Larry Bird’s best teammates included Robert Parish, Kevin McHale and Dennis Johnson. Bird played with a total of eight Hall of Fame players, though a couple played only a few games alongside him. At different times, Bird has been quoted saying either Dennis Johnson or M.L. Carr was his best teammate.
- Kevin McHale
- Robert Parish
- Dennis Johnson
- Cedric Maxwell
- Tiny Archibald
- Bill Walton
- Dave Cowens
- Danny Ainge
- Reggie Lewis
- Artis Gilmore & Pete Maravich
In the list above, Hall of Fame players are in italics. In the statistics I use below, points, rebounds and assists per game should be obvious.
I am sure most readers know about Win Shares – an estimate of the number of wins a player is able to contribute to his team. I am using a modified version, Win Shares/48, which attempts to measure the stat per 48 minutes played.
If I used Win Shares, Robert Parish, who played forever, would dominate over players like Kevin McHale who were injured and retired younger.
I also use another catch-all advanced stat – PER, which attempts to measure the total production a player contributes to his team per minute.
Table of Contents
Kevin McHale is one of eight Hall of Famers Larry Bird played with on the Celtics. He may not be the best player Bird ever played with, but he is Bird’s best teammate. They won three rings together in 1981, 1984 and 1986.
Bird and McHale played 908 games together in their careers. You can see McHale’s career stats below.
|W/S per 48
McHale gets the nod in a very close call with the Chief, Robert Parish. They both played with Bird for nearly all of his Celtics career, which is why I chose them over a player like Bill Walton.
McHale edges Parish on my list because his advanced stats are slightly better than the Chief’s were and he made six All-Defensive teams in addition to his 7 All-Star teams.
Larry Bird was probably better on defense than you remember. But he still benefited from having an incredible defensive talent like McHale to guard the best forwards they faced.
I couldn’t fault you if you took Parish over McHale as Larry Bird’s best teammate. Parish and Bird played 941 games together – the most of any of Bird’s teammates. His stats are below.
|W/S per 48
The Chief was a huge contributor to all three of Bird’s titles, like McHale. It’s crazy how good the frontcourt was on those teams. All three made the Hall of Fame.
Parish was a 9 x All-Star and made 2 All-NBA teams to McHale’s 1. For those reasons, I think you could say he was Bird’s best teammate. It is very close.
I just think, as a Boston fan, that McHale was the more versatile defender and could have put up more points for a team that did not feature scorers all over the place.
Dennis Johnson played the fourth most games with Larry Bird. The two played 557 games together. DJ won two titles playing with Bird – in ‘84 & ‘86.
Here are his stats:
|W/S per 48
DJ ranks higher on the list than his stats would indicate. That’s mostly because Bird regularly praised him as the best player he ever played with. Bird, like us Celtics fans, loved DJ’s defense and clutch play.
In hindsight, I think Larry saying DJ was the best player he ever played with was Bird putting the needle to McHale. Larry Legend could never understand how McHale had interests outside of basketball and thought if McHale was as laser-focused as he was, they’d be unstoppable.
In any case, DJ was a darn good player. He was a 5x All-Star, but only once with the Celtics. When the Celtics got him, he stopped scoring as much as had in Phoenix and Seattle and focused even more on defense.
He made nine NBA All-Defensive teams. That is one of the major reasons he made the Hall of Fame, just like the top two names on this list.
Cedric Maxwell was a big part of Bird’s first two titles – in 1981 and 1984. He played the fifth most games of any Bird teammate at 530. He is the first non-Hall of Fame player on this list.
Here are his career stats:
|W/S per 48
Maxwell was the reason McHale was winning Sixth Man of the Year awards, because he started ahead of the younger Celtic.
Maxwell was also a super clutch player, winning 1981 Finals MVP and then famously saying the team could “Climb on my back boys,” before scoring 24 in a game seven Finals victory over the Lakers in 1984.
