Larry Bird Shatters Rivalry Myths: Philly Over LA for Celtics

Exploring the depths of NBA legends' most memorable rivalries.

by Nouman Rasool
Larry Bird Shatters Rivalry Myths: Philly Over LA for Celtics
© Kevin Winter/Getty Images for Turner Sports

In the golden era of the 1980s, the NBA witnessed a remarkable rivalry that defined basketball for a generation. With the Boston Celtics or the LA Lakers almost always clinching a spot in the NBA Finals, the stage was set for epic showdowns that transcended the sport.

The spotlight often shone on the dynamic duo of Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, whose leadership on their respective teams - the Celtics and the Lakers - turned their matchups into must-see TV. Yet, despite the glitz and glamour associated with the Celtics-Lakers rivalry, Larry Bird, a titan of the game and an Indiana native, held a different view on who the Celtics' true arch-rival was: the Philadelphia 76ers.

Bird's True Rivalry

Bird's perspective adds a fascinating layer to the narrative of NBA rivalries. Known for his fierce competitive spirit, Bird admitted that while the clashes with the Lakers were memorable, especially across a seven-game series, it was the battles with the Sixers that resonated deeper for him.

"LA was great," Bird reflected, "But to me, nothing was better than those Philly games when I first started out." This admission by Bird underscores the intensity and competitiveness that marked the Celtics' encounters with the 76ers, even though they never faced off in the NBA Finals.

Regular season games against Philly were imbued with a playoff atmosphere, a testament to the rivalry's depth. Iconic moments, such as the early-game brawl in 1983 that saw Celtics legend Red Auerbach confront Moses Malone, or Bird's notorious altercation with Julius Erving in 1984, exemplify the fierce competitiveness between these squads.

The Celtics and 76ers rivalry was not just about physical confrontations; it was a battle for supremacy in the Eastern Conference. The teams met in the Conference Finals four times in six years during the early 1980s, splitting the series evenly, with each confrontation lasting at least five games.

These series were a showcase of basketball at its finest, with both teams exerting their will to emerge victorious. Bird's revelation offers a unique insight into the mindset of one of basketball's greatest players, emphasizing that while the Celtics-Lakers rivalry captured the imagination of fans worldwide, it was the relentless competition with the 76ers that truly defined the essence of rivalry for him.

This piece of history, rich with competition and mutual respect, continues to be a testament to the era when giants walked the courts of the NBA, leaving a legacy that is celebrated to this day.