Explosive playmaking and a deadly shot.
Forever linked with Earvin "Magic" Johnson — a rival star in college who went on to compete head-to-head with Bird for championships throughout the 1980s — Bird secured his legacy with an incredible array of individual success, leading the Celtics to three titles and five Finals appearances along the way.
A star in the tiny town of French Lick, Ind. (population 2,059), Bird starred at Springs Valley High School before beginning his college career as an Indiana Hoosier. He left the school and ultimately enrolled at Indiana State via Northwood Institute junior college, lifting the Sycamores from 12-14 to the national title game in three seasons. Upon leaving Indiana State, he was College Player of the Year and the fifth-highest scorer in NCAA history.
Bird became only the third player (and the first non-center) to win three consecutive NBA MVPs. No one has achieved the feat since, though Johnson won three of the next four (1987, '89, '90) and LeBron James notably won four of five from 2008-13.
Boston sagely selected Bird a year early, using the sixth selection in the 1978 NBA Draft, hoping he might forgo his senior season. He did not, and the Celtics dipped to 29-53, setting up one of the greatest single-season turnarounds in NBA history: a 32-game turnaround to 61-21 in 1979-80.
As a rookie, Bird led the team in scoring (21.3 ppg), rebounding (10.4 rpg), steals (143), and minutes played (2,955) while finishing second in assists (4.5 apg) and 3-pointers (58) earning All-Star and Rookie of the Year honors.
A relatively slow and limited as a 1-on-1 defender, Bird used peerless anticipation and court sense to provide stifling team defense, earning three straight All-Defensive Second Team nods from 1982-84.
Bird delivered one of the most iconic plays in both Celtics and NBA playoffs history in 1987. In Game 5 of the 1987 Eastern Conference finals against Detroit, the Celtics trailed 107-106 with five seconds left. Bird stole an Isiah Thomas inbounds pass and fed Dennis Johnson, whose layup gave Boston the win.
A four-time league leader in free-throw percentage, Bird posted what was then the second-longest free-throw streak in NBA history, hitting 71 consecutive attempts. It remains among the all-time leaders, especially among single-season marks.
Bird quickly acclimated to a coaching role in 1997, winning Coach of the Year honors as the Pacers pushed the Bulls to seven games in the 1998 Eastern Conference finals. After leading the Pacers to the NBA Finals two seasons later, when they were vanquished by the Lakers, Bird stepped back from the sidelines.
In 2003, he resurfaced as the Pacers’ president of basketball operations, working side-by-side with Donnie Walsh until the latter moved on to a similar role with the Knicks before the 2008-09 season. With complete control of the team’s basketball operations, Bird helped the Pacers end a four-year playoff drought in 2010-11 before winning the NBA Executive of the Year award in 2012. He took a season to focus on his health before logging four more years in the role, stepping down for good in 2017.