Simply One of a Kind: Larry Bird
Larry Bird is easily one of the best players to ever play in the NBA. His ability to shoot, score, rebound, pass and anticipate is still unmatched even today. The closest thing to Larry Legend that we could see in the modern game would be a cross of LeBron James and Dirk Nowitzki. If that sounds scary, it’s because it is. The former Celtics star is easily one of the 10 best players the league has ever seen.
Thus, when the opportunity to read Larry Bird Drive came up, there was no way to pass that up.
Bird (with the help of Bob Ryan) goes through his life and explains to readers the path he traveled to become one of the best NBA players ever.
From a very young age, it was obvious that Bird shared a common trait with Maigc Johnson: competitive fire. The moment he was exposed to competitive high school basketball, it took over his life. He dedicated himself to getting better, helping out the team and listening to his coach. Think about this for a moment: early in his basketball life, his coach had to get on him to look to score more because Larry was perfectly fine with running the offense and getting his teammates some open looks.
Bird was a good shooter as well as a good scorer, but he did not realize just how good he was at those aspects of the game until head coach Jim Jones implored him to become more aggressive on offense for the benefit of the team.
The more he scored, the more attention he got; thus it became important for Bird to become a sophisticated scorer to counter defenses. Consequently, he spent every summer practicing. And when he was done, he practiced some more. One of the key elements of his summer regimen was that he did everything alone.
Having a shooting partner according to Bird, would often lead to distractions and thus getting less work put in. Hence, he always practiced alone. Later in his professional career he might have a ball boy present, but no communication would occur during these sessions, in order for the focus to entirely remain on practicing.
The rigorous hours of training put in made Larry Bird an incredible high school ball player. As a result, he got a scholarship to play at Indiana but the campus scared him. The school was far too big for his liking and he did not have any money. Hence, he had little to no social life and had to borrow clothes from his roommate since he did not have much of his own.
Bird left Indiana and went back home where he got himself a job. But he still loved basketball, and thus would play every now and then after work and on the weekends. He was clearly more talented than everybody else and that got him noticed. It’s how he eventually landed at Indiana State and put the program on the map.
In three years of playing at Indiana State, Bird averaged an incredible 30.3 points per game, 13.3 rebounds per game and 4.6 assists per game on 53.3 percent field goal shooting. But the most important thing Bird did in college was get his team in the NCAA tournament championship game his senior year, where they faced off against Magic Johnson and his Michigan State Spartans.
The game would be remembered for years and would be a precursor to the rivalry that Magic and Bird would later enjoy in their professional basketball careers.
The most interesting aspect about Larry Bird Drive, it is written in the first person and thus we follow the Legend’s career through his words and hang on each and every one of them. The one problem though? It does not feel like it is actually Bird talking to us.
The best trash talkers in the history of the NBA are arguably (in no specific order) Larry Bird, Michael Jordan and Gary Payton. And yet, it fails to come across in the book that Bird was ever part of such an elite group of talkers.
Indeed, he recites his accomplishments as well as his failures during his career with the Celtics without ever alluding to just how good of a trash talker he was. The only mention of him ever jawing against opponents is in the 3-point shootout contest; but as far as the remainder of his career, he is completely mute on it.
Heck, Bird did not even mention what might have been his greatest trash talking night ever: the night he scored 60 points against the Atlanta Hawks and gave them the trainer’s lap 3-point bomb (watch the whole video, it’s worth it).
Despite the absence of references to his ability to psych players out with his words, Larry Bird still takes us through an interesting ride that helps us understand the dynamic of not only who he was, but also who the Celtics were.
The former Indiana State star gives us great details on why the team succeeded as a whole but also why each and every individual fit within the concept of what they were trying to accomplish.
Cedric Maxwell brought toughness as well as an ability to score on his man within the scheme of the offense. Max did not always look to score, but when he did, he often carried the club for long stretches much like he did in the 1981 NBA Finals on his way to capturing the Finals MVP award.
Bill Walton was a phenomenal back up center that always got excellent rebounding position and that was a terrific passer. Once a game, they would connect together on a perfect give and go play. Walton was easily one of the players that every Celtic liked making fun of because he always took it in stride, smiled and even occasionally responded.
Kevin McHale was “Mr. Automatic” according to the Legend. Whenever he got the ball in the spot he wanted on the block, he would always score; and not only that, he would score with his right hand almost exclusively. Bird never truly mentions any character traits about McHale, which in a way goes towards implicitly stating he was perhaps a good if not great second option because he always managed with what was given to him.
Robert Parrish was a solid interior defender who also provided scoring on the low block. He did a good job of battling out for post position and had good hands. He was the consummate professional who only cared about winning and the team dynamic. If the Celtics were up big, he would respectfully decline to go back into games to allow the rookies or back ups to get some playing time.
Danny Ainge was a lights out shooter but also a very intelligent player. He understood the game quite well and knew where and how to contribute.
The biggest praise Bird doled out was for Dennis Johnson. He states:
“D.J. is simply the best player I’ve ever played with on the Celtics. Kevin is great. Robert is great. I’ve played with other great players. But when I look at other teams, there is always a player on that team who seems to symbolize the whole team. When I think of our own team, the guy I think of D.J.”
The Celtics were a remarkable team under Bill Fitch, but under K.C. Jones they were a legendary one. Bird does not directly state it, but his feelings about him and how he got the Celtics to play at a high level are obvious throughout the book.
Under Fitch, the team followed an almost military type of regime; where the coach gave directions and the players followed them. Practice was mandatory and maximum effort was not expected, it was a given at all times.
Jones on the other hand understood the rigors of the regular season and thus knew when to push his players and when to take his foot off the gas. He listened to players and allowed them to give their input as far as strategy went. Also, he never gave preferential treatment, but if a certain player seemed overly fatigued at practice, he would allow him to sit out in order to conserve his energy for the following game.
In his five years in Boston, Jones’ Celtics never won less than 57 games (they were 308-102 from 1983 to 1988), they won two titles, made four Finals appearances and lost once in the Eastern Conference Finals. Needless to say, the man knew how to coach talent.
Larry Bird Drive is supposed to be all about following Bird’s career and seeing just how great he was and what have you; but true to his nature, he seeks to avoid the spotlight. This explains why he treats his three MVP awards as a career footnote while the three championships he won with the Celtics sound like his greatest professional achievements (and rightfully so).
Thus, a book designed to tell us the story of one of the greatest players accomplished its purpose, but also brought his teammates to the forefront.
Typical Bird, always looking to make his teammates look better….