Larry Bird

Larry Bird
Bird in 2004
Personal information
Born (1956-12-07) December 7, 1956 (age 62)
West Baden Springs, Indiana
Nationality American
Listed height 6 ft 9 in (2.06 m)
Listed weight 220 lb (100 kg)
Career information
High school Springs Valley
(French Lick, Indiana)
College Indiana State (1976–1979)
NBA draft 1978 / Round: 1 / Pick: 6th overall
Selected by the Boston Celtics
Playing career 1979–1992
Position Small forward / Power forward
Number 33
Coaching career 1997–2000
Career history
As player:
19791992 Boston Celtics
As coach:
19972000 Indiana Pacers
Career highlights and awards
As player:

As coach:

As executive:

Career NBA statistics
Points 21,791 (24.3 ppg)
Rebounds 8,974 (10.0 rpg)
Assists 5,695 (6.3 apg)
Stats at
Basketball Hall of Fame as player
College Basketball Hall of Fame
Inducted in 2006

Larry Joe Bird (born December 7, 1956) is an American former professional basketball player, former coach, and former executive who most recently served as President of Basketball Operations for the Indiana Pacers in the National Basketball Association (NBA). Nicknamed "The Hick from French Lick," Bird is widely regarded as one of the greatest basketball players of all time.

Drafted into the NBA by the Boston Celtics with the sixth overall pick in the 1978 NBA draft, Bird started at small forward and power forward for the Celtics for 13 seasons. Bird was a 12-time NBA All-Star and received the NBA Most Valuable Player Award three consecutive times (19841986). He played his entire professional career for Boston, winning three NBA championships and two NBA Finals MVP awards. Bird was also a member of the gold-medal-winning 1992 United States men's Olympic basketball team known as "The Dream Team". He was voted to the NBA's 50th Anniversary All-Time Team in 1996, was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1998, and was inducted into the Hall of Fame again in 2010 as a member of "The Dream Team".

After retiring as a player, Bird served as head coach of the Indiana Pacers from 1997 to 2000. He was named NBA Coach of the Year for the 1997-1998 season and later led the Pacers to a berth in the 2000 NBA Finals. In 2003, Bird was named President of Basketball Operations for the Pacers, holding the position until retiring in 2012.[1] He was named NBA Executive of the Year for the 2012 season. Bird returned to the Pacers as President of Basketball Operations in 2013[2] and remained in that role until 2017.

As of 2019, Bird is the only person in NBA history to be named Rookie of the Year, Most Valuable Player, NBA Finals MVP, All-Star MVP, Coach of the Year, and Executive of the Year.[3]

Early life

Bird was born in West Baden Springs, Indiana, to Georgia (née Kerns) and Claude Joseph "Joe" Bird, a veteran of the Korean War.[4] He was raised in nearby French Lick, where his mother worked two jobs to support Larry and his five siblings.[5] Bird has said that being poor as a child still motivates him "to this day".[6] Georgia and Joe divorced when Larry was in high school, and Joe committed suicide about a year later.[7] Larry used basketball as an escape from his family troubles, starring for Springs Valley High School and averaging 31 points, 21 rebounds, and 4 assists as a senior on his way to becoming the school's all-time scoring leader.[4][8]

College career

Bird warming up for Indiana State

Bird received a scholarship to play college basketball for the Indiana University Hoosiers in 1974.[9] After less than a month on campus he dropped out of school, finding the adjustment between his small hometown and the large student population of Bloomington to be overwhelming.[4] He returned to French Lick, enrolling at Northwood Institute (now Northwood University) in nearby West Baden, and working municipal jobs for a year before enrolling at Indiana State University in Terre Haute in 1975.[10][11][12] He had a successful three-year career with the Sycamores, helping them reach the NCAA tournament for the first time in school history with a 33-0 record where they played the 1979 championship game against Michigan State.[13][14] Indiana State lost the game 75–64, with Bird scoring 19 points but making only 7 of 21 shots.[4] The game achieved the highest ever television rating for a college basketball game, in large part because of the matchup between Bird and Spartans' point guard Earvin "Magic" Johnson,[5] a rivalry that lasted throughout their professional careers. Despite failing to win the championship, Bird earned numerous year-end awards and honors for his outstanding play, including the Naismith College Player of the Year Award.[14] For his college career, he averaged 30.3 points, 13.3 rebounds, and 4.6 assists per game,[15] leading the Sycamores to an 81–13 record during his tenure.[14] Bird also appeared in one game for the baseball team, going 1-for-2 with 2 RBI.[16]

Professional career

Joining the Celtics (1978–1979)

