'Larry Bird ... true giant'
Longtime UCLA and NBA center Bill Walton played only two seasons with Bird and the Celtics (1985-87), but they were memorable. The oft-injured Walton stayed healthy long enough to help Bird capture his third NBA title in 1986, earning the league's Sixth Man of the Year award on the way to Boston's 4-2 decision over the Houston Rockets in the finals.
To say that Walton, himself an NBA MVP with the Portland Trail Blazers in 1978 and a true legend in the sport, thinks highly of Bird, a three-time NBA MVP, is an understatement.
"It's impossble to identify one moment," insisted Walton, who also plans to attend Terre Haute's tribute weekend for Bird. "Larry Bird is like John Wooden, Bob Dylan, Jerry Garcia, Neil Young — the greatest of the greats in that it's the totality of their lives and the quality of their spirit and soul that makes them so unique, so incredible and so worthy of a statue."
Walton described Bird as "brilliant" on and off the court.
"He likes to portray himself as the 'Hick from French Lick,' but nothing could be further from the truth," the 6-foot-11 man known as the Big Red Head continued.
"And I never saw a player — any player ever — be able to inspire the home crowd the way that Larry Bird did. It's just fantastic that he is going to have this statue. This is a fantastic chance for us to come and say 'thank you.'"
If you think Walton couldn't possibly come up with more superlatives for Bird, you're wrong.
"John Wooden would always tell us that it's not how big you are, it's how big you play," Walton said. "In that regard, Larry Bird is a true giant. What makes him so special is his brain, his heart, his compassionate soul, even though he is a tough guy in terms of getting the job done. But Larry Bird is as fine of a human being as I've ever known and he was the best player I ever played with. He was the smartest player I ever played with. Playing basketball with Larry Bird was like playing music with Garcia, Dylan and Mozart. It was like having a discussion about science technology with Isaac Newton, Galileo, Albert Einstein and Steve Jobs.