Larry Bird Biography

Larry Joe Bird is a retired NBA player and coach who currently serves the president of basketball operations for the Indiana Pacers. Bird was drafted by the Boston Celtics with the sixth overall pick in the 1978 Draft, although he did not join the team until the following season. Bird won the Rookie of the Year award in his first season with the Celtics, averaging 21.3 points, 10.4 rebounds, and 4.5 assists. The Celtics finished Bird's rookie season with the best record in the league and a 32 game improvement from the year before his arrival.

Larry Bird was deemed one of the best pure shooters of his era. Bird's career-high single-game point total was 60 in a game in 1985, and he was named Male Athlete of the Year the following year. In one game in 1987, Bird notched a triple-double before halftime. Bird was also a great foul shooter, averaging over 88% from the line over the course of his career. During one stretch in the middle of the 1980s, Bird made 71 consecutive foul shots without a miss.

Larry Bird was also a 10-time All-Star, averaging 13.4 points in those games, and was named All-Star MVP in 1982. He was named NBA MVP three times from 1984-86 after finishing as the runner-up the three previous years. In the 1987-1988 season, Bird became the only player in league history to shoot over 50% from the floor and over 90% from the foul line two years in a row. That same year, he averaged a career-high 29.9 points per game.

In an era where the individual game reigned, Bird was a team player and often showed it, as he was seen diving for loose balls and sometimes landing in the crowd. He epitomized hustle, team play, and grit and was appreciated by those he played with and against. More known for his deadly passing and ability to make every other player around him better, Bird could break a team down with his accurate shooting and decision-making. He was named as one of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History in 1996.

Every great player was confident in his game, and Larry Bird was no exception. He was known to, on more than one occasion, walk up to opposing benches and let the team know he was going to torch them that night and how many points he was going to get. During his career, Bird won three three-point shooting contests during the All-Star break. Before his first competition, he told the other competitors that they were all playing for second. He wasn't wrong as he won the competition with ease. Larry Bird was considered a true superstar during his time with the Celtics, and he earned the nickname "The Great White Hope."

Former Detroit Piston guard Isiah Thomas once said, "If you put all of us in a room -- Magic (Johnson), Michael (Jordan), myself, and (Larry) Bird -- Bird would probably be the guy who walks out of the room at the end of the day."

Early Years

Larry Bird was born on December 7, 1956, in West Baden, Indiana, but grew up in the nearby town of French Lick. He was the fourth child of six, including older brothers Michael and Mark, older sister Linda, and two younger brothers Jeff and Eddie. His father Joe was a laborer and his mother Georgia was a waitress. His family was extremely poor. After Bird arrived in the NBA, he referred to himself as the "Hick from French Lick." The name stuck during his years in the NBA.

Life in French Lick was difficult for the Birds, as Larry's mother supported the family due to his father's drinking problem. Bird and all of his siblings were shuffled back and forth to their grandmother's house when both Joe and Georgia had to work. Bird's father committed suicide in the mid 70's. Bird's drive to succeed was often said to come from his mother, as he never wanted let his family down like his father had.

Although Larry Bird was a good athlete, he was so driven to be successful that it frustrated him when he felt others were trying to get in his way. Before Bird went to high school, he had to learn to control his temper. During his junior high years, he often lost control and would yell at referees, piling up technical fouls. His high school coach Gary Holland knew what a special player he had on his hands but needed to find a way to control Bird's emotions. After several conversations with Bird's mother, and sit-downs with Larry himself, Holland was able to convince him that he needed to calm down and concentrate on his game, not how the referees performed. His game flourished once he used all of his energy in the right ways, by helping his team to beat their opponents.

Bird was a star player in high school, attending Springs Valley High in Indiana. His hustle and determination to win brought his game to new heights as a senior. He caught national attention when he averaged 31 points and 21 rebounds during his senior season. One college coach who took notice was Indiana head coach Bob Knight, who offered him a scholarship to play basketball with the Hoosiers.

College Career

Larry Bird took an unorthodox path to stardom. Coming from a town of a little over 2,000 people and landing on a campus of over 33,000 students was an adjustment he wasn't capable of handling at that stage in his young life. Before his first practice with Knight's Hoosiers, Bird packed up his things and headed back to French Lick because he was homesick. "People naturally think it was trouble between [Bobby] Knight and me, but it wasn't," Bird said. "The school was just too big. I was a homesick kid who was lost and broke." He later would attend a local junior college, but that didn't last either. He dropped out of the junior college and started working odd jobs such as cutting grass and driving a garbage truck.

After the death of this father, Bird decided that college was the answer once again. This time Indiana University didn't come calling. Instead, he would enter Indiana State University in 1975. He had to sit out a season after transferring, but didn't miss a beat his sophomore year. Larry Bird averaged over 30 points per game during his sophomore and junior seasons, and was named an All-American his junior year. He was nearly unstoppable when on his game, and pro scouts were beginning to notice the six-foot nine-inch sharpshooter from French Lick.

