Larry Bird Biography: The Boston Celtics Legend That Dominated The NBA

Mary Raleigh
12/09/2023

The NBA was nearing a collapse until two players entered the league in the 1979-80 season. The players who saved the league were Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. Legends profile: Larry Bird | NBA.com

The latter became one of the greatest shooters and players the league has ever seen. Bird is still the last NBA player to win three consecutive MVPs, and he’s tied with Craig Hodges for the most three-point contests won, with three.

This is the biography of the legend himself, Larry Bird.


The Hick From French Lick

On December 7, 1956, in the small town of West Baden, Indiana, the future of the NBA was born. Larry Bird was born to parents Georgia and Claude Joseph “Joe” Bird.On this date: remembering Nov. 15, 1988 when injuries finally sidelined Larry  Bird and ended the third Celtic dynasty - CelticsBlog

The family lived in another small town named French Lick. This would lead to a nickname Bird would earn later in the NBA as “The Hick from French Lick.” The Bird family struggled financially, even with Joe working two jobs, things were tough for the Bird family.

Larry Bird was one of six children, the families took a toll on young Larry. To escape the harsh reality of his family’s struggles, Bird found basketball as a relief system.WATCH: Rookie Boston legend Larry Bird absolutely dominates the Knicks

Bird would play basketball every day, and his skills would quickly develop. By the time Bird was in high school, he was a star basketball player, catching the eyes of colleges.

As a senior, Bird averaged nearly 31 points and 21 rebounds per game as he led his high school, Springs Valley, to a 21-4 record. Despite his great play, Bird suffered from low self-esteem.

After high school, Bird signed on to play for coach Bobby Knight and the Indiana Hoosiers. Before school started, Bird participated in the Indiana Boys All-Star team for their annual series with Kentucky.

Now, anyone who knows about Larry Bird would automatically think Bird was the star of the Indiana Boys All-Star team. This, in fact, would be false.

Bird didn’t see much playing time during the games. This upset Bird so much that he twice refused to enter a game to play meaningless minutes in a blow-out.

Things continued to get worse for Bird, personally. His parents got divorced, breaking up their typical family situation.

When the college year started, Bird only lasted 24 days at Indiana University. The basketball team hadn’t even practiced yet, but Bird left.

When Bird left, he didn’t tell anyone, including his parents, that he had left school. He wanted out, so he hitchhiked home 50 miles south to his home in French Lick.

Bird initially enrolled at a small local junior college, but he quickly dropped out.

Afterward, Bird started working for the Street Department. He did jobs like cutting grass, painting benches, striping streets, and driving a garbage truck.

Basketball was over for Bird, he believed construction was where he’d end up.

“When I was at [Indiana] State, finishing to get my degree, they had me teaching special needs kids in a high school. That was tough. It gave me a lot of respect for people who do that,” Bird said. “I thought I’d wind up being a construction worker, pouring concrete. I wasn’t very good at shop in school, but I’d been around construction. As far as basketball goes, I just wanted to be the best player on my high school team.”

In 1975 Bird decided to give college and basketball another try, this time with the smaller Indiana State. Tragedy struck around the time Bird started at Indiana State University.Magic Johnson vs. Larry Bird: Comparing career stats for Lakers, Celtics  legends | Sporting News Hong Kong

Bird’s father committed suicide, and despite this hurting Bird so deeply, he put all his energy into basketball. The problem was Bird had to sit out his freshman year since he transferred to Indiana State.

The following season, Bird did play college ball, and he played well. He averaged 32.8 points and 13.3 rebounds per game.

Bird led Indiana State to an 81–13 record during his three years, including an undefeated regular season (33–0) in his senior year. Indiana State made the NCAA Championship game during Bird’s anterior year, and here would be the start of the Larry Bird and Magic Johnson rivalry.

The date was March 26, 1979, and the championship game between Indiana State and Michigan State became the most-watched college basketball game of all time. This is still true to this day.

The game ended up seeing Bird become the loser, as Magic’s squad won 75-64. In the game, Bird scored 19 points on 7-21 shooting. Bird’s 19 points was the lowest-scoring game he had in the entire NCAA tournament.


Larry Bird Adds To Celtics Lore

Larry Bird started his NBA career in the 1979-80 NBA season. Yet, Bird was not drafted into the NBA in the 1979 NBA Draft. Bird was actually drafted by the Boston Celtics in the 1978 NBA Draft as the sixth overall pick.

Bird decided to return to school for his senior year, which set up the epic NCAA championship game against Magic Johnson. By 1979, Bird was in the NBA, and he was a member of the Boston Celtics, the franchise that had won 13 championships in years prior.The Journey of Larry Bird to the Boston Celtics: A Basketball Legend's Rise  | BashaBearsBasketball.com

In his rookie season, Bird would not win a championship. In fact, Bird’s rival, Magic Johnson, would not only win the championship but the Finals MVP.

Even though Bird didn’t have the same success as Magic, his rookie season was still stellar. Bird won the Rookie of the Year award after averaging 21.3 points, 10.4 rebounds, and 4.5 assists per game.

The following season, Bird would imitate Magic in the way that he’d win an NBA championship. Bird helped Boston win 62 games during the season, which was tied with the Philadelphia 76ers for the most in the league.

Bird’s averages in his second season mimicked his rookie season. He averaged 21.2 points, 10.9 rebounds, and 5.5 assists per game.

In the NBA Finals against the Houston Rockets, Bird averaged 15.3 points, 15.3 rebounds, 7.0 assists, and 2.3 steals per game. Despite his incredible performance, Bird was not named the Finals MVP, which was given to Cedric Maxwell.

