Larry Bird One of the greatest basketball players of all time emerged from the small town of French Lick, Indiana. With a population of 2,059 people, around 1,600 of them came to watch the Valley High basketball games, especially the blond-haired shooting whiz with a funny smile named Larry Joe Bird. Following a sophomore season that was shortened by a broken ankle, Bird erupted as a junior. Springs Valley went 19-2 and young Larry became a local celebrity. Generous fans always seemed to be willing to give a ride to Bird’s parents, who couldn’t afford a car of their own. As a senior Bird became the school’s all-time scoring champion.
About 4,000 people attended his final home game. When Bird went on to college, he found life very difficult. He started out as an Indiana Hoosier, but later left Bobby Knights team. In 1976 Bird enrolled at Indiana State, which had a 12-14 record for the 2 previous years. Home- game attendance hovered around 3,100 when he arrived, but as he had done in Springs Valley, Bird single-handedly packed the house and propelled his team to respectability. He averaged better than 30 points and 10 rebounds for the Sycamores during his first campaign.
Season-ticket sales tripled. TV stations showed film clips of Bird instead of commercials. Students skipped class to line up for tickets eight hours before tip-off. “Larry Bird Ball” was the most popular sport in Terre Haute. The Sycamores went undefeated and reached No.
1 in Bird’s senior year-that is, until a Michigan State team featuring a 6-foot-9 guard named Earvin “Magic” Johnson knocked them off in the 1979 NCAA Championship Game. Bird was ! named the 1978-79 College Player of the Year and left ISU as the fifth- highest scorer in NCAA history. The Sycamores had gone 81-13 during Bird’s three-year career. Then In 1978 the Boston Celtics selected him in the NBA Draft, hoping that he would skip his senior season. Bird decided to stay one more year at Indiana.
The Celtics record that year was 29-53. Then in 79-80, Bird finally came to Boston and sparked one of the greatest single-season turnarounds in NBA history. The 1979-80 Celtics improved by 32 games to 61-21 and returned to the top of their division. Playing in all 82 games, Bird led the team in scoring (21.3 ppg), rebounding (10.4 rpg), steals (143), and minutes played (2,955) and was second in assists (4.5 apg) and three-pointers (58). Bird was named NBA Rookie of the Year and made the first of his 12 trips to the NBA All-Star Game.
The next year the Boston Celtics drafted Robert Parish and Kevin McHale. That year the Celtics took the championship by defeating the Houston Rockets. Bird once again led the team in points (21.2 ppg), rebounds (10.9 rpg), steals (161), and minutes (3,239). In 1981-82 Bird made the first of his three consecutive appearances on the NBA All-Defensive Second Team. He finished runner-up to Moses Malone for the NBA Most Valuable Player Award. Bird scored 19 points in the 1982 NBA All-Star Game, including 12 of the East’s last 15, earned him the game’s MVP trophy.
It wasn’t until 1983-84, however, that the Celtics returned to the NBA Finals. By that time Bird’s scoring average had reached the mid-20s, and he was averaging upwards of 7 assists, and making nearly 90 percent of his free-throw attempts. Coming off the first of his three consecutive MVP seasons, Bird helped the Celtics to a seven-game victory against the Los Angeles Lakers in the 1984 NBA Finals. It was Bird’s first postseason meeting with Magic Johnson since the 1979 NCAA title. In Game 5, with the temperature inside Boston Garden soaring to 97 degrees, Bird pumped in 34 points, leading the Celtics to a 121-103 victory.
In Game 7 a record TV basketball audience watched Bird score 20 points and gather 12 rebounds in Boston’s 111-102 win. With series averages of 27.4 points and 14.0 rebounds, Bird was named Finals MVP. Bird’s scoring average soared to 28.7 points in 1984-85, the second highest mark in the league and the second highest of his career. He boosted that average with a career-best 60 points against Atlanta on March 12. He also made 56 out of 131 three-point attempts, second in the NBA behind the Lakers’ Byron Scott.
Injuries to Bird’s elbow and fingers, however, contributed to the Celtics’ six-game loss to the Lakers in the 1985 Finals. Nevertheless, at season’s end Bird won his second consecutive NBA Most Valuable Player Award. A crafty defensive player, Bird’s most famous steal came in Game 5 of the 1987 Eastern Conference Finals against Detroit. With five seconds remaining and the Celtics trailing, 107-106, Bird stole an Isiah Thomas inbounds pass and passed to Dennis Johnson, whose lay-up gave Boston the win. The Celtics won the physical, bitter series in seven games. Boston advanced to the NBA Finals for the fourth consecutive year, meeting the Lakers for the third time. Los Angeles won the series in six games.
In 1987-88 Bird was the first Celtic ever to record a 40-20 game, with a 42-point, 20-rebound effort against Indiana. He averaged a career-high 29.9 points that year, falling just five points short of reaching 30 per contest. Bird also won his third consecutive NBA Long Distance Shootout title. In Game 7 of the conference semifinals that year against Atlanta, Bird engaged in a memorable fourth-quarter shoot-out with the Hawks’ Dominique Wilkins. Bird poured in 20 points in the final period to outdo his counterpart and lead the Celtics to victory, even though he had bronchial pneumonia.
The Celtics fell to the Pistons in the next round, and the Lakers knocked off Detroit in the Finals. Surgery to remove bone spurs from both heels limited Bird to only six games in 1988-89. The following year Bird assembled the third-longest free-throw streak in NBA history, hitting 71 consecutive attempts. Bird missed 22 games in 1990-91 because of a compressed nerve root in his back, a condition that eventually forced his retirement. In the first round of that year’s playoffs, Bird badly bruised his face in a second-quarter fall in Game 5 against Indiana.
His back was also hurting, but Bird came back in the third period to help lift the Celtics to victory. The following year was Bird’s last. He missed 37 games because of the continuing back problems. In a nationally televised game against Portland in March, Bird pulled off one final miracle performance. He scored 16 points in the fourth quarter, including the Celtics’ last 9 points and a game-tying three-pointer with two seconds left.
Boston won, 152-148, in double overtime. Bird finished with 49 points, 14 rebounds, 12 assists, and 4 steals. “Anytime you have Bird on the floor, anything can happen,” Portland’s Clyde Drexler told the Boston Herald after the game. The end of Bird’s career was at hand, but not before one last achievement: a gold medal with the 1992 U.S. Olympic Dream Team. As the 1992-93 NBA season approached, Bird decided he could not continue.
On August 18 he announced his retirement as a player. He was later named a special assistant in the Celtics’ front office. His duties include being actively involved in team personnel decisions, as well as scouting college players, and now he is the head coach of the Boson Celtics. Hes got a pretty crappy team to coach, but Bird has been known to work miracles in Indiana. After 897 games Bird retired with 21,791 points (24.3 ppg), currently No.
14 on the all-time list, along with 8,974 rebounds (10.0 rpg) and 5,695 assists (6.3 apg). During his career he shot .496 from the floor and .886 from the free- throw line, ranking fifth all-time in the latter category behind Mark Price, Rick Barry, Calvin Murphy, and Scott Skiles. Larry Joe and his wife Dinah have two children: Connor and Mariah. He has four brothers and one sister; his mother’s name is Georgia. Bird is an avid outdoorsman and has a passion for country music, auto racing and the St. Louis Cardinals.
He also owns “Larry Bird’s Boston Connection,” a hotel/restaurant in Terre Haute, where a street was named in his honor on August 4, 1984.