President of Basketball Operations for the Indiana Pacers, Member of the NBA Hall of Fame
Like the state he hailed from, Indiana, the name Larry Bird is virtually synonymous with the game of basketball. He was born Larry Joe Bird on December 7, 1956, in West Baden Springs, Indiana. His parents, Joe and Georgia, were a working class couple who raised Larry in the nearby town of French Lick. Although his family faced economic hardship throughout his childhood, Larry began to excel at basketball at an early age.
Larry attended Springs Valley High School in French Lick, where he starred on the basketball team, becoming the school’s all-time leading scorer by the time he graduated in 1974.
COLLEGE YEARS – SETTING THE STAGE FOR GREATNESS
Larry’s performance in high school earned him an athletic scholarship to the University of Indiana, where he was to play under the legendary coach, Bob Knight. However, as a small-town youth, Larry felt a bit overwhelmed by the immensity of the Hoosier campus and decided to withdraw from school.
After deliberating for a year, he enrolled at Indiana State and it was as an ISU Sycamore that his legend began to build. In 1979, his senior year, Larry Bird led the Sycamores to the NCAA Championship game. Indiana State faced the Michigan State Spartans, who were led by another future NBA superstar, Ervin “Magic” Johnson. It was the first time the two star forwards would match talent and wits, but it wouldn’t be the last.
Michigan State ultimately triumphed in a down-to-the-wire contest that lived up to its billing. Indiana State finished the season with a brilliant 33-1 record and Larry earned numerous prestigious accolades, including the USBWA College Player of the Year, the Naismith Award, and the Wooden Award. He left college as the fifth-highest scorer in NCAA history, despite playing only three years at ISU, and finished his collegiate career with a 30.3 points-per-game average.
INTO THE PROS – RENEWING A DYNASTY
In 1979, the storied parquet court of the Boston Garden welcomed Larry Bird as the Boston Celtics’ number one draft pick. Larry signed for a then-record $650,000 a year and began justifying the investment immediately, averaging 21.3 points per game and earning NBA Rookie of the Year honors. Larry also led the team in rebounding (10.4 rebounds/game), steals (143), and minutes played (2,955).
As a team, the Celtics reversed their fortunes from the previous year, improving from a lackluster 29-53 record in 1978-79 to a playoff-qualifying 61-21. Once the NBA’s greatest dynasty, Boston had endured lean years in the late ‘70s. Although they lost to the Philadelphia 76ers in the playoffs, Larry Bird’s arrival in Boston marked the start of the Celtics return to glory.
In 1980, the Celtics acquired center Robert Parrish from the Golden State Warriors and drafted Kevin McHale, power forward out of the University of Minnesota. Together with Larry Bird they formed what would become, arguably, the greatest frontline in NBA history.
The 1980-81 season saw the Celtics overcome Julius “Dr. J.” Erving and the 76ers in the playoffs en route to the NBA Finals, where they conquered the Houston Rockets in six games to take the first NBA Championship of Larry Bird’s career.
THE 1980S – RIVALRY AND TRIUMPH
Driven by Larry Bird’s stellar talent and leadership, and with president and general manager Red Auerbach guiding the front office, the Celtics quickly became one of the two dominant teams in the NBA during the 1980s, with the other being the Los Angeles Lakers, led by Larry’s collegiate rival, Magic Johnson. In fact, during the decade, every NBA final featured either the Celtics or the Lakers or both.
Larry evolved into a master playmaker, so much so that his first Celtics coach, Bill Fitch, nicknamed him Kodak, due to Larry’s uncanny ability to picture how a play would unfold, so he could turn it into points, whether he was taking the shot himself or making an assist to a teammate. He also played defense at a high level, and recorded 59 regular season triple-doubles in his career, plus ten more in the playoffs, meaning his tally for field goals, rebounds, and assists for each of those games reached double digits.
The 1982-83 season saw the Celtics continue to retool their team. Former Boston star K.C. Jones became coach and guard Dennis Johnson was acquired via trade to join Danny Ainge, M.L. Carr, and Quinn Buckner in backcourt that had both talent and depth. The stage was set for consistent Celtics’ success over the next several years.
In the 1983-84 campaign, the Celtics returned to the NBA Finals and faced off against Magic and the Lakers. In a spectacular seven-game series, Boston defeated the Lakers, winning the seventh game 111–102. Larry Bird averaged 27 points and 14 rebounds a game during the series. He was named the Most Valuable Player (MVP) of the Finals. Bird was also named the NBA’s regular season MVP for that year.
