About Larry Joe Bird
Larry Joe Bird (born December 7, 1956) is a former American NBA basketball player and coach. Drafted into the NBA sixth overall by the Boston Celtics in 1978, Bird started at small forward and power forward for thirteen seasons, spearheading one of the NBA's most formidable frontcourts that included center Robert Parish and forward Kevin McHale. Due to chronic back problems, he retired as a player in 1992. Bird was voted to the NBA's 50th Anniversary All-Time Team in 1996 and inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1998. He served as head coach of the Indiana Pacers from 1997 to 2000. In 2003, he assumed the role of president of basketball operations for the Pacers, which he currently holds.
Larry Bird was born in West Baden, Indiana, the son of Georgia (née Kerns) and Claude Joseph "Joe" Bird. He grew up in both West Baden and the adjacent town French Lick, which earned him the nickname "the Hick from French Lick" in his professional basketball career. Bird recalled how his mother would make do on the family's meager earnings: "If there was a payment to the bank due, and we needed shoes, she'd get the shoes, and then deal with them guys at the bank. I don't mean she wouldn't pay the bank, but the children always came first." According to Bird, his being poor as a child "motivates me to this day". He sometimes was sent to live with his grandmother due to the family's struggles. The Bird family's struggle with poverty was compounded by the alcoholism and personal difficulties of Joe Bird, who likely suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder from serving in the Korean War. Joe Bird committed suicide on February 3, 1975, when Larry was 18 years old.
By the time he was a high school sophomore, Bird had become one of the better basketball players in French Lick. He started for French Lick/West Baden's high school team, Springs Valley High School, where he left as the school's all-time scoring leader. Bird's high school coach, Jim Jones, was a key factor to Bird's success. "Jonesie", as Bird called him, would come help Bird and his friends practice any day of the week. Bird would often go to the gym early, shoot between classes, and stay late into the evening. He quit both football and baseball to focus on basketball.
Bird received a basketball scholarship to Indiana University in 1974. However, he was overwhelmed by the size of the campus and number of students and was not mentally ready for this stage of life; according to Bird, "it didn't take long to realize that I was out of my cocoon." Bird was also treated poorly by an established IU star, Kent Benson; as Bird recalled, the other upperclassmen of the team treated him well. He dropped out of Indiana after 24 days, disappointing his mother. Bird returned home to French Lick where he enrolled in the nearby Northwood Institute before dropping out and getting a job with the Street Department (the department picked up garbage, repaired roads, removed snow, mowed lawns, etc.) for a year. He played AAU basketball for Hancock Construction and, after that year, decided to enroll at Indiana State University in Terre Haute, where he was coached by Bob King.
King suffered a stroke prior to the 1978–79 season and assistant Bill Hodges, who had persuaded Bird to return to college basketball, was promoted to head coach. Before Bird, the Sycamores had never been to the Division I NCAA tournament; he led the team to the NCAA championship game in 1979, his senior season, only to lose to the Michigan State University Spartans, who were led by his future NBA rival, Earvin "Magic" Johnson. The Sycamores finished the season 33–1. That year, Bird won the USBWA College Player of the Year, Naismith and Wooden Awards, given to the year's top male college basketball player. After his three seasons at Indiana State, he left as the fifth-highest scorer in NCAA history. Bird finished his collegiate career with an average of 30.3 points per game. In 2007, he was voted as one of the Missouri Valley Conference men's basketball 50 greatest players.
NCAA career statistics
1979–1981: Immediate impact
The Boston Celtics selected the 6'9", 220-pound Bird 6th overall in the 1978 NBA Draft, even though they were uncertain whether he would enter the NBA or remain at Indiana State to play his senior season. Bird ultimately decided to play his final college season, but the Celtics retained their exclusive right to sign him until the 1979 NBA Draft, because of the NBA's "junior eligible" rule that existed at that time (allowing a collegiate player to be drafted when the player's original "entering" class was graduating and giving them one calendar year to sign them, even if they went back to college). Shortly before that deadline, Bird agreed to sign with the Celtics for a US $650,000 a year contract, making him at the time the highest-paid rookie in the history of the NBA. Shortly afterwards, the NBA draft eligibility rules were changed to prevent teams from drafting players before they were ready to sign. The rule is called the Bird Collegiate Rule.
Bird's impact on the Celtics was immediate. The Celtics were 29–53 during the 1978–79 season, but with Bird the team improved to 61–21 in the 1979–80 season, posting the league's best regular season record. Bird's collegiate rival, Magic Johnson, also had entered the NBA in 1979, joining the Los Angeles Lakers. In 1980, despite a strong rookie season from Johnson, Bird was named the league's Rookie of the Year and was voted onto the Eastern Conference All-Star team (an honor he would receive for each of his 12 full seasons in the NBA). For the 1980 season, Bird led the Celtics in scoring (21.3 points/game), rebounding (10.4 rebounds/game), steals (143), and minutes played (2,955) and was second in assists (4.5 assists/game) and three-pointers (58). Though Boston was beaten by the more athletic Philadelphia 76ers in the Eastern Conference finals that year, Bird's addition to the team had renewed the promise of Celtic glory.