One such scout was Boston Celtics head coach Red Auerbach. He decided Bird was good enough to be taken with the sixth overall pick in the 1978 NBA Draft, which took place after his junior year. But Larry Bird still had another year of eligibility left at Indiana State, and he intended to use it. Rather than enter the professional ranks after his junior year, Bird decided to stay in school and rebuffed the opportunity to join the Celtics. This decision proved pivotal in his development, and was the beginning of a rivalry that is widely considered one of the best in college and professional basketball history.

As a senior at Indiana State University, he was named Player of the Year and led his Sycamore team to the national #1 ranking and an undefeated regular season. His Indiana State team would make it to the National Championship game with ease, where he faced off with another All-American in Michigan State's Magic Johnson. Unfortunately for the Indiana native, it wouldn't be his day. Bird was held to a meager 19 points, and Magic Johnson's Michigan State Spartans would win the National Championship 75-64. That national championship match-up had the highest television rating of any NCAA final in college basketball history. That meeting with Magic Johnson would mark the beginning of a rivalry that would follow Bird throughout his time in the NBA.

NBA Career

Larry Bird was drafted by the Boston Celtics with the sixth overall pick in the 1978 draft. The Celtics gave Bird a contract worth $3.25 million over five years. Bird's new contract made the highest paid rookie in the history of team sports at that time.

With such a large contract came even higher expectations, as he was thrust in to the forefront of the Celtics lineup. Bird led the Celtics to the league's best record while averaging over 20 points and 10 assists per game. The team endured a 32-game turnaround from a bad season the previous year. To top it off, Bird was named Rookie of the Year.

Larry's first coach in Boston, Bill Fitch, gave him the name Kodak, "because his mind is constantly taking pictures of the whole court." Bird seemed to have the ability to see things happening before they actually did. He was always in the right spot at the right time and had a knack for doing the little things to help his team win. One example was during the 1981 NBA Finals, against the Houston Rockets, when Bird followed a missed shot when he jumped, caught the ball, and shot it with his left hand for the bucket. He normally shot right-handed.

It wouldn't take Larry Bird long to bring the Celtics back to the promised land, as he led them to the NBA title in only his second year. In the 1981 Finals, the Boston Celtics defeated the Houston Rockets in six games. During the run to the Finals, the Celtics were down to the Philadelphia 76ers three games to one. His brilliant play brought the team back, and the Celtics won the next three to advance to the Finals. That comeback, coupled with the title, put Bird on the map as one of the superstars of the game.

Late in Game 7 of the Finals, Bird made two steals, hit two free throws, grabbed a rebound, blocked a shot, and sank the winning basket as the Celtics won, 91-90. He was later quoted as saying, "I wanted the ball in my hands for that last shot. Not in anybody else's hands in the world."

Larry Bird's duels with fellow star Magic Johnson have gone down in basketball history as one of the greatest rivalries in NBA history. The two players brought meaning back to a game that was devoid of followers for some time. Much as Bill Russell did in the 50's and 60's, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird revitalized the game and brought team play to the forefront once again. When the Celtics played the Lakers, the basketball world took notice. Magic would later say, "We weren't about stats. We were about winning." He would later add, "People who saw our games against each other saw some of the best basketball ever played."

They both won, and won often. Magic Johnson's Lakers won 5 NBA Championships (1980, '82, '85, '87, '88), and Johnson racked up 3 league MVP awards. Larry Bird's Celtics won 3 Championships (1981, '84, '86) with Bird also taking home 3 MVP awards. In three head-to-head match ups in the NBA Finals, Johnson's Lakers won twice (1985, '87) with Bird's Celtics coming out ahead in 1984.

During the 1984 Finals, Larry Bird was near-unstoppable, as he averaged 27.4 points per game and 14 rebounds. After the Lakers humiliated the Celtics by 33 points in Game 3 of the series, Bird openly criticized his teammates and himself by saying, "We played like sissies." After being asked what the team needed to win the series, Bird replied, "Twelve heart transplants."

The Celtics got the idea and followed their leader to win the Finals. The Lakers made it tough by taking the series to seven games, but in the end the Celtics prevailed, and Bird was named Finals MVP. The following year, the two would meet in the NBA Finals again, but the outcome would not be in Bird's favor. The Celtics dominated game 1, winning by 34 points over a completely overmatched Lakers team. This woke the Lakers up, and they took four of the next five games to win the 1985 Championship.

During the '85-'86 season, the Celtics dominated the league and were practically unbeatable at home with a 40-1 home record. They would make it to the Finals once again, although not against the Lakers. Bird was again dominant; his signature game came in game 6, where he notched a triple double (29 points, 11 rebounds, and 12 assists). He went on to win the Finals MVP for the second time. It was Larry Bird's third and final NBA Championship with the Boston Celtics.

The third and final meeting between Bird's Celtics and Magic's Lakers would come two years later, in 1987. This was considered the "rubber" match because each of the franchises had come out on top in a series during the Magic-Bird era. The Lakers were well-rested coming into the Finals, as they were coming off a 4-0 sweep of the Seattle SuperSonics in the Western Conference Finals. On the other hand, the Celtics were battling it out with the Detroit Pistons in a hard-fought series that lasted seven games.

