One of the dominant stereotypes in the NBA is that white guys are soft. Funny enough, a proponent of that theory was Larry Bird, who on more than one occasion got insulted when the opposing team “got that white boy on me? Don't put that white boy on me.” A story from his youth explains why Larry felt that way.
White kid, toughened by Blacks hoopers
Like his fellow all-time greats, Bird fell in love with basketball at an early age. And growing up in Indiana, young Larry honed his skills by hooping with older guys working in a hotel near his turf, French Lick. And for those who are wondering, yes! Bird confirmed they were “Black, athletic, 20-something guys.”
“When you’re 9, 10, 11, you see somebody 20, you think they’re old,” Bird told The Undefeated in 2019. “But it was a number of guys who would show up every day.”
Bird added that “in between games they’d smoke their Kool cigarettes and drink their beer.” A lot of people in Indiana at the time (and still too many today) wouldn't believe Larry when he said these people were nothing “but great guys.” In the process, Bird developed a genuine and off-the-court relationship with most of them, particularly a guy whom he called “Slim.”
“What was really great for me and made me happy is 30 years ago I ran into Slim, who was down in Atlanta out there cooking at one of the hotels we stayed in,” he recounted. “And he’d come up and say, ‘Remember me?’ And I knew I’d seen that face before, but I didn’t know where. He was a little bit older. But he said he was so proud of how I turned out.”
Larry Legend knows the truth
Having witnessed how fierce Bird had been in the pros, we can already picture how competitive those games with the hotel workers were at the time. One way or another, it’s safe to say that “The Hick from French Lick” indeed learned a thing or two from Slim and his pals.
“I think the one thing you have to have is the desire to make yourself better every day. I wasn't able to run fast or jump high, so I had to come up with another gimmick to get me through… I am a better athlete than people give me credit for. I am good at pretty much anything that I do. There is no question I have to work a little bit harder than someone with gifted ability.”
Ultimately, Bird defied the stereotypes of the White guy in the world of sports. And if someone is still not convinced, he could let his NBA Hall of Fame induction, three MVP awards, three NBA titles, and 12 All-Star appearances speak for themselves.