Tonight at the Boston Garden, the Hub's faithful say goodbye to a legend.
The words sound weird as I repeat them to myself. "Goodbye, Larry Bird."
It's hard to picture Larry without a basketball. It's harder to picture he Celtics without Larry.
The team will go on, it always has. When Bob Cousy left, there was still Bill Russell. When Russell was gone, John Havilcek came along. And the list goes on and on.
But it's different with Larry.
Bird had a unique combination of great skills and that equally impressive charm and wit. He may not have been better than Russell, Cousy, or Havilcek, (though many think he was) but they were not able to capture the city of Boston the way Larry did. In a city gone mad with sports fanatics, Larry was unquestionably king.
When Larry bids his final adieu tonight, Boston will lose not only a great basketball player, but also a part of its personality.
In honor of Bird, I offer a glimpse of some of his greatest moments on and off he court.
*Game five against the Pistons '87: This one is an obvious pick. The Celtics were facing a return to Detroit down three games to two. With five seconds left, Bird stole an inbounds pass from Isiah Thomas and hit a streaking Dennis Johnson for he game-winning bucket. I couldn't dream up a better scenario. Isiah Thomas was the goat, Larry the hero. I get goose bumps just thinking of the play.
*Game five '84 finals: The Celtics were playing the Lakers. The ancient Garden was 97 degrees (no air conditioning back then). The series was tied at 2-2. Big game. Larry poured in 37 points with 19 rebounds on 15-20 shooting. Larry always said the fifth game was the most important in a seven game series. Obviously, he wasn't going to let this one slip away. Boston went on to win the crown in seven games.
*Game seven against Atlanta in '88. The single most clutch performance I've ever seen. The experts said the Celtics were too old, and Atlanta was the team on the rise. But Bird had other opinions. In a personal duel with Dominique Wilkins. Larry scored 20 points on 9-10 shooting in the fourth quarter. Some of the shots would have received a 4.0 for degree of difficulty.
*Speech at the '81 championship parade: Bird took the podium and shocked everyone with his comment. Responding to a sign in the crowd. Bird said, "Moses Malone does eat shit." Moses had been the star of the Houston Rockets who lost to the Celtics. This remark was one in a long line of entertaining quotes from Bird.
*Game five against the Indiana Pacers '91: Bird began the game with a bad back. In the second quarter, he took a header off the floor, and left the game. Midway through the third, with the team struggling, Bird came running out of the lockerroom while taking off his warmup jacket. The Garden went crazy. Larry actually looked like Superman. He sparked the sagging Celtics, hit some clutch shots, and led the team to victory.
*Retirement Speech: The last and possibly the most fond memory of Bird. Ceremonial last tours around the NBA are nice, but it wasn't Larry's style. He went out on his terms, with the usual humor and class that characterized him as a player. Nothing too fancy, but none too boring.
Thanks for the memories Larry. You truly did give your body, heart, and soul to the Boston Celtics.