I think Cornbread clearly ranks lower than Parish and McHale.
DJ ranks higher than Max too, but it’s closer than my initial reaction would have led me to believe. Both won two titles with Bird but DJ’s consistent defense wins over Max’s clutch performances.
Tiny Archibald was a better player over his career than Max, but Cornbread won two titles with Bird to Tiny’s one so he finishes higher on my list.
Nate “Tiny” Archibald is the fifth Hall of Famer on this list. Larry Bird played with some talented dudes! Bird and Tiny played 331 games together over four seasons.
Tiny had been an All-Star for the (then-Kansas City) Kings in the 70’s before missing the ‘77-’78 season due to an achilles injury. He once led the NBA in both scoring and assists in one season! His career stats are below:
|W/S per 48
Tiny was acquired by the Celtics the year before Larry’s rookie season in one of the craziest trades in NBA history.
The owners of the Buffalo Braves and Celtics traded franchises and the Braves were moved west and became the Clippers. Tiny and many other players swapped sides as well.
Tiny had a rough start in his first season in Boston, but was fully healthy by the time Bird took the court in 1979. He would go on to be an All-Star again in each of Bird’s first three seasons.
Tiny won the 1981 title with Bird and was a starter and key player for the Green that year, setting up teammates while averaging nearly 14 points and 8 assists per game.
If you measured by length of time together, Bill Walton wouldn’t make this list. The two only played 118 games together. They won a title in those games, however, in 1986 when the Celtics had the greatest frontcourt in the history of the game with four Hall of Famers.
Here are Walton’s career stats:
|W/S per 48
Bill Walton may be one of the most talented players to ever play the game – he may well be the best player Bird ever played with.
The stats above are good, but even they do not capture Walton’s greatness because they include many seasons where a hobbled Walton tried his best but was not healthy enough.
Injuries got the best of Walton, but Bird and he did win that magical 1986 title together. I could see ranking Walton much lower because of his limited contributions – he only averaged 20 minutes per game and 7.6 points per game in their championship season.
But I chose to put Bill Walton this high in honor of his otherworldly basketball talent and his part in the magic of the ‘86 Celtics.
Dave Cowens was an incredible player who would easily rank higher on this list if it was Larry Bird’s most talented teammates. Cowens would rank higher than Cedric Maxwell, Dennis Johnson and others if this was a list like that.
Cowens is another Hall of Famer, the sixth on the list. His stats are below.
|W/S per 48
BIg Red was a two-time champion himself who was also league MVP in 1973, an 8x All-Star and 3x All-NBA and All-Defensive selection.
But Cowens falls below Max and others on the list because his connection to Bird is quite limited. He and Bird only played 75 games together in Larry’s rookie season of 1979-1980.
It was quite a year – I wrote about the amazing turnaround here. But it was only one year.
And, unlike 1986 and Bill Walton, their year together did not end with an NBA title.
Danny Ainge played the third most games with Larry – 601. He was never quite the player Tiny Archibald was, but he had a nice career. Here are his stats:
|W/S per 48
Ainge won two titles with Bird – in 1984 and 1986. He was one of the starters on the iconic ‘86 Celtics alongside DJ, Bird, McHale and Parish.
Those are the five who I grew up thinking were the Boston Celtics, as I came of age as a sports fan when they were the starting five. Ainge was a backcourt starter for the Celtics for most of the 80’s – though Gerald Henderson actually started for the ‘84 team.
Being a starter and key contributor to the Celtics in Bird’s prime, and winning two titles with Larry, puts Ainge ahead of a player like Reggie Lewis for me.
I ranked Ainge below players like Tiny, Walton and Cowens because, while they each played with Bird more briefly, they were at a different level from Ainge, who will never get serious Hall of Fame consideration as a player.
