Drafted in 1978 as a "junior eligible" out of Indiana State the Celtics had to wait a year for Larry Bird to finish school before they could take advantage of his services. When asked why the Celtics would spend a choice draft pick on a player who couldn't play for a year the Celtics legendary boss Red Auerbach responded: "You have no idea how short a time a year is". Red knew quality. He also knew quality was worth waiting for.
In the fall of '79 Bird joined a Celtics team that had gone 29-53 the previous year. His impact was immediate and profound. Surrounded by role players and with an aging and beat up Dave Cowens in the pivot, Bird's Celtics (and make no mistake this was his team the minute he pulled on the jersey) improved by 32 wins his rookie season and while they were bounced in the playoffs by the 76ers and their peerless leader Dr J the message to the rest of the league was clear: the Celtics were back.
Detailing all of Bird's statistical accomplishments doesn't do the man justice. Suffice to say that he was perennially among the league leaders in scoring, rebounding, 3-point conversions and free throw percentage. During the 80s his Celtics went to 5 NBA finals (including 4 straight) and won 3 titles while he himself won 3 league MVP awards.
While the stats alone would have made him a shoe-in for the Hall of Fame the fact is Larry Bird was more than numbers and awards. A notoriously tight-fisted blue collar guy he was a perfect fit for the Celtics from Boston, which in 1980 was still a blue collar town. The city embraced him with all the folksy hero worship the working class could muster because Larry Bird showed up for work each and every day and did his job without complaining or bragging. "I've got a theory that if you give 100% all of the time, somehow things will work out in the end." Bird is quoted as saying and that's exactly what he gave night in, night out. He was the loose ball scrounging, unglamorous anti-pole to the 'showtime' Lakers and Magic Johnson's million-dollar smile. Bird came to play basketball not to pose for the camera. It was his determination to win not some narcissistic desire to see himself on Sports Center that drove his inspired play. The behind the back pass meant nothing if the recipient missed the gimme. What good was drawing a foul if you missed the free throw? He had every tool in the basketball arsenal at his disposal and like a chess grandmaster unveiled them as needed to produce the desired result.
Unfortunately all good things must come to an end and like his fellow Boston sports icon, Bobby Orr, Bird's career ended prematurely due to injury. First problems with his heels, finally debilitating back problems that would force him from the game he loved after the 1992 season. In the wake of his departure the Celtics would lose their way and it would take more than 15 years for the franchise to regain the limelight. Even that glow, however, would seem just a bit pale when compared to the supernova that shined in Boston during the 1980s.