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These days, NBA players take a rather established road to the pros. Starting with their earliest days on the hardwood, there’s plenty of coaching, training, and individual attention. There will usually be some AAU ball in the mix, which is followed by a season at a big-time college and an invitation into the Association. During Larry Bird‘s day, though, things were still a bit more simple.

Take, for example, the forward’s silky long-range stroke. That wasn’t honed under the careful eye of a highly-paid coach or even indoors. In fact, Larry Legend turned an annoyance — trips to the local laundromat — into the perfect opportunity to practice.

Let’s travel back to French Lick and check it out.

Larry Bird learned the importance of practice and did just that while his clothes were drying

Despite Allen Iverson’s famous aversion to discussing it, practice is a key part of any athlete’s success. From his earliest days on the court, Larry Bird came to understand that.

The future Celtic grew up around his older brothers and, understandably, wanted to be just like them. That meant plenty of practice was on the cards.

“The thing I liked about basketball at first was just the shooting,” Larry Legend recalled in Dan Shaughnessy’s book, Wish It Lasted Forever: Life With the Larry Bird Celtics. “Watching the ball go in. My brother Mark was three years older, and I used to rebound for him at the courts around town. He’d be fifteen to sixteen feet away, and the ball would just come through the net so soft, and I didn’t even have to move. That caught my eye. I’d say, ‘How do you do that?,’ and he’d say, ‘Cuz I shoot all the time.'”

The Bird family wasn’t exactly rolling in dough, and you might think that would have limited Larry’s ability to hit the courts. He found a way, however, to turn that potential obstacle into a golden opportunity.

“I practiced a lot by myself,” No. 33 continued. “We didn’t have a washer or dryer at home, so my mom would go to the laundromat, and I’d go with her to carry. There was a park across the street, and I’d go over there and shoot all the time while the clothes was dryin’.”

And while it’s not clear how long he followed that routine, it’s safe to say it paid off. Bird became a knock-down shooter, and that skill carried him all the way to NBA greatness. If he didn’t have that built-in excuse to practice, who knows how things would have worked out?

That humble learning experience fits right into Bird’s story


Larry Bird Wasn’t as Slow As you Might Think, According to Dave Cowens

If you took the story of Larry Bird carrying his family’s clothes to the laundromat and then shooting hoops while they dried in isolation, it would be easy to think you were looking at the script for an uplifting movie. The famous forward’s life, however, was 100% real, and this wasn’t the only instance of a humble learning experience.

Take, for example, Bird’s time playing youth basketball. While that could have been little more than a fun experience — we’ve all seen a hoard of small children chase after the ball with little regard for strategy, fundamentals, or even positions — Larry Legend clearly took something from the experience. His coach, Jim Jones, stressed the importance of free-throw shooting, boxing out, and using your weak hand.

Bird, it seems, truly internalized those lessons. He proved to be a reliable foul shooter, a capable rebounder, and an elite scorer, even when using his left hand.

A bit later in life, the forward hit the court with the adults who worked at a nearby hotel. While you might think that playing with grown men who drank beers and smoked cigarettes in between games would have been intimidating, Bird was up for the challenge. Not only did he enjoy the experience, but he came away from the court learning about talking trash and having fun while doing so.

It’s safe to see how those lessons carried through to his NBA game.

Even when he was at the height of his professional powers, Larry Bird largely liked to keep things simple. When you consider his formative basketball experiences and the success he ultimately found, it’s easy to understand why.