The 1983-84 NBA season would be a special one. This would start the true rivalry between Bird and Magic in the NBA. Up to this point, Bird and Magic both played in the Finals every year of the 1980s.

The 1980 Finals saw Magic’s Lakers win. Bird’s Celtics won in 1981, and the Lakers and 76ers played each other in 1982 and 1983, with the Lakers and 76ers each winning once.In 3 days I understood, the NBA is nothing, I can dominate": When Larry Bird  talked about his doubters and how long it took him to silence them - The  SportsRush

The 1984 NBA Finals saw Bird’s Celtics, who won 62 games, face off against the Lakers, who won 54 games. Bird won his first MVP award during the 1983-84 season. Would he win his second championship and first Finals MVP?

The answer to those two questions is yes. The Celtics won a hard-fought series against the Lakers in seven games. Bird’s 27.4 points, 14.0 rebounds, 3.6 assists, and 2.1 steals per game averages were enough to bag him the Finals MVP award.

Bird would win the MVP award the next two seasons, giving him three consecutive MVP awards. Only Bird, Bill Russell, and Wilt Chamberlain have ever won three straight MVP awards.

The Celtics would make it back to the Finals in the next two seasons, as well. The 1985 Finals saw a rematch with the Lakers. This time, LA won the series in six games.

The 1986 Finals put Bird’s Celtics up against the team Bird beat to win his first title, the Houston Rockets. Bird led his Celtics to a 4-2 series win and his third NBA championship.

Bird averaged 24.0 points, 9.7 rebounds, 9.5 assists, and 2.7 steals per game en route to winning his second Finals MVP award.


Back Problems Lead To Retirement

After failing to win the 1985 NBA Finals, Bird suffered more problems in the offseason, this time, physical problems. Bird was shoveling crushed rock to make a driveway at his mother’s house.

While doing this, Bird severely hurt his back. This injury would plague him for the remainder of his career. The result of his injury would ultimately lead to his retirement.Most iconic NBA numbers: #33 – Larry Bird, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Scottie  Pippen | NBA News | Sky Sports

After winning the 1986 NBA title, Bird would make it back to one more NBA Finals in his career: the 1987 NBA Finals. Bird would once again find himself playing against Magic Johnson’s Lakers in the Finals, and Bird’s Celtics would fall 4-2 to the Lakers.

Bird would play until the 1991-92 season before retiring, thanks to his continual back problems. Bird did play well after injuring his back in 1985. Of course, he won the title in 1986, and he also averaged a career-high in points of 29.9 points per game in the 1987-88 season.

Still, he clearly wasn’t himself after injuring his back, and this led to Bird retiring after the 1992 season. But this wouldn’t be the last we’d see of Bird on the basketball court.

Bird was a member of the 1992 Olympic men’s basketball team, known as the “Dream Team.” On the roster, Bird was joined by Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Charles Barkley, and, yes, Magic Johnson.

With this firepower, Bird didn’t need to score much. And with his injured back, it was good Bird didn’t have to do a lot. Still, Bird averaged 8.4 points per game as Team USA won the Olympic gold medal.

Larry Bird’s playing career was officially over, but this wouldn’t be the last time the NBA would see Bird. The Hick From French Lick would soon return to add more hardware to his incredible career.


Larry Bird Becomes A Head Coach And An Executive

Larry Bird finished his incredible NBA career with averages of 24.3 points, 10.0 rebounds, and 6.3 assists per game. He won three NBA championships and three MVP trophies to go along with his Rookie of the Year award.

After being retired from the game for only five years, Bird surprised everyone when he returned to the game, this time as the head coach of the Indiana Pacers. Before he ever coached a game, Bird stated that he’d coach for three seasons and no more.

In his first season as head coach, Bird saw massive success. He led the Pacers to a then-franchise-best record of 58–24. In the playoffs, the Pacers reached the Eastern Conference Finals, where they’d meet the Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls.Larry Bird, Boston Celtics counted among 20 craziest NBA Finals plays

The Pacers pushed the Bulls to seven games before losing the series. After a disappointing six-game loss in the 1999 Eastern Conference Finals to the eighth-seed New York Knicks, the Pacers reached their first NBA Finals in the 2000 playoffs.

The unfortunate thing was the Pacers met up against Bird’s rivals, the Los Angeles Lakers, led by Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant. Bird’s Pacers lost 4-2 in the Finals, and Bird honored his original plan to only coach three years, as he retired as the Pacers’ head coach.Larry Bird - Stats, Age & Height

After leaving the Indiana Pacers as their head coach, Bird returned to the franchise in 2003, when the Pacers hired him as their president of basketball operations. Bird would stay in this role until 2012 when he stepped down due to health issues.

In 2013, Bird returned to his executive role with the Pacers until 2017, when he left to take an advisory role with the Pacers. As an executive, Bird was named NBA Executive of the Year in the 2011–12 season.

Larry Bird became the only person in NBA history to win the NBA MVP, Coach of the Year, and Executive of the Year. Bird’s nickname may have been The Hick from French Lick, but he also goes by another nickname, and that’s Larry Legend.Devouring Mexican Food, Disappointed Larry Bird Once Dissed the Celtics by  'Shouting' at His Teammate: “Goin Back to Italy?” - EssentiallySports

Bird was an incredible player, coach, and executive. Nowadays, he mostly spends time with his wife, Dinah Mattingly, who he married in 1989. He also spends time with his two adopted children, Conner and Mariah.

When thinking about the greatest players in NBA history, there’s no way you can not think of Larry Bird. He’s easily a top 10 player, and he deserves the recognition of being one of the main players to save the NBA and turn it into the league we know it as today.

Related posts