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On the court, Larry Bird was incredible confident. Not only could the Boston Celtics star talk a big game — he was known to tell the opposition exactly how he planned to score, then follow through — but he had a knack for stepping up in the biggest moments. When the chips were down, he seemed completely unmoved by the moment. Larry Legend was simply there to execute, as he always was.

There was a situation where the forward would get a bit “jittery,” though. While he was more than capable of taking care of business on the hardwood, Bird didn’t feel completely at home with the trappings of his stardom, including being confronted by crowds of fans.

Larry Bird was out of his comfort zone when faced with his adoring fans

Larry Bird (L) is surrounded by media after announcing his retirement.
Larry Bird faced plenty of crowds as an NBA star. | John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

While calling him “the Hick from French Lick” wasn’t 100% accurate, Larry Bird was a simple man who knew exactly what he liked. Being treated like a celebrity did not land on that list.

In his 1999 book, Bird Watching, the forward got real about his relationship with fame. When it came time to discuss how he felt about crowds, signing autographs, and the like, he didn’t hold back.

“I know some people feel I’m unapproachable, but the one thing they don’t understand is that I get very uncomfortable around crowds,” Bird explained. “I always try to stay away from situations where I might run into a group of people. What I never liked was when I’d go somewhere thinking there wouldn’t be much of a fuss, and then all of a sudden there’s a hundred kids all around you, pressing toward you. That’s when I become jittery. Unfortunately, that happened all the time when I was playing.”

If you want to be cynical, you could argue that Bird should have known what he was getting into and accepted those challenges as the price for his fame and fortune. At the same time, though, the NBA legend’s candor does convey a certain sense of authenticity. Based on everything we know of Larry Legend and his competitive spirit, he wouldn’t lay his metaphorical cards on the table if he wasn’t legitimately uncomfortable.

If you combine that with some other nuggets from the book — Bird, for example, admitted to being anxious to the point of physical illness before games and noted that he felt like he lost all privacy after appearing on the cover of Sports Illustrated — the puzzle pieces seem to fall into place. For all of his talent and confidence, Larry Legend seems remarkably human. He may have been a star, but he had some rather universal stresses that we can all understand.


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