They called him “The hick from French Lick”. He was shy and seemingly uncomfortable in the spotlight. Yet by the time his basketball career was completed, Boston Celtics star Larry Bird became known as one of the game’s all-time greats.
Young Larry Bird was a high school basketball star in his native Indiana. When famous Indiana University basketball coach Bobby Knight came calling, Larry accepted the scholarship and commited to play. However, after only one month, and seeing the spotlight constantly on the IU program, Larry decided to quit and transfer to the smaller, lesser known Indiana State University.
During his three years at Indiana State, Bird flourished, averaging over 30 points per game, and during his senior season in 1979, he led Indiana State to an undefeated season, national prominence, and a berth in the NCAA finals against Michigan State and their heralded player, Earvin “Magic” Johnson.
ISU and Bird were to go on to lose that game, however Bird, who had been drafted the year before by Boston Celtics legendary former coach and general manager Red Auerbach, signed with them just days before the deadline, which would have put Bird back into the NBA draft.
Bird had a remarkable rookie season in 1979/1980 with Boston, lifting them to a 61-21 record after having finished 29-53 the previous season. Bird was part of a frontcourt that included future Hall of Famers Robert Parish and Kevin McHale.
The following season, Bird led the Celtics to their 14th overall NBA title, defeating the Houston Rockets in six games. The Celtics would repeat the feat in 1984 and 1986, with Bird winning the NBA Finals MVP both of those years.
The following years would see Bird still exhibit stellar play, however the toll and everyday grind of NBA play was taking its toll on his back.
In late July, 1992, Bird participated in the Barcelona Olympics with the U.S. basketball team, forever known as “The Dream Team.” Playing alongside longtime rivals Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan, Bird and the U.S. stunned the world with their amazing talent on the court, easily winning the gold medal and becoming known as the greatest basketball team ever assembled.
Shortly after that, on August 18, 1992, at an emotional press conference in Boston, Larry Bird announced his retirement. Upon hearing the news, NBA Commissioner David Stern had this to say: “Quite simply, Larry Bird has helped to define the way a generation of basketball fans has come to view and appreciate the N.B.A. In the future, great players will be judged against the standards he has set, but there will never be another Larry Bird.”
A three-time MVP, nine-time NBA first-team All-Star and three-time NBA champion, Bird was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1998.
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