Reggie Lewis played 256 games with Larry Bird over five seasons. His career stats are below:
|W/S per 48
Reggie sat on the bench as a rookie in ‘87-’88. He became a major contributor to the Celtics the following year when Bird’s injuries began to cause him to miss major time.
He became one of the leading scorers for the Celtics in Bird’s last years in the NBA. I could certainly rank him higher – he was almost certainly a better player than Danny Ainge.
But Ainge’s connection to the prime Bird years, and their two sharedNBA titles, leads me to push Ainge up the list a bit.
Conversely, Reggie, as great as he was, was supposed to be the bridge to a new Celtics era. He did not get to be as great a teammate to Bird because things were winding down for the Hick from French Lick.
Unfortunately, that next great era never came due to Reggie’s, and Len Bias’,tragic deaths.
Artis Gilmore and Pete Maravich
Artis Gilmore and Pete Maravich were both Hall of Famers – Bird’s 7th and 8th Hall of Fame teammates. Neither played much with Bird: Maravich was on the Celtics for 35 games in Bird’s rookie season while Gilmore played 58 games in ‘87-’88.
Neither one offered much to the Celtics during the Bird era – though Maravich did pump in 10 points per game despite being at the bitter end. The guy could score in any conditions.
It is certain that many players, including M.L. Carr and Gerald Henderson, offered more to the Celtics during the Bird era.
But, using my own criteria that I have completely made up, I want to note the presence of two all-time greats as teammates of Larry Bird – especially since you may have forgotten that they played with Larry Legend.
Here are Pistol Pete’s career stats:
|W/S per 48
And here are the A-Train’s:
|W/S per 48
Who Did Larry Bird Say Was His Best Teammate?
As I mentioned above, I remember numerous stories about Larry Bird calling DJ his favorite teammate and even the best player he ever played with.
I have no doubt Bird loved playing with DJ. Johnson was a great defensive player noted for giving Magic Johnson fits and for his clutch shooting: What’s not to love?
But it seems obvious in hindsight he was not the best player to ever play with Bird, so why did Larry always claim that?
Looking back, I realize Bird was throwing a bit of shade at Kevin McHale because he didn’t see McHale as being dedicated enough to winning.
In any case, Bird was quoted numerous times calling DJ the best player he ever played with and his favorite teammate.
He was also quoted in Dan Shaughnessy’s book: Wish It Lasted Forever: Life with the Larry Bird Celtics saying “M.L. was my best teammate. He always had my back”.
M.L. Carr was a defensive specialist who came over to the Celtics in Bird’s rookie year. He had been a scorer for the Pistons and in the ABA, but mostly played defense for the C’s.
Carr was a tough player who never backed down, especially in defense of Bird. But, by the ‘82-’83 season Carr was only playing 10 minutes per night, and that is why he did not make my list.
Summary: Larry Bird’s Best Teammates
Larry Bird’s best teammates included eight Hall of Famers. The best of those players included Bill Walton, Robert Parish, Kevin McHale and Dennis Johnson. Bird also played extensively with greats like Danny Ainge, Cedric Maxwell and Reggie Lewis.
Check Out My Other Larry Bird Articles
I am not just a writer. I am a fan. A Celtics fan. You can tell by just how many articles I have written about the 1980s Boston Celtics, and Larry Bird in particular. Check them out below!
I wrote about Larry Bird’s defense here. He was better than you think!
I wrote about his college years at Indiana State here.
I wrote about Larry’s time on the Dream Team here.
I wrote about Larry Bird’s draft class here.
I wrote about his rookie season here.
I wrote about his best teammates of all time here.
I wrote about Larry Bird’s prime here.
I wrote about Larry Bird’s Finals record here.
I wrote about Larry Bird’s championships here.
Featured Image Photo Credit: Adapted from: “Bernard Cardinal Law, Larry Bird and Mayor Raymond L. Flynn” by Boston City Archives is licensed under CC BY 2.0
I have been a Boston sports fan for more than forty years. I write about games, players and seasons from the past.