Ranking the 50 greatest NBA players of all time

The Last Dance, Michael Jordan, LeBron James (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
The Last Dance, Michael Jordan, LeBron James (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images) /
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Boston Celtics forward Larry Bird shoots a free throw during a game against the Detroit Pistons at the Pontiac Silverdome in Pontiac, Michigan. /

6. Larry Bird

  • Resume: 13 seasons, 3 NBA titles, 2 NBA Finals MVP Awards, 3 regular season MVP Awards, 10-time All-NBA selection, 12-time NBA All-Star, NBA All-Star Game MVP, 3-time NBA All-Defensive Team, Rookie of the Year Award, 2-time 50-40-90 club member, member of the Dream Team, Hall-of-Famer
  • Stats: 24.3 PPG, 10.0 RPG, 6.3 APG, 1.7 SPG, .496/.376/.886 shooting splits, 23.5 career PER, 145.8 win shares

Widely regarded as one of the greatest shooters of all time, Larry Legend is the Basketball Jesus in Boston and Indiana, only if Jesus had a porn ‘stache and a haircut the looked like a mullet mated with an afro perm. By the way he constantly talked trash to his opponents, you’d have thought he was a cocky, unlikable guy. But since this badass white boy backed it up each and every time he opened his mouth, you couldn’t help but love him.

His rival/longtime friend Magic Johnson said it best: “There will never, ever, ever be another Larry Bird.” For one thing, Bird joins Magic as the reason for the NBA’s popularity boom in the 1980s. Their head-to-head battles and mutual respect for one another during those classic Celtics-Lakers showdowns put the league on the map, with Bird and Magic serving as the two greatest ambassadors the sport had ever seen.

A three-time winner of the NBA’s 3-Point Contest, Bird was a devastating shooter who made backbreaking shots to cripple his opponents’ hopes in close games. Ironically enough, back problems became the reason Bird’s game deteriorated after nine transcendent seasons, and it was why he eventually had to walk away from the game for good.

In his prime though, Bird made all the right plays, tracked down loose balls on hustle plays, displayed some highly underrated passing skills and never took s**t from anybody. Bird talked a lot of trash, but he also wasn’t afraid to throw punches with Dr. J or anyone else who got in his way.

Had Bird’s back held up, we might have needed to move him further up this list. Had Len Bias not overdosed, we definitely would have had to move him further up the list, since he’d probably have more titles on his resume. But even with “only” three championships two his name, the Hick From French Lick immortalized himself as a clutch shotmaker, selfless team player and fierce competitor who lived and breathed the game of basketball.

During his three consecutive MVP seasons, Bird averaged a ridiculous 26.2 points, 10.1 rebounds, 6.7 assists and 1.8 steals per game on his way to two titles, one of which came as the best player of the 1985-86 Celtics — one of the greatest NBA teams of all time. Basically, Bird was putting up LeBron James numbers before LeBron James could walk.

His memorable moments include playoff battles with Dominique Wilkins, telling everyone at the first 3-Point Contest that they were all playing for second place, his steal on Isiah Thomas’ errant pass in Game 5 of the 1987 Eastern Conference Finals, his triple-double in the series-clinching Game 6 of the 1986 NBA Finals and a plethora of other buzzer-beaters and clutch shots. On the list of beloved Celtics, nobody tops Larry Legend.