Bird was selected by the Boston Celtics with the sixth overall pick in the 1978 NBA draft.[15] He did not sign with the Celtics immediately; instead, he played out his final season at Indiana State and led the Sycamores to the NCAA title game. Red Auerbach publicly stated that he would not pay Bird more than any Celtic on the current roster, but Bird's agent bluntly told Red that Bird would reject any sub-market offers and simply enter the 1979 NBA Draft instead, where Boston's rights would expire the second the draft began and Bird would have been the likely top pick. After protracted negotiations, Bird inked a five-year, $3.25 million contract with the team, making him the highest paid rookie in league history at the time.[8][17] Shortly afterwards, NBA draft eligibility rules were changed to prevent teams from drafting players before they were ready to sign, a rule known as the Bird Collegiate Rule.[17]

Early success (1979–1983)

Bird recorded 14 points, 10 rebounds and five assists in his NBA debut against the Houston Rockets on October 12, 1979.

In his rookie season (1979-1980), Bird immediately transformed the Celtics into a title contender. The team improved its win total by 32 games from the year before he was drafted and finished first in the Eastern Conference.[18][19] With averages of 21.3 points, 10.4 rebounds, 4.5 assists, and 1.7 steals per game for the season, he was selected to the All-Star Team and named Rookie of the Year.[15] In the Conference Finals, Boston was eliminated by the Philadelphia 76ers.[19]

Before the 1980–81 season, the Celtics selected forward Kevin McHale in the draft and acquired center Robert Parish from the Golden State Warriors,[20][21] forming a Hall of Fame trio for years to come; the frontcourt of Bird, McHale, and Parish is regarded as one of the greatest frontcourts in NBA history.[22][23][24] Behind Bird's leadership and Boston's upgraded roster, the Celtics again advanced to the Conference Finals for a rematch with the 76ers.[25] Boston fell behind 3–1 to start the series but won the next three games to advance to the Finals against the Houston Rockets,[26] winning in six games and earning Bird his first championship.[25] He averaged 21.9 points, 14 rebounds, 6.1 assists, and 2.3 steals per game for the postseason and 15.3 points, 15.3 rebounds, and 7 assists per game for the Finals but lost out on the Finals MVP Award to teammate Cedric Maxwell.[15][27]

At the 1982 All-Star Game, Bird scored 19 points en route to winning the All-Star Game MVP Award.[28] At the conclusion of the season, he earned his first All-Defensive Team selection.[15] He eventually finished runner-up in Most Valuable Player Award voting to Moses Malone.[28] In the Conference Finals, the Celtics faced the 76ers for the third consecutive year, losing in seven games.[29] Boston's misfortunes continued into the next season, with Bird again finishing second in MVP voting to Malone and the team losing in the Conference Semifinals to the Milwaukee Bucks.[28][30]

Battles with the Lakers and MVP tenure (1983–1987)

Bird playing for the Celtics in a game against the Washington Bullets

Bird was named MVP of the 1983–84 season with averages of 24.2 points, 10.1 rebounds, 6.6 assists, and 1.8 steals per game.[15] In the playoffs, the Celtics avenged their loss from the year before to the Bucks, winning in five games in the Conference Finals to advance to the Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers.[31] In Game Four, the Lakers—led by Bird's college rival Magic Johnson—were on the verge of taking a commanding 3-1 series lead before a flagrant foul was committed on Kurt Rambis that resulted in a brawl and caused the Lakers to lose their composure.[32] Boston came back to win the game, eventually winning the series in seven.[31] Bird was named Finals MVP behind 27.4 points, 14 rebounds, and 3.6 assists per game.[31]

On March 12 of the 1984–85 season, Bird scored a career-high and franchise record 60 points in a game against the Atlanta Hawks.[33] The performance came just nine days after Kevin McHale set the previous Celtics record for points in a game with 56.[34] At the conclusion of the year, Bird was named MVP for the second consecutive season behind averages of 28.7 points, 10.5 rebounds, and 6.6 assists per game.[15] Boston advanced through the playoffs to earn a rematch with the Lakers, this time losing in six games.[35]

In the summer of 1985, Larry injured his back shoveling crushed rock to create a driveway at his mother's house. At least partially as a result of this, he experienced back problems for the remainder of his career.[36]

