BOSTON -- Larry Bird, saying he's had enough pain and enough basketball, Tuesday announced his retirement because of a back injury after 13 years with the Boston Celtics.
The best all-around forward in the history of the NBA announced his retirement at a news conference at Boston Garden barely a week after winning an Olympic gold medal to go along with three NBA championships and three league Most Valuable Player Awards.
Bird, 35, was an 11-time All-Star whose last two seasons were plagued by back problems. After undergoing surgery in June, 1991, he had to sit out 37 regular-season games and most of the playoffs last season.
'This is enough. I've had enough to last me a lifetime,' Bird said. 'Whatever you hear from now or next year ... or whatever, I will not be playing basketball.
'The pounding and the pain made my decision for me. I gave my heart, my body, my soul to the Celtics. ... For the past 17 years I have put my body through living hell.'
Bird's career regular-season averages of 24.3 points, 10 rebounds and 6.3 assists in 897 games could not possibly tell the story of Bird's major contributions.
His competitive nature, vision on the basketball court, ability to raise the level of his teammates' play and timing came along at a time the NBA was a dying league. Entering the pros in 1979, the native of French Lick, Ind., came to the NBA the same year as guard Magic Johnson and nothing revived the league more than their coinciding emergence as stars and role models.
'There is no way to quantify the impact that Larry Bird has had on the game of basketball,' NBA Commissioner David Stern said. 'With his intensity, dedication, competitiveness and will to win, he has been the ultimate team player in the quintessential team sport.
'Quite simply, Larry Bird has helped to define the way a generation of basketball fans has come to view and appreciate the NBA. In the future, great players will be judged against the standards he has set but there will never be another Larry Bird.
'I know that millions of fans join me in a heartfelt 'thank you' for all he has given to the game.'
Bird's retirement comes less than 10 months after that of Johnson, who may yet reverse his decision to leave the Los Angeles Lakers after testing HIV positive.
Bird and Johnson co-captained the NBA's 'Dream Team' at the Barcelona Olympics, where Bird played eight games and averaged 8.4 points and 3.8 rebounds. His last game was against Croatia Aug. 8, when he went scoreless in 12 minutes.
In the pros, Bird faced Johnson three times in the NBA finals and the Lakers won twice.
'On the court, Larry was the only player in the league that I feared and he was the smartest player I ever played against,' Johnson said. 'I always enjoyed competing against him because he brought out the best in me. Even when we weren't going head to head, I would follow his game because I always used his play as a measuring stick against mine.'
The comparisons between them began in college, where Bird's Indiana State team lost to Johnson's Michigan State squad in the 1979 NCAA title game.
Bird was drafted sixth overall as a junior in 1978 and when the native of French Lick, Ind., came to Boston, the club with the NBA's richest winning tradition had just gone 29-53. With Bird winning NBA Rookie of the Year, Boston went 61-21 in 1979-80 and the 32-game turnaround set an NBA record that stood until the San Antonio Spurs went from 21-61 to 56-26 with the addition of center David Robinson in 1989- 90.
'Thirteen years ago he looked like a little old country bumpkin,' Celtics President Red Auerbach recalled. 'When you looked into his eyes you knew you weren't talking to any dummy. He knew what he wanted in life and he knew what it would take to get there.
'Nobody has ever been more self-motivated. Nobody in my 42 years played hurt the way this guy did. He did it for his love of the game and his love of the people.'
Bird led the Boston franchise to NBA championships in 1981, '84 and '86 and was the NBA's Most Valuable Player in 1984, '85 and '86. He was the playoffs MVP in 1984 and '86.
In 1989, Bird played only six games after having bone spurs surgically removed from both heels. Bird played in at least 74 games every other year until 1990-91, when his lower back pain developed and he missed 22 games.
He underwent surgery on June 7, 1991, to repair disc and nerve damage but he said his back never recovered after he took a spill in practice last December.
Bird said he had been considering retirement for three months, and the decision came over the last few days. Bird, who lives in Boston, will remain part of the Celtics organization as assistant to executive vice president David Gavitt and will take part in community functions on behalf of the team.
'From his shoulders to the top of his head and from his wrists to his fingertips, nobody played the game better and he played with a heart five times as big,' Gavitt said.
In 1986-87 Bird became the first NBA player to shoot 50 percent from the field and 90 percent from the free throw line in the same season.
Bird set the club single-game record for points with 60 on March 12, 1985,against the Atlanta Hawks at New Orleans' Lakefront Arena.
In Boston's NBA title-clinching Game 6 against the Houston Rockets in the Finals, he scored a triple-double.
'I can never remember being that fired up for a game,' Bird said.
While Bird had less athletic ability than other stars, he had far more anticipation and timing and the 6-foot-9 forward made up for lack of speed with clever passing, long-distance shooting and clutch play -- and endless practice.
'If you don't play for the Boston Celtics, you never played professional basketball,' Bird said. 'I played over 1,100 games for the Celtics; it sounds like a lot of games but I probably played that many in my backyard before I ever got here.'