The Celtics returned to the Finals to cap the 1984-85 season, and once again battled the Lakers. This time it was LA’s turn to win, but Larry Bird was once again named the NBA’s MVP. In just a few short years the Celtics/Lakers, Bird versus Magic matchup had become one of the greatest rivalries in sports, followed by millions of fans nationwide.
A regular season record of 67–15 for 1985-86 propelled the Celtics into the playoffs once again, this time with Bill Walton on board at center. The Celtics defeated the Houston Rockets in six games to take the NBA Championship. It was the third victory in the Finals for Larry Bird, who was also named the series MVP, after averaging 24 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists per game. Larry also won his third consecutive league MVP award, joining Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain as the only NBA players to do so.
The following season witnessed the last appearance of a Larry Bird-led Celtics team in the NBA Finals. As if scripted for television, they once again battled Magic and the Lakers, with Los Angeles prevailing in six hard-fought games.
In spite of the contrasts between Larry Bird’s blue-collar appeal and Magic Johnson’s “Showtime” persona, and their fierce competition during regular season and playoff games, the men became friends. They also became so recognizable and popular that they appeared together in a 1986 Converse TV commercial that played upon their established public images. It was to foreshadow later commercial and movie appearances for Larry.
1987 – 1992 – A GOLDEN CLOSE TO A HALL OF FAME CAREER
The 1987-88 season was Larry’s best statistically. He averaged 29.9 points per game, playing 39 minutes per game, with a .527 field goal percentage and .916 free throw percentage. Then, in 1988-89, his season was cut short with a need for a bone-spur operation. He returned for the 1989-90 season, but was somewhat slowed by back problems that would eventually contribute to his retirement. Still, Larry Bird remained among the NBA’s elite, leading the Celtics to the playoffs in each of his last three seasons and averaging over 20 points, 9 rebounds and 7 assists a game, and shooting 45% or better from the field over the same stretch.
In the summer of 1992, Larry Bird joined Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, and other NBA stars to form the U.S. Olympics Men’s Basketball Team. It was the first time the U.S. had sent professional athletes to compete in the games and the assembly of superstars was dubbed the Dream Team. True to their billing, Larry Bird and his fellow NBA colleagues easily won the Olympic Gold Medal for the United States.
Larry viewed it as a fittingly golden moment to crown his golden career, and he announced his retirement from the NBA just a few weeks later, on August 18, 1992. In a career that spanned 13 years, he averaged more than 24 points, 10 rebounds, and 6 assists per game. He had a 49.6% field career field goal percentage, an 88.6% average in free throws, a whopping 37.6% when it came to three-point shots. Larry was the star of three NBA Championship squads. He was named an NBA All-Star 12 times. He was the league’s most valuable player three times (1984-86) and was named to the NBA 50th Anniversary Team in 1996.
In recognition of all Larry Bird had done for them, the Celtics franchise retired his jersey number, 33, in 1992. Larry Bird was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1998.
BEYOND RETIREMENT TO THE PRESENT
Larry Bird, affectionately referred to as “The Hick from French Lick,” had come a long way since his days as a small-town Indiana lad shooting 200 free throws each day before school. But Larry was never one to rest on his laurels.
Outside of basketball, Larry appeared in three movies, including Blue Chips in 1994, and Space Jam with Michael Jordan and Bill Murray and Celtic Pride with Dan Aykroyd and Damon Wayans, both in 1996. He also appeared with Michael Jordan in a 1993 Super Bowl ad for MacDonalds titled “The Showdown” that is frequently ranked as one of the ten best Super Bowl ads ever. The spot features Larry and Michael squaring off in a game of “H-O-R-S-E” for the ages.
Meanwhile, Larry kept his ties to the NBA, building a highly successful second career. He first worked for the Celtics as a front office special assistant from 1992 till 1997, then accepted the position of head coach with his home-state NBA team, the Indiana Pacers. Under his leadership, despite his lack of previous coaching experience, the Pacers were Eastern Conference runners up in 1998 and 1999, and won the Eastern Conference crown in 2000. For his outstanding efforts, Larry was named the NBA Coach of the Year for the 1998 season.
Resigning as Pacers coach after the 2000 season, he returned to the organization in 2003 to serve as President of Basketball Operations. He continues in this capacity to the present day. Larry Bird will always be remembered as one of the greatest basketball players of all time and among the top five or fewer “clutch” performers in NBA history. And his fans will never forget just how wonderful it was to watch number 33 in action!
Dirk Nowitzki and Larry Bird
When have we ever seen a 7 footer, who can shoot 40% from 3 point land? Dirk Nowitzki was one of the first players to ever do this. i tried to find 3 players who were great shooters, could rebound 9-10 rebounds a game, and were average on defense.
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