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Unflappable Larry Bird: basketball star with the blue-collar work ethic

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When the game gets tight, says Kevin McHale, the Boston Celtics have learned to do two things, ''play good defense and look for Larry.'' Needless to say, McHale is talking about teammate Larry Bird, a player seemingly impervious to pressure. A case in point came during a recent game with Phoenix.

After the Suns went up one with a second left, Boston called time out. Apparently convinced there was no escaping this jam, a Phoenix player chided Bird as the teams returned to the floor. Aroused, Larry told the needler he would hit the game-winning shot. And he did, too, from 25 feet out.

Last week he blitzed the New Jersey Nets with 13 points in the last 41/2 minutes. And if you want to go back two years, there's the memory that will live in Celtic history.

With Boston hanging on to a slim lead in Game 6 of the National Basketball Association championship series, Bird did the almost unthinkable, firing up a corner jumper from three-point land. But the ball swished through, breaking Houston's momentum and paving the way to the Celtics' 14th NBA title.

What constantly amazes Boston Coach Bill Fitch is that Larry still has something to show you long after other players have milked their games dry.

And it's not that Bird paces himself or picks his spots. For the consistency of his overall game sets him apart and perhaps makes him the best player in the game today.

In fact, writers who regularly cover the NBA selected Bird as the league's best player in a recent poll conducted by the Los Angeles Herald Examiner. He finished ahead of Moses Malone, Magic Johnson, Julius Erving, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

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