Bird playing for the Celtics in the 1985 NBA playoffs

Before the start of the 1985–86 season, the Celtics made a daring trade for Bill Walton, an All-Star center with a history of injury.[37] The risk paid off; Walton's acquisition helped Boston win a league best 67 games.[38] One of Bird's career highlights occurred at the 1986 NBA All-Star Weekend when he walked into the locker room at the inaugural Three-Point Shootout and asked who was going to finish second before winning the shootout.[39][40] With averages of 25.8 points, 9.8 rebounds, and 6.8 assists, and 2 steals per game, Bird became just the third player in NBA history to win three consecutive MVP Awards.[41] In the playoffs, the Celtics lost only one game through the first three rounds en route to a match-up against the Rockets in the Finals.[37] Bird averaged 24 points, 9.7 rebounds, and 9.5 assists per game for the championship round, leading Boston to victory in six games.[42] The '86 Celtics are commonly ranked as one of the greatest basketball teams of all-time, with the Boston Globe's Peter May and Grantland's Bill Simmons listing them at number one.[43]

In 1987, the Celtics made their last Finals appearance of Bird's career, fighting through difficult series against the Milwaukee Bucks and Detroit Pistons. In Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Pistons, with five seconds remaining in the fourth quarter and Boston trailing the Pistons 107–106, Bird stole an inbounds pass. Falling out of bounds, Bird turned and passed the ball to teammate Dennis Johnson, who converted a game-winning 2-point layup with less than a second left. The dramatic play saved the series for the Celtics. When they reached the NBA Finals, the Celtics—hampered by devastating injuries—lost to a dominant Lakers team which had won 65 games during the season. The Celtics ended up losing to the Lakers in six games, with Bird averaging 24.2 points on .445 shooting, 10 rebounds and 5.5 assists per game in the championship series.[44] The Celtics would fall short in 1988 losing to the Detroit Pistons in 6 games in the Eastern Conference Finals as the Pistons made up from the heartbreak the previous season. Between them, Bird and Johnson captured eight NBA championships during the 1980s, with Magic getting five and Bird three. During the 1980s, either Boston or Los Angeles appeared in every NBA Finals.[45]

Throughout the 1980s, contests between the Celtics and the Lakers—both during the regular season and in the Finals—attracted enormous television audiences. The first regular season game between the Celtics and the Lakers in the 1987–88 season proved to be a classic with Magic Johnson banking in an off balance shot from near the three-point line at the buzzer for a 115–114 Lakers win at Boston Garden.[46] The historical rift between the teams, which faced each other several times in championship series of the 1960s, fueled fan interest in the rivalry. Not since Bill Russell squared off against Wilt Chamberlain had professional basketball enjoyed such a marquee matchup. The apparent contrast between the two players and their respective teams seemed scripted for television: Bird, the introverted small-town hero with the blue-collar work ethic, fit perfectly with the throwback, hard-nosed style of the Celtics, while the stylish, gregarious Johnson ran the Lakers' fast-paced Showtime offense amidst the bright lights and celebrities of Los Angeles. A 1980s Converse commercial for its "Weapon" line of basketball shoes (endorsed by both Bird and Johnson) reflected the perceived dichotomy between the two players. In the commercial, Bird is practicing alone on a rural basketball court (in reality the court was one Bird had had made on the property in French Lick that he had purchased for his mother), when Johnson pulls up in a sleek limousine and challenges him to a one-on-one match.

Despite the intensity of their rivalry, Bird and Johnson became friends off the court. Their friendship blossomed when the two players worked together to film the Converse commercial, which depicted them as archenemies. Johnson appeared at Bird's retirement ceremony on February 4, 1993 and emotionally described Bird as a "friend forever".

Late career (1988–1992)

The 1987-1988 season was the highest-scoring season of Bird's career. In Game 7 of the 1988 Eastern Conference semifinals against the Atlanta Hawks, Bird shot 9 of 10 from the floor in the fourth quarter, scoring 20 points in that quarter and lifting the Celtics to a series-clinching victory over Atlanta. Bird finished with 34 points. His effort helped to overcome a 47-point performance by Atlanta's Dominique Wilkins. Wilkins remarked, "The basket was like a well. I couldn't miss. He couldn't miss. And it went down to the last shot of the game. Who was going to make the last shot? That's the greatest game I've ever played in or seen played." The Celtics failed to reach the NBA Finals for the first time in five years, losing to the Pistons in six games during the Eastern Conference Finals.

Bird's 1988–89 season season ended after six games when he had bone spurs surgically removed from both of his heels. He returned to the Celtics in 1989, but debilitating back problems and an aging Celtic roster prevented him from regaining his mid-1980s form. Nonetheless, during the final years of his career, Bird maintained his status as one of the premier players in the game. In his final three seasons with the Celtics, Bird averaged over 20 points, 9 rebounds and 7 assists per game, shot better than 45% from the field, and led the Celtics to playoff appearances.