In Game 5 of the 1987 Eastern Conference Finals against Detroit, the Celtics were down by one point with five seconds remaining. Pistons guard Isiah Thomas was inbounding the ball, and the Celtics had to get a steal or foul to stay alive. As Thomas attempted the pass, Bird stepped in front and stole the ball. He then fed the ball to his teammate Dennis Johnson for the winning basket. That play produced one of the most famous quotes in NBA history as the announcer said, "Bird stole the ball! Bird stole the ball!" The Celtics won the series and the right to face the Lakers.

The Lakers held home-court advantage in the 1987 Finals, meaning the Celtics had to travel cross-country after their long series with the Pistons. Once the NBA Finals began in Los Angeles, an obviously tired Celtics team lost both games to the Lakers before heading back to Boston. It didn't get much better back home, as the Celtics could only pull out two of three games before heading back to Los Angeles down three games to two. Magic would be the superstar celebrating this time around, as the Lakers won Game 6, 106-93, to win the NBA Championship. It would be the last time that Larry Bird and Magic Johnson would face off in the NBA Finals.

In 1988, Bird's Celtics faced off against Dominique Wilkins and the Atlanta Hawks. The series would go to seven games, but in Game 7, Bird struggled to make an impact early on. Then the fourth quarter came. Bird took over, scoring twenty points in the quarter alone, helping the Celtics to win the game 118-116. Boston advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals, where they were defeated in 6 games by the Detroit Pistons.

As Bird was winning scoring titles and NBA Championships as a Boston Celtic, his body was taking a pounding from the grind of many long seasons. In 1988, his heels were giving him trouble, and it was later found that he had bone spurs. After undergoing surgery to correct the problem, he had a strong offensive year during the 1989 season, averaging 24.3 points per game. But his injury problems would return with full force -- later that season, he began to experience back pain. Doctors discovered a swollen disc and he underwent surgery in 1991 to rectify the problem. Unfortunately for Bird, he continued to experience pain despite the surgery. He was only able to play in 45 games during the 1991-92 season.

USA Basketball

Larry Bird knew his career was coming to a close as the 1992 Olympics came around in Barcelona. The reality of his injuries wouldn't allow him to withstand the rigors of an entire season of NBA basketball and the pounding his body would take. He decided that he wanted to be a part of the original "Dream Team" after rules were changed, allowing professional athletes to compete in the Olympics.

Considered by many the best team assembled in any sport, the original Dream Team was a dominant force. The team beat opponents in Barcelona by an average of 44 points per game on its way to the Gold Medal. More importantly was its sporting impact on the rest of the world.

At that time, basketball's popularity was relatively concentrated in the U.S., and not the world sport that it is today. With the likes of Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Karl Malone, Patrick Ewing, Charles Barkley, and Clyde Drexler on the roster, the world took notice. Bird had limited minutes in the Olympics, but he still made an impact, scoring in double digits three times. He developed a close friendship with Patrick Ewing AND they were inseparable on their stay in Barcelona. They were playfully called "Harry & Larry" because they spent so much time together. The origin of the name Harry for Patrick Ewing is unknown, although Ewing thinks Bird made it up.

Chuck Daly once described coaching the Dream Team by saying, "Traveling with the Dream Team was like traveling with 12 rock stars."

Post-Playing Career

After helping the Dream Team to Olympic glory, Bird announced his retirement from the game of basketball in 1992. He would end his career with 21,791 points, 8,974 rebounds, and 5,695 assists; he was elected in to the Hall of Fame in 1998. Shortly after his announcement, he became an assistant coach with the Boston Celtics.

On May 8, 1997, Bird was named head coach of the Indiana Pacers. It was his first career head-coaching role. In his first year in charge of the Pacers, Bird led the team to the Eastern Conference Finals. This was considered a huge achievement, as the team didn't even make the playoffs the year before his arrival. The next year the Pacers returned to the Eastern Conference Finals, but were again unable to advance to the NBA Finals. In 2000, Bird's final year coaching the team, the Pacers did one better and won the Eastern Conference Finals. They squared off with the Los Angeles Lakers in the Finals, but weren't able to take the title and eventually lost in six games.

Following the Pacers' exit in the NBA Finals, Bird resigned as head coach. He had compiled a 147-67 record in his three seasons with the team. Three years later, he made a surprise comeback with the Pacers, except this time he wasn't sitting on the bench. He took over as president of basketball operations on a full-time basis.

Personal

In 1975, while a freshman at Indiana State, Larry married his childhood sweetheart, Janet Condra. Their marriage lasted less than a year before divorcing. In an attempt to rekindle the relationship, the couple had a daughter, Corrie, in 1977. Bird has financially taken care of his daughter, but he never made an attempt to become close with her.

Bird met Dinah Mattingly and married her in 1989 at a friend's home in Indiana. The Birds have two adopted children named Connor and Mariah.