Larry Bird and Michael Jordan Wouldn’t Have Achieved Greatness Without Sibling Rivalries

Passion, love for the game, and motivational fire have to come from somewhere. For both Larry Bird and Michael Jordan, those intangibles came from family.

Bird and Jordan are two of the most ruthless competitors in NBA history, guys who would cut their opponents’ hearts out to achieve success and win championships. They weren’t just competitive on the hardwood, however.

Jordan needed golf and cards to quench his insatiable demands. Bird may have seemed a fiery and less outspoken type, but he could turn an autograph session into a contest at the drop of the hat.

Those intrinsic demeanors didn’t just manifest themselves at random. They were instilled in the two NBA legends from a very young age. Indeed, Bird and Jordan both began their paths to greatness by trying to outshine their older siblings.

Larry Bird and Michael Jordan both grew up with multiple brothers

Bird and Jordan grew up in larger households.

Larry Legend was one of five in the Bird family. He had four other brothers and, as the fourth in his family of six, watched his brothers cement themselves as prep standouts in French Lick, Indiana.

His Airness also ran fourth in the pecking order of five children. Jordan had two older brothers, Larry and James Jr., with the three of them often trying to win the affection of their father, James.

In many ways, love for sports came second for Bird and MJ. Realistically, both men yearned to supplant their older brothers in reputation. Their brothers provided them with a thirst to prove themselves.

Bird and Jordan both credited their older brothers for stoking their competitive flames

Boston Celtics great Larry Bird (L) and Chicago Bulls icon Michael Jordan (R) during 1990 NBA All-Star Weekend
Larry Bird and Michael Jordan sit on the bench during 1990 NBA All-Star Weekend | Focus on Sport via Getty Images

It’s quite possible that Larry Bird and Michael Jordan attempted to star in another sport if not for the presence of their brothers.

Even though he grew up in a basketball-crazed town, Bird didn’t exactly scream athletic ability as a child. He was a scrawny kid trying to find his niche. But he found the hunger.

The Hick from French Lick said during the 1991 film Larry Bird: A Basketball Legend (h/t YouTube) that his older brothers, Mike and Mark, tried to keep him from joining them in their recreational activities.

“I did tag along. It’s not that they called me and said, ‘C’mon, let’s go play ball.’ They sort of brushed me off all the time because they were three and four years older than [me]. So, it was a struggle.”

–Larry Bird, via Larry Bird: A Basketball Legend

Bird also saw Mark blossom into a star at Springs Valley High School. That further incentivized him to hone his craft and begin a dogged pursuit to one-up his older brother.

Jordan experienced something similar.

During the early episodes of ESPN’s The Last Dance docuseries, Money reflected on his childhood battles with Larry. His Airness said (h/t NBC Sports Chicago) that constantly playing against Larry offered the purest form of competition because it was a rivalry born out of love.

“I don’t think. from a competitive standpoint, I would be here without the confrontations with my brother (Larry). When you come to blows with someone, you absolutely love, that’s igniting every fire within you. And I always felt I was fighting Larry for my father’s attention. When you going through it, it’s traumatic, because I want that approval, I want that type of confidence. So my determination got even greater to be as good if not better than my brother.”

–Michael Jordan in Episode 2 of ESPN’s The Last Dance

The Bird and Jordan brothers lit the match. But family continued to be a focal point in Larry’s and Michael’s respective careers.

Family often served as an impetus

Before becoming a Boston Celtics icon, Larry Bird worked as a garbage man to support his mother and daughter from a failed first marriage. He needed basketball to take him somewhere and ensure security for his family.

Meanwhile, Jordan’s legacy is incomplete without his father, James. The two shared a close bond throughout MJ’s career. Following James’ tragic murder in the summer of 1993, Jordan fulfilled his father’s wishes to try his hand at professional baseball, though he already intended to make James’ dream come true. Only then did Mike rediscover his love for basketball and return to win three more championships with the Chicago Bulls.

In short, family always provided motivation for both Bird and Jordan, practically from birth. Where might the NBA be today if not for the likes of Mark Bird and Larry Jordan?

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