After leading the Celtics to a 29–5 start to the 1990–91 season, Bird missed 22 games due to a compressed nerve root in his back, a condition that would eventually lead to his retirement. He had off-season surgery to remove a disc from his back, but his back problems continued and he missed 37 games during the 1991–92 season. During the 1992 Eastern Conference semi-finals against the Cleveland Cavaliers, Bird missed four of the seven games due to recurring back problems.

On August 18, 1992, Bird announced his retirement. Following Bird's departure, the Celtics promptly retired his jersey number 33.

International play

In the summer of 1992, Bird joined Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan and other NBA stars to play for the United States basketball team in that year's Olympics in Barcelona, Spain.[47] It was the first time in the United States' Olympic history that the country sent professional basketball players to compete. The "Dream Team" won the men's basketball gold medal. The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame called the team "the greatest collection of basketball talent on the planet".[48]

Player profile and legacy

Bird was voted to the NBA's 50th Anniversary All-Time Team in 1996,[49][50] was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1998,[51][52] and was inducted into the Hall of Fame again in 2010 as a member of the "Dream Team".[53] In 1999, Bird ranked No. 30 on ESPN SportsCentury's list of 50 Greatest Athletes of the 20th century. He played both the small forward and power forward positions.[54]

Bird has been described as one of the greatest basketball players and greatest shooters of all time.[56][57][58] He was selected to 12 NBA All-Star teams.[59] Bird won three NBA championships (in 1981, 1984, and 1986) with the Celtics[54] and won two NBA Finals MVP Awards.[60] Bird won three consecutive regular-season MVP awards; as of 2016, the only other players to accomplish this feat are Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain.[61] Bird is also remembered as one of the foremost clutch performers in the history of the NBA; he was known for his excellent play in high-stakes, high-pressure situations.[62][63][64]

Bird scored 24.3 points per game in his career on a .496 field goal percentage, an .886 free throw percentage, and a 37.6 percentage on three-point shots. Bird had an average of 10.0 rebounds per game for his career and 6.3 assists.[65] Bird was the first player in NBA history to shoot 50% or better on field goals, 40% on three-pointers, and 90% on free-throws in a single NBA season while achieving the league minimum for makes in each category.[66] He accomplished this feat twice.[67] Bird won NBA three-point-shooting contests in three consecutive years.[68] He sometimes practiced shooting three-point shots with his eyes closed.[65]

Bird is also remembered as an excellent passer[69] and defender.[54] While he was relatively slow, Bird displayed a knack for anticipating the moves of his opponent, making him a strong team defender.[56] He had 1,556 career steals.[70] In recognition of his defensive abilities, Bird was named to three All-Defensive Second Teams.[56]

Bird was widely considered one of Red Auerbach's favorite players. He considered Bird to be the greatest basketball player of all time.[71][72][73] Bird's humble roots were the source of his most frequently used moniker, "The Hick from French Lick".[74] Bird was also referred to as "The Great White Hope"[13] and "Larry Legend".[75] Bird was known for his trash-talking on the court.[76][77]

At the 2019 NBA Awards, Bird received the NBA Lifetime Achievement Award (shared with Magic Johnson).[78]

Career as coach and executive

A Larry Bird plaque at Quincy Market, Boston

The Celtics employed Bird as a special assistant in the team's front office from 1992 until 1997.[79] In 1997, Bird accepted the position of coach of the Indiana Pacers[80] and said he would be on the job for no more than three years.[81] Despite having no previous coaching experience, Bird led the Pacers to a 58–24 record—the franchise's best as an NBA team at the time—in the 1997–98 season,[82] and pushed the Chicago Bulls to seven games in the Eastern Conference Finals.[82] He was named the NBA Coach of the Year for his efforts.[83] Bird then led the Pacers to consecutive Central Division titles in 1999 and 2000 and a berth in the 2000 NBA Finals.[82] Bird resigned his head coaching position shortly after the end of the 2000 season, following through on his initial promise to coach for only three years.[84]

In 2003, Bird was hired as the Pacers' President of Basketball Operations.[85] After the 2011–2012 NBA season, Bird was named NBA Executive of the Year, becoming the only man in NBA history to win the NBA MVP, Coach of the Year and Executive of the Year.[86][87] On June 27, 2012, a day before the 2012 NBA draft, Bird and the Pacers announced that they would be parting ways; Bird said that health issues were among the reasons for his departure.[88] Bird returned to the Pacers as president of basketball operations in 2013.[2] He stepped down again in 2017, but stayed with the team in an advisory capacity.[89]

Awards and honors

As player:

As coach:

As executive:

In popular culture

Personal life

Bird married Dinah Mattingly in 1989. They have two adopted children, Conner and Mariah. Bird also has a biological daughter, Corrie, from his first marriage to high school classmate Janet Condra.[98] He has four brothers, Mike, Mark, Jeff, and Eddie, and a sister, Linda. Eddie also played basketball at Indiana State from 1986 to 1990 and today is the city park superintendent at Terre Haute.

