekly segment! Player Spotlight! Inspired by the writings of the late Zander Hollander (Sportswriter, archivist, and author of the ever informative The Complete Handbook of Pro Basketball), I decided to put my 30 years of basketball knowledge to some use and come up with a short, free flowing, and non-linear/viewpoint narrative on the featured player.
Born Larry Joe Bird (December 7, 1956). Despite being drafted 6th overall by the Boston Celtics in the 1978 NBA Draft, Bird elected to play his junior season at Indiana State University. The versatile Bird led the #1 ranked Sycamores (33-0) to the National Championship game only to fall to short to Earvin “Magic” Johnson and the Michigan State Spartans. Johnson drew first blood in what ultimately became a rivalry between the two basketball greats. From 1984 to 1987, the Boston Celtics reached four consecutive NBA Finals. In that time, Larry’s Celtics faced off against Magic’s Los Angeles Lakers on three of those occasions with the Celtics pulling out a hard fought 7-game series in 1984 while the Lakers took home the trophy in 1985 and 1987.
Caption: With the dearth in NBA related references back in the early 90’s, watching Larry Bird: A Basketball Legend (1991) on Betamax/VHS served as my introduction to the man known as “Larry Legend.”
As far as careers go, Bird arguably had one of the best nine-year stretches of any NBA player. His teams from 1979-80 to 1987-88 went to eight Eastern Conference Finals and reached the NBA Finals on five occasions (in seven seasons). During that period, he won three NBA Championships (1981, 1984, 1986), Rookie of the Year (1980), three consecutive Most Valuable Player (MVP) awards (1984, 1985, 1986 | Bird is only the third player to achieve this feat after Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain.), NBA Finals MVP (1984, 1986), All-Star Game MVP (1982), and a three-time Three-Point Contest Champion (1986 [inaugural competition], 1987, and 1988).
Oh, and was the runner-up MVP in 1981, 1982, 1983, and 1988.
Caption: At age 26, Larry became the youngest Celtic ever to score 50 points in a game. (This record has since been surpassed by Jason Tatum (23) who scored 53 points against the Minnesota Timberwolves on April 9, 2021.)
Bird was equally successful in his post-NBA career as the head coach of the Indiana Pacers. During his three-year run, he guided the Pacers to three Eastern Conference Finals and one NBA Finals appearance. As a rookie head coach, Bird would be selected as the Eastern Conference head coach in the 1998 NBA All-Star Game as well as the Coach of the Year (1998).
In 2003, Larry Bird was hired as the Indiana Pacers President of Basketball Operations and ran the Pacers front office for fifteen of the next sixteen years. He was voted as the NBA Executive of the Year (2012) after constructing a competitive Pacers team through trades and mid-lottery picks.
With the Executive of the Year trophy, Bird unintentionally pulled out what many perceive as the ultimate hat trick by winning the top honor in every level: Player (MVP), Coach (Coach of the Year), and Executive.
It is a feat that will likely never to be duplicated.
Larry Bird is a two-time Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame inductee (1998 [Player] | 2010 [As a member of the 1992 USA Olympic Team]), an NBA Lifetime Achievement Award co-recipient (2019 | with Magic Johnson), and one of the NBA’s 50 Greatest Players (1996).
At the onset, I just wanted to state for the record that I have never had the opportunity to meet Larry Bird in person (Although I did give it my best shot when I pitched a possible interview idea to NBA.com/Philippines prior to the NBA Global Games 2013 in Manila, Philippines). The closest I did get was being in the same building with “Larry Legend” during the NBA Global Games 2013: Philippines wherein his Indiana Pacers faced off against the Houston Rockets (October 8, 2013). Bird was seated courtside with NBA Commissioner David Stern while I was at Section D (I’m seated on the steps in the photo below).
So ends that particular Larry Bird story.
My Favorite Player
Whenever I conduct a team building with a basketball team, I am usually the newest person in the room. It is a distinction that is immediately followed by a quick introduction wherein I share three fun facts about myself.
One of them being about my favorite basketball player: Larry Joe Bird.
Growing up in the 90’s, there were two basketball related paperbacks commonly found on the sports section of Philippine bookstores: My Life (by recently retired Earvin “Magic” Johnson [with William Novak]) and Drive: The Story of My Life (by Larry Bird [with Bob Ryan]). Back then, NBA games were on tape delay and what games we did get to see were at the discretion of the television network broadcasting them.
Simply put, Filipino NBA basketball fans didn’t have a choice.
These made the Johnson and Bird autobiographies all the more important because it allowed people like me to get to know my NBA basketball heroes a little better.
For instance, Larry Bird seemed to strike me a very private person, but through several of his books like the aforementioned Drive: The Story of My Life and Bird Watching: On Playing and Coaching the Game I Love (with Jackie MacMullan)—both of which I own first editions of—I got to know the player and (more importantly) the person a little bit better.
There was also his funny side. In doing research for this player spotlight, I came across a cameo that he did for the movie Celtic Pride (1996). In this scene, two passionate Boston Celtics fans—pretending to be Utah Jazz diehards—come face-to-face with Larry Bird. Yikes!
Caption: I haven’t seen Celtic Pride (1996) since the time I caught it in theaters. Anyone have a DVD that I can borrow?
Well, that’s about it for this week’s player spotlight. Here are a few more scenes from the Celtic Pride (1996) movie.
Who are your top five NBA players who have never won an NBA title?
Open Court is such a great concept because the guests on the show have not only played basketball at the highest level, they have likely played against the players they are deliberating on.
Anyway, if you have already watched this segment, my five would mirror that of Kenny “The Jet” Smith (2:00 to 2:25 mark).
Dominique “The Human Highlight Film” Wilkins
Karl “The Mailman” Malone
Who is your five?
Leave your list at the end of this newsletter.
Can you name all of winners of the NBA Rookie of the Year?
68% This was a tough one. Kept on spelling Amar’e StoudEmire’s name wrong while I drew a blank of Michael Carter-Williams. I started watching around the 1990-1991 NBA season so anything before that is a bonus in my book.
Let me know how you did and leave a comment at the end of this newsletter.
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Until next week, Happy Easter everyone! ■
Tedi Gustilo Villasor, Ph.D. is a former columnist for Baby Magazine (Philippines) as well as a past contributor to NBA.com/Philippines. His other works include the indie comic books Lindol and OBIsessions.
Click here for more information on his work as a psychologist.
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