Following Bird's first season, the Celtics acquired center Robert Parish and the 3rd pick in the 1980 NBA Draft via a trade with the Golden State Warriors (in exchange for the 1st and 13th picks in the draft). After the Warriors took Joe Barry Carroll with the 1st pick and the Utah Jazz chose Darrell Griffith second, the Celtics selected University of Minnesota power forward Kevin McHale. With Bird at small forward, the additions of Parish and McHale gave Boston one of the most formidable frontcourts in the history of the NBA. The three would anchor the Celtics throughout Bird's career.
In his second season, Bird led the Celtics into the playoffs, where they faced off for a second consecutive year with Julius Erving's Philadelphia 76ers. Bird helped the Celtics overcome a 3–1 deficit by winning the last three games by two, two, and one point margins, propelling them into the NBA Finals, where they defeated the Houston Rockets in six games with Bird averaging 15.3 points on .419 shooting, 15.3 rebounds and 7.0 assists per game. It would be the first of three championships in Bird's career, as well as the first of his five Finals appearances.
1982–1987: MVPs, championships and the rivalry with Magic Johnson
The additions of Bird and Johnson rejuvenated the NBA, which had suffered from low attendance and minimal television interest through much of the 1970s. Immediately upon their entry into the league, the two players became repeating presences in the NBA Finals. Johnson's Lakers won the championship in 1980, Bird's Celtics captured the NBA title in 1981, and Johnson's Lakers wrested it back in 1982. Bird and Johnson first dueled in the 1979 NCAA title game; as professional basketball players, they would face off numerous times during the 1980s, including the NBA Finals of 1984, 1985 and 1987. Lakers versus Celtics, and specifically Bird versus Magic, quickly became one of the greatest rivalries in the history of basketball.
In 1984, the Celtics defeated the Lakers in a seven-game Finals, winning game seven 111–102. Bird averaged 27.4 points on .484 shooting and 14 rebounds a game during the series, earning the award of Finals Most Valuable Player (MVP). Bird was also named the league regular season MVP for that year. In 1985, however, the Lakers avenged the loss, defeating the Celtics in game 6 of the Finals in the Boston Garden. In a losing effort against Los Angeles, Bird averaged 23.8 points on .449 shooting, 8.8 rebounds and 5.0 assists per game. That year, the NBA again named Bird the league MVP.
On March 12, 1985, in a game played between the Celtics and Atlanta Hawks at the University of New Orleans Lakefront Arena in New Orleans, Louisiana, Bird scored a career high 60 points in a tremendous shooting display. Bird scored all 19 of his points in the third quarter without the aid of a free throw; instead, he scored on jump shots from 20 feet and out. Bird scored Boston's last sixteen points in the game. In the fourth quarter, he made a fadeaway three-point shot while being fouled. He was not given continuation and the basket was not allowed (instead it was ruled a non-shooting foul and he received two free throws). Bird's 59th and 60th points were scored on a 17-foot jump shot at the buzzer. For the game, Bird officially shot 22 of 36 from the field, 1 of 4 from three-point range, and 15 of 16 from the free throw line.
Boston would have another great season the next year, with help from another Hall of Famer, Bill Walton. Walton, whose up and down career had been plagued by foot injuries, was looking for a team, and after having been turned down by the Lakers called Celtics president and general manager Red Auerbach in a last-ditch effort to close out his career on an upswing. Because of Walton's reputation for being injury prone, Auerbach was initially unwilling to take a risk on him, but Bird, who happened to be in Auerbach's office at the time of Walton's call, urged him to sign Walton, saying that if Walton felt he was healthy enough to play, it was all Bird needed to hear.
With Walton backing up Kevin McHale and Robert Parish, the Celtics would return to the finals in 1986, albeit not against Johnson and the Lakers, who lost in the Western Conference Finals to the Houston Rockets. The 1986 Celtic team, which finished the regular season 67–15 and defeated the Rockets in six games, is generally considered to be the best of Bird's career. Bird again was named the Finals' MVP for that year, averaging 24 points on .482 shooting, 9.7 rebounds and 9.5 assists per game for the series. He also won his third consecutive league MVP award, a feat matched only by the great Celtic center Bill Russell and the dominant Wilt Chamberlain, who played for Philadelphia and Los Angeles.
In 1987, the Celtics made their last Finals appearance of Bird's career, fighting through difficult series against the Milwaukee Bucks and Detroit Pistons but as 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. The Celtics would fall short in 1988 losing to the 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.
