American Basketball Icons That Shaped The Game Part II: Larry Bird

Many athletes consider sports as an escape. Sports are a way to leave real world problems to play a game where grit, skill, and talent beats out social status. To Larry Bird, that is exactly what it was. Bird escaped a lot when he went to go play — recently citing that being poor as a child motivates him “to this day.” He had to get out.

Larry Bird began gaining popularity in Springs Valley High School. There he averaged 31 points, 21 rebounds, and 4 assists his senior year.

It was after his senior year that Bird was offered a full-ride scholarship to play basketball at the University of Indiana to become a Hoosier. After a month of living on campus, he found the adjustment from living in a small town to living in a large student body to be overwhelming.

Not even a month had passed and Larry Bird dropped out. He moved back to French Lick — enrolling at the Northwood Institute, which is now known as Northwood University. During that time he worked municipal jobs for a year. Wanting to play competitive basketball again, Bird decided to go to Indiana State University in 1975. He had three successful seasons as a Sycamore — leading them to the school’s first NCAA Tournament appearance with a 33-0 record.

Bird even made it all the way to the National Championship game, where he battled against Earvin “Magic” Johnson and the Michigan State Spartans. Unfortunately, Bird only made 33% of his shots (shooting 7/21) and Indiana State lost the game 75-64. Afterwards, word broke that the game received the best tv rating ever for a college basketball game, primarily because the game jump-started one of the most iconic rivalries in all of sports: Magic vs. Bird.

Larry Bird was selected as the sixth overall pick of the 1978 NBA Draft by the Boston Celtics. He averaged 21.3 points, 10.4 rebounds, 4.5 assists, and 1.7 steals in his rookie season, winning rookie of the year, and being selected as an all star. But the Celtics knew they needed some more of a supporting cast to compete against the Lakers. Before the following season, Boston drafted Kevin McHale in the draft and got Robert Parish from the Golden State Warriors — creating one of the greatest frontcourts in NBA history.

The 1980-1981 season was one for the history books. In the postseason, Larry Bird averaged 21.9 points, 14 rebounds, and 6.1 assists a game. In the finals, he averaged 15.3 points, 15.3 rebounds, and 7 assists, but was not selected as the Finals MVP, Cedric Maxwell did. Boston had beaten Houston in six games to reclaim Larry Bird’s first NBA title.

Bird was selected as an NBA All-Star in the 1982 NBA season. In the game, he scored 19 points and was voted All-Star MVP. Towards the end of the season, he also earned his first all-defensive title. He also was the runner-up for the league MVP award, which was eventually awarded to Moses Malone.

Larry Bird and the Celtics continued to have success, but so did Magic Johnson and the Lakers. Every year in the 1980s either the Lakers or the Celtics were in the Finals. In that time, eight NBA championships were won collectively between Larry Bird and Magic Johnson — five going to Magic and two going to Bird. The 80’s were the peak of the Magic-Bird rivalry.

Sadly, Larry Bird started experiencing worse back problems at the end of the 1980’s, and retired after playing on the historic “Dream Team” at the 1992 Olympics. In his 13-season career, the Celtics’ forward was selected as an all-star 12 times, an All-NBA player 10 times, and an All Defensive player 3 times. He won three NBA Championships in which he was the Finals MVP twice, and was an NBA MVP three times.

Larry Legend was truly one of a kind. The amount of influence he had over the league has been certainly hard to match. He was the most ultimate epitome of an NBA ‘rags to riches‘ story. Bird wasn’t just in the second wave of the Celtics dynasty, he WAS the second wave of the Celtics dynasty.