Larry Bird grew up in French Lick — one of the poorest towns in the State of Indiana. His mother, Georgia, was a waitress and worked multiple jobs to support Larry and his five siblings. His father, Joe, was a heavy drinker.
Bird’s parents divorced while he was in high school. That was especially hard on his father, who made good on a threat to kill himself on Feb. 3, 1975. Larry was 18 at the time.
In such difficult circumstances, Bird turned to basketball as an escape. He averaged 30.6 points and 20 rebounds per game in high school, capturing attention from several schools. But Larry eventually decided to stay local as he chose to play for Bobby Knight at Indiana University. Overwhelmed by its size, Larry only spent 24 days on campus before deciding to return home. He then joined a community college in Indiana.
At the time, Bird was also married his childhood sweetheart, Janet Condra, and the two even had a child together. Unfortunately, he and his wife decided to part ways, and Larry decided he would be the one taking care of their daughter. Attending a community college was no longer Larry’s priority, as he was forced to find a way to support himself and his daughter. He dropped out and started working for the city of Indiana as a garbage man — a job Bird later admitted he enjoyed.
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, Sideline Sources
Fortunately for the game of basketball, Bird’s career as a garbage man didn’t last too long. All it took was a visit from Indiana State’s head coach Bill Hodges to convince Larry to commit to his program. And although Bird didn’t want to play for Hodges before their talk, one back and forth convinced him otherwise.
The former head coach recalled Bird talking about a friend who could really play, but nobody knew about him because he never went to college and didn’t have the opportunity to showcase his talent. What Hodges said next convinced Larry to join Indiana State.
I said ‘Yeah, Larry they’re going to say that about you someday’. I got up and left. It’s like being a salesman. You know when you’ve made the sale. I just left and let him think about things.Bill Hodges, Syracuse
Two days later, Bird’s mind was made up. The rest is history.