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. 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 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".
In 1988, Bird had the best statistical season of his career, but 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 started the 1988–89 season with Boston, but ended his season after six games to have 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, through the final years of his career, Bird maintained his status as one of the premier players in the game. He averaged over 20 points, 9 rebounds and 7 assists a game in his last three seasons with the Celtics, and shot better than 45% from the field in each. Bird led the Celtics to playoff appearances in each of those three seasons.
Bird's body, however, continued to break down. He had been bothered by back problems for years, and his back became progressively worse. After leading the Celtics to a 29–5 start to the 1990–91 season, he 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. His past glory would be briefly rekindled, however, in a game that season in which he scored 49 points in a double-overtime victory over the Portland Trail Blazers. During the 1992 Eastern Conference semi-finals against the Cleveland Cavaliers, Bird missed four of the seven games in the series due to those recurring back problems.
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. It was the first time in America's Olympic history that the country sent professional basketball players to compete. The "Dream Team" won the men's basketball gold medal.
Following his Olympic experience, on August 18, 1992, Bird announced his retirement as an NBA player. He finished his career with averages of more than 24 points, 10 rebounds and 6 assists per game, while shooting 49.6% from the field, 88.6% from the free throw line and 37.6% from three-point range. Following Bird's departure, the Celtics promptly retired his jersey number 33.
In 1989, Bird published his autobiography, Drive: The Story of My Life with Bob Ryan. The book chronicles his life and career up to the 1989 NBA season.
NBA career after retirement
The Celtics employed Bird as a special assistant in the team's front office from 1992 until 1997. In 1997, Bird accepted the position of coach of the Indiana Pacers and said he would be on the job for no more than three years. 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, and pushed the Bulls to seven games in the Eastern Conference finals. He was named the NBA Coach of the Year for his efforts, becoming the only person in NBA history to have won both the MVP and Coach of the Year awards. He then led the Pacers to two consecutive Central Division titles in 1999 and 2000, and a berth in the NBA finals in 2000.
Bird resigned as Pacers coach shortly after the end of the 2000 season, following through on his initial promise to coach for only three years. In 2003, he returned as the Pacers' President of Basketball Operations, where he oversees team personnel and coaching moves, as well as the team's draft selections. Bird promoted David Morway to general manager in 2008, but Bird still has the final say in basketball matters.
Head coaching record
Larry, you only told me one lie. You said there will be another Larry Bird. Larry, there will never, ever be another Larry Bird.
—Magic Johnson, as quoted at Bird's retirement party.
In 1999, Bird ranked #30 in ESPN's SportsCentury's 50 Greatest Athletes of the 20th Century.
For the 2008 NBA Finals, which featured a rematch of the Celtics-Lakers rivalry, Bird appeared in a split-screen advertisement with Magic Johnson (as part of the "There Can Only Be One" campaign which had played throughout the 2008 NBA Playoffs but to that point only featured players from the two teams competing in a given series) discussing the meaning of rivalries.
Bird was widely considered one of Red Auerbach's favorite players. He considered Bird to be the greatest basketball player of all time. Auerbach was so enamored with the player that he drafted him out of Indiana State and waited a year before Bird was eligible to suit up for the Celtics. During his introductory press conference, after Auerbach's contentious negotiations with agent Bob Woolf, Bird announced he "would have played for free." This was after Woolf asked for the most lucrative contract in NBA history, to which Auerbach was quick to point out that Bird had not played a game in the NBA yet.
Bird, a versatile wing man who played the power forward and small forward positions, is considered one of the greatest players of all time, to which his twelve All-Star team nominations are a testament. The sharpshooting Bird made his name stepping up his performance in critical situations, and is credited with a long list of dominating games, buzzer beaters and clutch defensive plays. He won two NBA Finals MVP and three regular-season MVP awards. He won them all in a row, a feat only shared by Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain.
Bird possessed an uncanny and unparalleled ability to anticipate and react to the strategies of his opponents. His talent for recognizing the moves of opponents and teammates prompted his first coach with the Celtics, Bill Fitch, to nickname him "Kodak", because he seemed to formulate mental pictures of every play that took place on the court.
Bird scored 24.3 points per game in his career on a high .496 field goal average, a stellar .886 free throw average (9th best all-time) and a 37.6 percentage on three-point shots. Bird was also a good rebounder (10.0 rebound career average) and an excellent playmaker (6.3 assist career average). His multidimensional game made him a consistent triple-double threat; Bird currently ranks fifth all-time in triple-doubles with 59, not including the 10 he recorded in the playoffs. Bird's lifetime player efficiency rating (PER) is 23.5, 18th all-time, a further testament to his all around game. Additionally, he is the only 20, 10, 5 player in NBA history (points, rebounds, assists per game) with a lifetime PRA rating (points + rebounds + assists per game) of 40.6, which is 8th all-time. 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. Bird accomplished this feat twice and is second only to Steve Nash for seasons in the 50-40-90 Club.
