Larry Bird was the perfect example of “Celtic Pride.” A true superstar that played his whole 13-year NBA career for the Boston Celtics, and winning three championships, three MVP awards, Olympic gold in 1992, and notching 12 All-Star nods, along with many more awards. He was a player without a weakness. Whatever you wanted, Larry could give you, as a deadly shooter, a slick passer, a great teammate, and most notably, a clutch performer. He had a personality and aura about him that oozed confidence, being very known for his trash talking.
Bird’s story and career are very well known and respected, but still, there is a lot you don’t know about the life and career of Larry Bird. Luckily for you, we got you covered. Here are the ten things you didn’t know about Larry Bird.
1. He came out of a poor home.
Bird was born in the small town of French Lick, located in Indiana’s corn country, where his family led a simple life. His household struggled to make ends meet, as Larry himself said that situation was one of his biggest motivations to succeed.
2. His whole town came to watch his high school games.
Bird’s hometown French Lick had a population of about 2000 people at the time, which meant that almost everyone in town went out to see Springs Valley High School’s home games. With an average attendance of 1600 people, basically, everyone was there just to watch freshman Larry Bird play. After all, he came out of Indiana, a state known for its love of basketball. When everything was said and done with his high school career, Bird became the leading scorer in school history, as about 4,000 people squeezed into the gym to attended his final home game.
3. He worked as a garbageman.
Bird only lasted only a few weeks in college, as he dropped out and went back home. He eventually got a job as a garbageman to make some money. Surprisingly Bird had no problems with that job as he described the experience:
“I loved that job. It was outdoors, you were around your friends. Picking up brush, cleaning it up. I felt like I was really accomplishing something. How many times are you riding around your town and you say to yourself, ‘Why don’t they fix that? Why don’t they clean the streets up?’ And here I had the chance to do that. I had the chance to make my community look better.”Larry bird, Listverse
Can you imagine a superstar of his magnitude doing that today?
4. His rivalry with Magic Johnson started in college.
Bill Hodges eventually persuaded Bird to come back to college and play for the smaller Indiana State University. He led them to a perfect 33-0 record during his senior season, winning the 1978-1979 College Player of the Year Award.
That brought Bird a matchup with Michigan State led by a 6-foot-9 point guard named Earvin “Magic” Johnson in the NCAA championship game. It was a showdown to remember, as Magic and Michigan won that battle. It was the start of one of the biggest rivalries in all of sports history.
5. He completely turned around the Celtics franchise in his rookie year.
Even though Boston selected him in the 1978 Draft, Bird opted to stay one more year at Indiana State University. The Celtics had a 29-53 record that year, their worst since the 1950 season.
Luckily for the Celtics, Bird joined them next season and sparked one of the biggest turnarounds in NBA history, leading them to a 61-21 record and improving their record by 32 games. Bird played in all 82 games, leading them in scoring, rebounding, steals, and minutes played, along with being second in assists and 3-pointers. He would already be an All-Star in his first season.
6. Statistically, he was maybe even better than Jordan.
Everybody knows Michael Jordan is the undisputed greatest basketball player of all-time, but Larry Bird was very close to throwing himself in that conversation. You can see that when you compare the two, as Larry matches or beats Jordan in every statistical category, except points and steals per game.
There have been players that said Bird was more challenging to guard than Jordan, as Bird’s game was based more around reading the game and outsmarting his opponents rather than athleticism. The most significant example is the fact that in head-to-head matchups between Bird and Jordan, Larry won 17 games while Michael won 11—a stat that pays testament to Larry’s true greatness.
7. He was a trash-talking genius.
What made Bird different and unique was his confidence, which he wasn’t afraid to show on the court. He had a certain swagger around him, often telling his matchup what he will do or predicting how he will score on you. To go along with that, Bird was pretty tough, not backing down from anybody and often getting into altercations. That made him very fun to watch for everybody but the guy guarding him.
8. He retired because of nagging injuries.
Unfortunately, injuries are often the main reason for players retiring before giving it their all. Problems started for Bird in 1985, when he was helping his mother build the driveway of her house all by himself. The constant shoveling led to his spine getting misaligned and causing back problems for the rest of his career. Bird often had to lie down for hours, before, during, and after games. To add to that, he removed spurs from the bones in his heels, causing him to struggle to play in any game going forward. He ultimately retired in 1993.
9. He had a very short but successful coaching career.
In 1997, Bird was named the head coach of his hometown Indiana Pacers. Even though he had no previous coaching experience, the Pacers had no doubts about their decision to turn over the reins to Bird.
Bird did a great job in his three seasons on the bench. In his first season, the Pacers had Reggie Miller as their primary weapon. Unfortunately for them, in the end, they were defeated by the notorious defending champs Chicago Bulls and Michael Jordan in a tough seven-game conference finals series. He also led the Pacers to the 2000 NBA Finals, but they couldn’t quite finish the deal as they were beaten by the Los Angeles Lakers led by Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant in a six-game series.
His short coaching career had a lot of success, as he was even honored with the Coach of the Year Award in 1998. It didn’t matter, as he still decided to resign after the 2000 season. Bird joined the Pacers back in the front office later in 2003 as the team’s president of basketball operations, where he would work until 2012.
10. He gave back a lot to the community
There is a Larry-themed restaurant in his hometown filled with memorabilia items for decoration from his career. Larry often endorses it and donates to it, without making any money from the restaurant.
He also sold his homes in West Baden and French Lick, Indiana, knowing they would turn into fancy hotels for the purpose of fans staying at them and being able to play on the same court Larry and Magic began their friendship.