Along with the likes of Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Kobe Bryant, and Bill Russell – Larry Bird is considered one of the greatest basketball players ever to play.
The Indiana native won three NBA Titles, was voted league MVP twice, and throughout his NBA career, averaged over 24 points per game. His list of records is even longer.Though Larry Bird became one of the greatest, he actually had no plans for becoming a basketball player when he was young. Instead, he had another thing in mind for his future, but his talent for the game was obvious.
Today, Bird is busy enjoying all that comes with being a retired star athlete. Yet despite the 65-year-old’s fame and legendary status all over the US, he has never been one for spending money.
Bird has been married to his beloved wife, Dinah Mattingly, for more than 30 years, though not much is known about his private life.
Larry Bird was born on December 7, 1956, in West Baden, Indiana, a small village outside the larger town of French Lick, Indiana. The fourth of Joe and Georgia Bird’s six children, his family couldn’t afford a car and lived a simple lifestyle. Larry and his siblings spent most of the day at home making the most of what they had – and therefore, sport became a central source of entertainment.
The Bird brothers were interested in sports from a very young age. They played plenty of baseball and softball – no, basketball wasn’t Bird’s main interest from the get go. However, in high school, he realized basketball was the sport he had the most talent in.
As a young kid, Larry used to play pickup basketball with men who worked at a nearby hotel.
“Back then I would just try to develop my skills as a young player, and I got in games around there. But these guys were older. When you’re 9, 10, 11, you see somebody 20, you think they’re old. But it was a number of guys who would show up every day. In between games they’d smoke their Kool cigarettes and drink their beer, but great guys,” Larry recalled in an interview with Landscape.
“What was really great for me and made me happy is 30 years ago I ran into Slim, who was down in Atlanta out there cooking at one of the hotels we stayed in. And he’d come up and say, ‘Remember me?’ And I knew I’d seen that face before, but I didn’t know where. He was a little bit older. But he said he was so proud of how I turned out.”
Bird soon realized that he might actually have a future in basketball. He began practicing daily, with his brothers cheering him on. Even though Larry was ready to quit many nights, he knew that eventually the hard work would pay off.
“I played when I was cold and my body was aching and I was so tired,” he told Sports Illustrated. “I don’t know why, I just kept playing and playing, I guess I always wanted to make the most out of it.”
Larry Bird attended Springs Valley High School in French Lick. He did well as a guard, but even at 6 feet 3 inches, he wasn’t one of the tallest players on the team. Moreover, although he was considered “alright,” he didn’t show any extraordinary abilities. That soon changed – his skills developed fast and he had grown four inches by the beginning of his senior year.
In total, Larry scored 1,125 career points and earned an Indiana All-Star berth in 1974. He averaged 30.6 points and 20.5 rebounds as a senior, becoming the Springs Valley High School’s all-time leading scorer in his senior year.
His excellent performances earned Larry Bird a scholarship to Indiana University, where he played for the Indiana Hoosiers. It was a significant step forward, but he didn’t stay long. Only a month later, Bird left and moved back to French Lick, where he got employment as a sanitation worker. At 18, his father ended his own life; an incredibly tragic event.
Bird enrolled at Northwood institute Junior college and was persuaded to play basketball at Indiana State instead. There, the legend of his fantastic basketball career started.