Rare Birds

We delve into the history of Birds in the NBA, and the big shoes one has to fill in Boston.
Published November 05, 2018 | 10 min read

In the history of the NBA, there have been only three players with the last name of Bird, the least accomplished being Jerry Bird, who played 11 games in his career, all for the New York Knicks during the 1958-1959 season, when he averaged 2.3 points per contest.

The other two? Both members of the Boston Celtics.

No need to recap the career of Larry Legend, the greatest Bird, and, according to many, among the 10 best players in NBA history. (A few even say he’s No. 1.)

The second is on the current Celtics, shooting guard Jabari Bird, who hails from Walnut Creek, California, just down the freeway from this reporter’s hometown of Lafayette.

Bird, 23, a Celtics second-round pick out of Cal in 2017, may not have the potential of Larry Bird, but he was a G-League All-Star with tantalizing flashes of two-way play who appeared poised to contribute after his Oct. 20 call-up.

Indeed, on April 6 Bird soared with his best game as a pro, scoring 15, with three assists and three rebounds in 24 minutes in Boston’s 111-104 win over Chicago at TD Garden. Not only was Bird the team’s third-leading scorer that night, his heady play in the last couple of minutes sealed the victory.

With 2:25 left, he raced back on defense as the Bulls were in a three-on-one fast break and about to draw within two points. Seemingly coming out of nowhere, Bird swatted away Sean Kilpatrick’s gimme lay-up, then transitioned to the other end, where he fed Jaylen Brown — his former college teammate — for a 3-point coup de grace.

Check out these highlights.

“Oh! Good hustle — Jabari Bird!” gushed an announcer, hustle being one of the most admirable traits of the legendary No. 33, who was known for flying after loose balls and swooping in with one extraordinary game-saving defensive play. (“Bird stole the ball!!”)

Kilpatrick, who poured in 24 before Bird’s rejection, easily could have been on the other side of the court that night. He had joined the Bulls only 10 days prior after a contract he signed with the Celtics fell through on March 26.

This new Bird, alas, did not find his name on the Celtic’s postseason roster — despite his team’s rash of injuries — so we won’t see him again until 2019, though can anyone reasonably challenge the collective wisdom of team GM Danny Ainge and coach Brad Stevens after Boston dispatched the talented young Milwaukee Bucks April 28 in the first round of the NBA playoffs without their two best players?

That Bucks series added another element of name-related intrigue.

In addition to Boston’s Bird, there have been just three other players in NBA history with the first name Jabari.

One of them played a key role against the Celtics, Jabari Parker, Milwaukee’s power forward. Parker has a higher profile than Bird, literally, as at 6’8″ he’s two inches taller, but also because he was the No. 2 overall pick in the 2014 NBA draft and once earned a comparison to LeBron James in Sports Illustrated.

And though he twice scored 17 points during the Celtics series, Parker vanished at times (zero points in game 2) and was called out for a number of defensive gaffes.

It will be interesting to see how things turn out for these two Jabaris, who are both 23. While Parker has failed to fulfill his LeBron-caliber potential, Bird might be on the rise, one of those overlooked gems that Boston’s brain trust specializes in uncovering.

As a Celtic, with that name, the shoes he has to fill are enormous.

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