- 9.04.2021 14:16:05
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As LFO once sang, "The great Larry Bird jersey number 33." There have been many accolades for the man they call Larry Legend that go beyond being name dropped by the fourth or five most popular boy band of the turn of the millennium. Bird was one of the faces of the NBA in the 1980s and is still considered an all-time great player. We know him as "The Hick from French Lick," but how did Bird go from those beginnings to his incredible NBA career, and what happened after he hung up his warmup jacket? Here's a retrospective on the career of Larry Bird.
1 Larry Bird the small-town high school star
Bird's humble beginnings and troubled home life have been woven into his legend, but all these successful years later it can be easy to diminish the troubles that Bird had to live through. He grew up poor in the tiny town of French Lick, but became a local star at Springs Valley High School, averaging 31 points per game as a senior and becoming the school's all-time leading scorer.
2 Bird briefly becomes a Hoosier
Bird was from Indiana, and Indiana University was one of the biggest basketball schools in the nation, so naturally his first intent was to be a Hoosier. However, coming from such a small town, even the size of the campus in Bloomington was too much for him. Bird dropped out of Indiana less than a month into his time there.
3 Transferring to Indiana State
Bird returned home, worked jobs around the area, and spent some time at Northwood University in West Baden, Indiana. After a year there, Bird decided to make the move to Indiana State University in Terre Haute, Indiana, a smaller school that he would take to bigger places.
4 Bird's rivalry with Magic Johnson begins
The Sycamores had not really found much college basketball success before Bird arrived, but obviously a talent at Bird's level had never been on the team before. Larry spent three seasons at Indiana State, culminating in the 1979 season. Bird led the Sycamores to a 33-0 regular season record, leading Indiana State to the tourney for the first time. In fact, he led them all the way to the championship game, where Indiana State faced off with Michigan State, led by a young point guard named Earvin Johnson, know to most as "Magic." Magic Johnson and the Spartans won what was the highest-rated college basketball game ever. This began a rivalry between Bird and Magic that would continue through their NBA careers.
5 Bird wins the Naismith
Magic may have won the title, but he didn't take home all the hardware. Bird, who averaged over 30 points per game in his college career, won the Naismith award as the top college basketball player in 1979.
6 The Celtics takes Bird early, give him a record contract
Usually, a college player ends their college career before getting drafted. The rules were a little different back in the 1970s, though. Red Auerbach and the Boston Celtics took Bird sixth overall in the 1978 Draft merely to have his rights. Bird wanted to go back to college for another year, and he did. He also wanted a big contract, which the Celtics were worried about. Not wanting to lose the rights to exclusively sign Bird to a contract, Boston demurred, and signed Bird to a five-year, $3.25 million contract, then a rookie record. Soon thereafter the NBA changed their draft rules.
7 Winning Rookie of the Year
The Celtics would not regret that contract for a second. In Bird's first season with the team, Boston improved by 32 wins and made it all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals. Bird himself would average over 21 points, 10 rebounds, four assists, and one steal, winning the Rookie of the Year award with ease.
8 Bird and the Celtics win the title
The very next season the Celtics drafted Kevin McHale and brought in Robert Parish from the Warriors. The core of a decade-defining team was now established. Boston advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals again, this time coming back from being behind 3-1 in the series to beat the Sixers. The Celtics then bested the Rockets in the Finals, giving Bird his first NBA title in 1981.
9 Larry's legend blooms with MVP, Finals MVP awards
In the 1983-84 season Bird was named the MVP for the first time. This was also the first year that Bird and his Celtics would face Magic Johnson and the Lakers in the NBA Finals. This began a rivalry that defined the NBA in the '80s. Some claim the Celtics and the Lakers, and Bird and Magic, made the NBA exponentially more popular. Bird and Boston would win the first battle between this teams, with Larry taking home the Finals MVP award.
10 Bird drops 60 on the Hawks
The next season Bird would win his second MVP award in a row. Along the way, he would score 60 points in a game against the Atlanta Hawks, a career best for Bird, and still the record for the most points scored by a Celtic in a game. Boston returned to the NBA Finals, but this time the Lakers took home the championship.