Bird is also remembered as an excellent defender. While he was neither fast nor quick-footed, and could not always shut down an individual player one-on-one, he consistently displayed a knack for anticipating the moves of his opponent, allowing him to intercept passes and create turnovers. His 1,556 career steals ranks 27th all-time. Unspectacular but effective defensive moves, such as jumping into a passing lane to make a steal or allowing his man to step past and drive to the hoop, then blocking the opponent's shot from behind, were staples of Bird's defensive game. In recognition of his defensive abilities, Bird was named to three All-Defensive Second Teams.
Bird's humble roots were the source of his most frequently used moniker, "The Hick From French Lick". Other observers called him "The Great White Hope". He has also acquired the nickname "Larry Legend".
Bird's competitive nature often emerged in nearly constant trash-talking on the court. Some notable examples follow:
During the three-point shooting contest on All-Star Weekend 1986, Bird entered the locker room, looked around without saying a word, then finally said, "I want all of you to know I am winning this thing. I'm just looking around to see who's gonna finish up second." He won the shooting contest.
During one game on Christmas Day against the Indiana Pacers, before the game Bird told Chuck Person that he had a Christmas present waiting for him. During the game, when Person was on the bench, Bird shot a three-pointer on the baseline right in front of Person. Immediately after releasing the ball, Bird said to Person, "Merry fucking Christmas!", and then the shot went in. This was no doubt inspired by Person (nicknamed the "Rifleman") stating prior to the game that "The Rifleman is Coming, and He's Going Bird Hunting."
Reggie Miller recalled his encounter with Larry Bird's legendary trash talking ability in his book I Love Being the Enemy. Reggie tried to disrupt Larry's concentration when he was shooting free throws late in a game. Larry glared at him, made the first free throw and said, "You got to be kidding me. Rook, I'm the best shooter in the league right now. In the league. Understand? And you're up here trying to say something?" Then Larry buried the second free throw.
Late in a tied game against the Seattle SuperSonics, Bird told Supersonics forward Xavier McDaniel, who was guarding him, “I’m going to get [the ball] right here and I am going to bury it in your face.” As McDaniel remembers it, he responded by saying, “I know, I’ll be waiting.” After a timeout, Bird made two baseline cuts, then posted in the exact spot he had indicated to McDaniel, paused, turned, and made it in his face. He finished up the sequence by telling McDaniel, “I didn’t mean to leave two seconds on the clock.”
On November 9, 1984, Bird was ejected along with Julius Erving in the third quarter after an on court scuffle. At the point of both ejections, Bird had outscored Erving 42 to 6. During the game, Bird had continuously informed Erving of their tallies with every chance he got to score. Bird denies this stating that it was teammate "M.L. (Carr) talking trash from the bench" during that game. Eventually a shoving match ensued, then swings taken by both players, and finally a bench-clearing brawl.
NBA career statistics
In popular culture
In October 2005, a man in Oklahoma City, Eric James Torpy, was convicted of shooting with intent to kill and robbery. He asked that his sentence be changed from 30 years imprisonment to 33 so that it would match Bird's jersey number. His request was granted.
Bird has appeared in three movies, Blue Chips, released in 1994 by Paramount, the Warner Brothers film Space Jam with Michael Jordan and Bill Murray in 1996, and Celtic Pride with Dan Aykroyd, Daniel Stern, and Damon Wayans, which was also released in 1996.
Bird's likeness has appeared in several video games. In One on One: Dr. J vs. Larry Bird, Bird plays opposite Julius Erving in a game of one-on-one. A sequel, Jordan vs Bird: One on One, was a 1988 basketball video game. In 2011, Bird was featured on the cover of NBA 2K12, alongside Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan. Bird is also playable character in the revamped NBA Jam.
The band Dispatch has a song called "Just Like Larry" about Larry Bird, who is their hometown hero from his days as a member of the Boston Celtics.
In a phone commercial when Larry Bird tells Tweety Bird that they are not related, Tweety not only comments on them having the same last name but that they "look an awful lot alike".
Larry Bird and Magic Johnson wrote a book together (with Jackie MacMullan) titled When The Game Was Ours.
In a commercial during Super Bowl XLIV, Dwight Howard and LeBron James challenge each other at trick shots for a McDonald's lunch. After they finish, clapping is heard, then the camera pans to the crowd and Bird says "Great show, guys. Thanks for lunch." Howard and James share a confused look. Howard asks, "Who was that?" James replies, "I have no idea." This refers to a McDonald's commercial from 1991 in which Bird and Michael Jordan have a trick shot contest, in which the winner got the lunch and the loser had to watch the winner eat.
Twitter's logo is named Larry in honor of Larry Bird.