My all-time favorite lines pertaining to Larry Bird

Outstanding tributes highlight Larry Legend’s unrivaled hoops career.


The 1987 NBA Playoffs were underway, and the Celtics and Bucks were locked in a thrilling seven-game Eastern semifinal series. Don Nelson, the head coach of Milwaukee and a former Celtic, was watching Boston warm up from the courtside with his assistant, John Killilea, who was a key player for Tom Heinsohn’s teams that won the Celtic titles in 1974 and 1976.


Despite having six of its top eight players injured during the 1987 postseason, reigning champion Boston nonetheless managed to make it to the Finals, largely thanks to Larry Joe Bird’s heroics in the hoop.

The squad had to rely on seldom-used reserves like Sam Vincent and Greg Kite, or add some relatively unknown players like Conner Henry and Darren Daye to fill out the roster due to their extraordinary string of injuries.


With a mocking expression on his face, Killilea told Nellie, “Look, there are four average players”—as if we should defeat these guys—while glancing at the stand-ins in the Celtic layup line.


At that moment, Bird bounded to the rear of the lineup, trailing the four purportedly “average” Celtics.

The wise-cracking hoops guru Nelson then responded to Killilea with a quote that would go on forever. His brief response demonstrated Nellie’s acute basketball intelligence and spoke volumes about Bird’s brilliance as a player as well as his exceptional capacity to optimize his teammates’ on-court performance.


Nelson shot back at Killilea, saying, “Yes, but look now—there are five great players standing there.”


Although an all-time great’s career cannot be summarised in a single statement, the quote’s wide-ranging implications come the closest.


That Nellie statement still gives me chills, much like Bird’s iconic steal of Isiah’s drifting in-bounds pass at the very end of Game 5 in the 1987 Eastern Conference Finals.



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