HIS 60 points the other night against the Atlanta Hawks -- a Boston Celtics team record and equaling the NBA's high for the season -- might have been a good week's work for many a pro basketball player. But for Larry Bird the feat came so easily and with such joy that it roused cheers from the opposing fans. Bird does not run fast. He cannot jump high. But he pours so much of himself into the game -- the shooting, passing, defense, and sharing -- that those watching him now, still in the ascent of his career, know they are seeing something special. In sports, hyperbole seems to go with the roar of the crowd. With the great players and the great teams, however, it can be useful to examine how they do what, if it were not actually seen, would sound like gross exaggeration.
Part of Bird's uniqueness is his dedication to hard work and team play. A few nights earlier it had been Larry Bird who was passing off the ball to teammate Kevin McHale so McHale could break Bird's own previous Boston Garden record of 54 points. Bird enjoyed McHale's success as heartily as his own frequent heroics. This concept of sharing is fundamental to the Celtics' tradition, which can be traced back through Red Auerbach, who has coached and managed the Celtics through their championship history, and back to Auerbach's basketball mentor at George Washington University.
Also, the Celtics have often taken on players of talent whom other teams had found ``difficult.'' Instead of imposing a surface conformity, which can bottle up ability and provoke rebellion, the Celtics encourage creativity in their players on the floor, within the liberating discipline of intelligent, unrelenting effort.
Bird put it this way about the latest Celtics recruit, Ray Williams, who was picked up after other teams reportedly passed him by because of a rebel reputation: ``His bad rap -- yeah, I heard all about it. But they said the same thing about Dennis Johnson before he came here. And Robert Parish was supposed to have one, too. He was supposed to be moody. Heck, I'm moody, too. That's not the point. The only thing this team cares about is winning games. And to do that, all you have to do is play as a team. He realizes that. He'll be all right here.''
He'll be all right here.
``What is it about the Celtics that seems to have made the team a haven for the league's unwanted?'' asks New York Times sports columnist Roy S. Johnson.
What the Celtics and Bird seem to be showing is that there is something healthily expansive in the selfless pursuit of excellence, even something redemptive in leaving behind reputed limitations of character and performance.