Money and fame never changed Bird. There was a time during his NBA career when he purchased a Jeep for his brother Eddie. It wasn’t long, however, before he took it right back.
Larry Bird made those around him better both on and off the court
It sounds cliche when a basketball player is referred to as someone who makes his teammates better. In Bird’s case, that was true. His former agent Bob Woolf once said as good as Bird was at making the players around him better, he was just as good as making the people around him better off the court.
“Larry has a way of making everybody he comes into contact with a better person,” Woolf told Sports Illustrated in 1988. “If you think the Larry Bird on the court has character and is unselfish—well, off the court he’s even more so.”
On the court, Bird spread the wealth, according to Mel Daniels, an assistant coach at Indiana State. “It’s like a piece of Larry goes to each player by the things he does,” he said.
Off the court, he was genuine and a true friend, according to Tony Clark, who grew up with Bird.
“Larry epitomizes the word friend,” Clark said.
Larry Bird was also generous, but tough – just ask his brother Eddie
Bird wasn’t the most outgoing guy in the world. In fact, he was quite the opposite. Taking after his father, Bird never liked being the center of attention nor did he enjoy being with large groups of people.
“Larry was the most shy and introverted guy I’d ever been around in my life,” said Bill Hodges, the coach who helped bring Bird to Indiana State.
In high school, Bird wouldn’t even go see his brother Mark play basketball until his final varsity game. Bird’s father, Joe, was the same way.
“My father was proud of us, but he wouldn’t go see us play,” Bird said in back in ’88. “Dad didn’t like crowds either.”
If you were close with Bird growing up, he took care of you, but if you failed him, he’d let you know. Such was the case with Eddie.
Larry took care of Eddie, who was the best player on the Indiana State basketball team, by buying him a Jeep. That didn’t last long. While in school, Eddie got a ‘D’ in one of his classes, so Larry quickly took the vehicle away.
“It’s damned inconvenient for Eddie.” said Max Gibson, who was a father figure to Larry after his father died, “but Larry won’t budge till he gets rid of that D.”
Bird always cared about others first
With Bird, there wasn’t a selfish bone in his body. The only thing he wanted for himself was a championship.
“But Larry’s so sensitive to what his teammates need that he changes the emphasis of his game to accommodate them,” said Jimmy Rodgers, the Celtics assistant at the time. “It’s a unique form of personal consistency, concentrating on the needs of others, isn’t it?”
If he could make others around him better, the better the chance of his team winning. He finished with three championships in his career.
“That’s why I play,” Bird said of the championships. “I’m just greedy on them things. Winning the championship – I’ve never felt that way any other time, no matter how big some other game was. I remember the first time we won, against Houston (in 1981). We were way ahead at the end, and so I came out with three minutes left, and my heart was pounding so on the bench, I thought it would jump out of my chest. You know what you feel? You just want everything to stop and to stay like that forever.”