Career statistics

NBA statistics

Denotes seasons in which Bird won an NBA championship
* Led the league
Cited from Basketball Reference's Larry Bird page. [15]
Regular season
1979–80 Boston 82 82 36.0 .474 .406 .836 10.4 4.5 1.7 .6 21.3
1980–81 Boston 82 82 39.5 .478 .270 .863 10.9 5.5 2.0 .8 21.2
1981–82 Boston 77 58 38.0 .503 .212 .863 10.9 5.8 1.9 .9 22.9
1982–83 Boston 79 79 37.7 .504 .286 .840 11.0 5.8 1.9 .9 23.6
1983–84 Boston 79 77 38.3 .492 .247 .888* 10.1 6.6 1.8 .9 24.2
1984–85 Boston 80 77 39.5* .522 .427 .882 10.5 6.6 1.6 1.2 28.7
1985–86 Boston 82 81 38.0 .496 .423 .896* 9.8 6.8 2.0 .6 25.8
1986–87 Boston 74 73 40.6* .525 .400 .910* 9.2 7.6 1.8 .9 28.1
1987–88 Boston 76 75 39.0 .527 .414 .916 9.3 6.1 1.6 .8 29.9
1988–89 Boston 6 6 31.5 .471 ... .947 6.2 4.8 1.0 .8 19.3
1989–90 Boston 75 75 39.3 .473 .333 .930* 9.5 7.5 1.4 .8 24.3
1990–91 Boston 60 60 38.0 .454 .389 .891 8.5 7.2 1.8 1.0 19.4
1991–92 Boston 45 45 36.9 .466 .406 .926 9.6 6.8 .9 .7 20.2
Career 897 870 38.4 .496 .376 .886 10.0 6.3 1.7 0.8 24.3
All-Star 10 9 28.7 .423 .231 .844 7.9 4.1 2.3 0.3 13.4
1980 Boston 9 9 41.3 .469 .267 .880 11.2 4.7 1.6 0.9 21.3
1981 Boston 17 17 44.1 .470 .375 .894 14.0 6.1 2.3 1.0 21.9
1982 Boston 12 12 40.8 .427 .167 .822 12.5 5.6 1.9 1.4 17.8
1983 Boston 6 6 40.0 .422 .250 .828 12.5 6.8 2.2 0.5 20.5
1984 Boston 23 23 41.8 .524 .412 .879 11.0 5.9 2.3 1.2 27.5
1985 Boston 20 20 40.8 .461 .280 .890 9.1 5.8 1.7 1.0 26.0
1986 Boston 18 18 42.8 .517 .411 .927 9.3 8.2 2.1 .6 25.9
1987 Boston 23 23 44.1 .476 .341 .912 10.0 7.2 1.2 0.8 27.0
1988 Boston 17 17 44.9 .450 .375 .894 8.8 6.8 2.1 0.8 24.5
1990 Boston 5 5 41.4 .444 .263 .906 9.2 8.8 1.0 1.0 24.4
1991 Boston 10 10 39.6 .408 .143 .863 7.2 6.5 1.3 0.3 17.1
1992 Boston 4 2 26.8 .500 .000 .750 4.5 5.3 0.3 0.5 11.3
Career 164 162 42.0 .472 .321 .890 10.3 6.5 1.8 0.9 23.8

College statistics

Cited from Basketball Reference. [15]
1976–77 Indiana State 28 ... 36.9 .544 ... .840 13.3 4.4 ... ... 32.8
1977–78 Indiana State 32 ... ... .524 ... .793 11.5 3.9 ... ... 30.0
1978–79 Indiana State 34 ... ... .532 ... .831 14.9 5.5 ... ... 28.6
Career 94 ... ... .533 ... .822 13.3 4.6 ... ... 30.3

Head coaching record

Team Year G W L W–L% Finish PG PW PL PW–L% Result
Indiana 1997–98 82 58 24 .707 2nd in Central 16 10 6 .625 Lost in Conf. Finals
Indiana 1998–99 50 33 17 .660 1st in Central 13 9 4 .692 Lost in Conf. Finals
Indiana 1999–00 82 56 26 .683 1st in Central 23 13 10 .565 Lost in NBA Finals
Career 214 147 67 .687 52 32 20 .615

See also


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Further reading

External links