BOSTON (CBS) — With just over six minutes left in the third quarter of Boston’s Friday night win in Philadelphia, a Celtic named “Bird” stepped onto the court for the first time since 1992.
It was 25 years ago that Larry Joe Bird appeared in his final game for Boston. Fast forward to Friday night, this time it was second-round pick Jabari Bird taking the hardwood for the Celtics.
Much was made about the Celtics drafting “another Bird” when they took the 23-year-old out of California. And Bird is well aware of that other guy named Bird who has a pretty good history in Boston. Sharing the same name with one of the greatest Celtics of all time may carry some high expectations, but it’s also been a lot of fun for the rookie.
“When I first got drafted here, that’s all I thought about – ‘man, it’s going to be hard to live up to that.’ Thankfully I don’t have to wear No. 33 like him and have my own number to build on, build my own legacy,” Bird told WBZ-TV’s Dan Roche after Monday’s practice in Waltham. “It’s fun and I enjoy it. People joke I’m the new bird in town, but I’m Jabari Bird and he’s Larry Bird, no relation. I’m my own person and own player.
“He was never on a two-way contract, so I beat him with that,” the rookie said with a smile.
This new Bird was supposed to spend most of his season with the Maine Red Claws in the G League, but the Gordon Hayward injury forced the Celtics to make an emergency call-up. He was at home in California when the C’s lost their season opener in Cleveland, and had to scramble to join the team for Wednesday night’s home opener in Boston. He didn’t play in that game, but remained ready in case Stevens had to call his number.
Much to the surprise of Bird, that call game two nights later in Philadelphia. In a game when Boston was without Marcus Smart, Bird contributed in the team’s first win, playing 14 minutes and hitting three of his five free throws. But it was his play on the other end of the floor that garnered the attention.
Known more for his offensive game in college, it was some tenacious defense by Bird that had C’s fans talking after the victory.
“I thought it was funny I was going in for defense because my whole life I’ve been known as a shooter and scorer. If you had asked three or four years ago if a coach put me in for defense, he’d probably look at you and start laughing at you too. It shows the growth in my game and I take pride at that end of the court,” said Bird.
The Red Claws don’t start their season until November 3, so Bird may see a few more chances with the Celtics before the team makes use of his two-way contract. He praised Red Claws coach Brandon Bailey for what he’s taught him so far on Monday, and said that working with Boston’s young roster over the last week has made things easier for him.
“It’s easy to blend in when there’s seven rookies. Even Kyrie [Irving], he’s the veteran but he’s 25. He’s still really young. It’s fun,” said Bird. “We have a young group and we’re all learning together.”
One thing he didn’t need to be taught was what the original Bird meant to the Celtics franchise. But that isn’t the rookie’s focus at the moment; he just wants to give the team whatever they need as they navigate through the early part of the season.
“I’m just trying to fit in with this team and earn more minutes before I start talking about being a legend in Boston history,” he said. “If I can do half of what he did here, that’s a hell of a career.”
There is one thing, though, that could help ease the pressure of the rookie’s last name.
“If we had another McHale here, that would really help,” he joked.