A Star is Born
Larry Bird was born on December 7, 1956, in West Baden, Indiana. He was the youngest of four children. Because the adjacent town was named French Lick, Larry earned the nickname “Hick from French Lick.” Larry experienced a difficult childhood. After his parents divorced, his father committed suicide. Despite his childhood, basketball would become Larry’s salvation. In high school, he was one of the best players in the region. He became the star at Springs Valley High School and graduated as its all-time leading scorer. During his senior year, he averaged 30.6 points per game and 20 rebounds.
Because of his success on the basketball court, Larry received a scholarship to play at the University of Indiana. The university, however, proved overwhelming to him, and he subsequently dropped out and returned home. While at home, he worked several odd jobs before enrolling at Indiana State University. At Indiana State, Larry became a national superstar. During his first year, he averaged 30 points per game and 10 rebounds. Students at the university loved his style and attendance at games tripled. In 1978–1979, Bird led the Indiana State Sycamores to a 33–1 record. They made it all the way to the finals of the NCAA Tournament before falling to the Michigan State Spartans and future rival Earvin “Magic” Johnson. After playing three years at Indiana State, Bird left as the fifth-leading scorer in NCAA history.
The Boston Celtics
In 1978, the Boston Celtics drafted Larry Bird in the first round. He joined the Celtics in 1979 and became the highest-paid rookie in NBA history. Larry had an immediate effect on the 29–53 Celtics. He led the team in scoring (21.3 points per game), rebounding (10.3 per game), and steals (143). He was named NBA Rookie of the Year and was named to his first All-Star game. Most importantly, the Celtics’ record improved to 61–21, which was the best in the NBA! In 1981, after the Celtics acquired center Robert Parish and forward Kevin McHale, Bird led them to the NBA championship. The Celtics defeated the Houston Rockets in six games (it is a best of seven game series). It would be the first of five NBA Finals appearances and three NBA championships for Bird.
Lakers vs Celtics
During the mid-1980s, the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers developed an intense rivalry. In particular, the rivalry between the teams’ two stars, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, was very intense. Bird’s Celtics again won the NBA title in 1981, while the Lakers won in 1980 and 1982. The two teams would meet in the NBA Finals in 1984, 1985, and 1987. The Celtics beat the Lakers in the seven-game 1984 series, and Larry Bird was named MVP of the series. However, the Lakers avenged the 1984 loss by beating the Celtics in 1985 and 1987. Nevertheless, from 1984–1986, Larry Bird was named MVP of the NBA three consecutive times. In 1986, he won his third, and last, championship with the Celtics. In the decisive game six against the Houston Rockets, Bird achieved a rare triple-double (29 points, 11 rebounds, and 12 assists).
What Legends are Made of
By 1987, Larry Bird had already cemented his place in NBA lore as one of the most exciting and inspiring players of all time. He was a hero throughout the country, especially in Boston. Not only was he an incredible scoring machine, but he had an uncanny ability to make no-look passes, to make game-winning shots, to anticipate what would happen on the court, and to be in the right place at the right time. One of his more memorable great plays occurred against the Detroit Pistons in the 1987 Eastern Conference Finals. Trailing the Pistons 107–106,with just seconds left, Bird stole an Isiah Thomas inbound pass and fired it to a wide-open Dennis Johnson. Johnson then made a lay-up with two seconds left and the Celtics won. During the 1987–1988 season, Larry averaged 29.9 points per game—the highest in his career.
Retirement and Legacy
1987 would be the last time the Celtics made the NBA Finals with Larry Bird. As Bird got older, his body broke down. Over the next four years, he missed numerous games due to foot and back injuries. After playing for the USA “Dream Team” that won a gold medal in the Olympics, Bird announced his retirement from the NBA on August 18, 1992.
Larry Bird will forever be remembered as a legend in Boston, where he is known as “Larry Legend.” His career was amazing. He made the first-team All-NBA team each year from 1980–1988 and scored almost 22,000 career points. Larry Bird was inducted into the NBA Hall of Fame on October 2, 1998. Today, Larry Bird is the president of the Indiana Pacers. He also spent several years as their head coach.