11 Back issues begin
These days, NBA players work out like crazy in the offseason or maybe focus on building their media platforms or what have you? Back in 1985? Bird spent part of his offseason shoveling crushed rock for his mom's driveway back at her home. Could he have hired somebody to do that? Of course, but Bird did it himself. Unfortunately, he injured his back while shoveling, and his back never truly got back to normal for the rest of his career.
12 Bird wins the first Three-Point Shootout
During the 1986 NBA All-Star Weekend, the league had its first ever three-point shooting contest. Mind you, shooting threes wasn't as common as it is now, but there were still excellent shooters in the NBA. Bird entered this contest, and let's just say that he was not lacking for confidence. Famously when Bird walked into the locker room before the contest he asked his fellow contestants who was planning to come in second. He then went out and lived up to his claim, winning the shootout.
13 Another MVP, another title
That 1986 season was a truly tremendous one for the Celtics. Bill Walton joined the team, largely stayed healthy, and helped Bird and company win a league-best 67 games. Bird scored almost 26 points per game in winning his third-straight MVP award. In the Finals, Bird dropped a triple-double on the Rockets in a series-clinching Game 6, giving the Celtics another ring.
14 One last finals appearance
In 1987, the Celtics and the Lakers matched up in the NBA Finals once more. Bird did his best, averaging 24 points and 10 rebounds per game in the matchup, but the Lakers took him the title in six games. This would be the last season where Bird made it into the NBA Finals.
15 Injuries slow career, lead to retirement
Bird averaged 29.9 points per game in the 1987-88 season, but the Celtics fell short of the NBA Finals. After that, injuries started to become a bigger part of Bird's career. Surgery in both of his heels limited Bird to only six games in the 1988-89 season, and after one more healthy season Bird's back really limited him in his final two campaigns. Bird even missed four of the seven games in his final playoff series due to his back. Bird retired in August of 1992, and the Celtics immediately retired his number 33.
16 The Dream Team
There would be one last hurrah for Bird, however. NBA players were allowed to play in the Summer Olympics for the first time in 1992, and thus the Dream Team was born. While Bird was not the player he once was, he was one of the legendary players who were selected to that squad. The Dream Team absolutely dominated, even if Bird wasn't a big part of it, winning the gold medal with ease.
17 Bird lands in the Hall of Fame
Obviously, Bird was a clear choice for the Basketball Hall of Fame. He was elected in 1998, two years after making the NBA's 50th Anniversary Team. Bird would then be technically elected into the Hall of Fame again as a member of the Dream Team.
18 Larry gets into coaching, wins more awards
Though Bird retired from playing, he decided to stay in basketball in a big way. Bird was hired to coach the Indiana Pacers in 1997, and said he would only coach the team for three seasons. In his first year with the team, the Pacers went 58-24 and took Michael Jordan's Bulls to seven games in the Eastern Conference Finals. For his efforts, Bird was named Coach of the Year. He also took the team to the NBA Finals in 2000, where they lost to the Lakers. Then, as promised, Bird stepped down as coach of the Pacers after three seasons.
19 Bird becomes the Pacers' President of Basketball Operations
A few years later, Bird would return to the Pacers franchise, this time as the President of Basketball Operations. Following the 2011-12 seasons, Bird was named Executive of the Year, making him the only person in history to win MVP, Coach of the Year, and Executive of the Year. However, that offseason Bird left the team right before the 2012 NBA Draft, citing health issues. Bird would return to the job in 2013, but stepped down again in 2017, this time sticking around as an advisor.
20 Larry's legacy
Bird is one of the biggest names in NBA history, which is not too shabby for a kid from a tiny town. He's the best player in Indiana State history and an all-time NBA great. He won three MVPs and three NBA titles. Larry Legend was an All-Star 12 times and made the All-NBA First Team nine times. Also, he was in "Space Jam." Bird and Magic may have saved the NBA in the '80s, and Bird took the Pacers to great heights as a coach and an executive. Whatever Bird has done in basketball he's excelled at. Everybody else is vying to come in second.