If you ever watched Larry Bird suit up for the Boston Celtics, then you know that the forward was a special player. As his nickname, Larry Legend, would lead you to believe, Bird wasn’t someone to be underestimated. Between his silky shooting stroke, vicious trash-talking, and incredible will to win, the Celtics star was a one-of-a-kind talent.
That reality, it seems, wasn’t lost on Bird, himself. In fact, the forward realized that he was an elite talent within his first full week of Boston Celtics training camp.
Larry Bird’s unconventional road to the NBA
Most NBA stars spent some time at a big-time NCAA program before entering the professional ranks. Larry Bird, however, did things a bit differently.
Coming out of high school, Bird earned a scholarship to play for Bob Knight at Indiana University. Once he arrived in Bloomington, however, the campus proved to be too much; he returned home to French Lick without suiting up for a single game.
Bird began working as a garbage man—by his own account, he enjoyed the job—but, before long, Indiana State University basketball coach Bill Hodges came calling. He convinced Larry to give college ball another chance; that, in turn, changed sports history.
With the Sycamores, Bird grew into a star. While no basketball fan can forget his showdown with Magic Johnson in the 1979 NCAA championship game, the forward was more than a one-game marvel. During his time at Indiana State, Larry Legend averaged 30.3 points per game, was a two-time consensus All-American, and took home 1979 National Player of the Year honors.
Realizing he had what it took to be a star on the Boston Celtics
When the 1978 NBA draft rolled around, the Boston Celtics selected Larry Bird with the sixth overall pick. While there was talk of the forward remaining in college and waiting to become the top selection in the 1979 draft, he ultimately signed a contract and headed to Beantown.
Once he joined up with the Celtics, Bird had no doubt that he had what it took to “be a special basketball player.” In fact, he came to that realization after only three days in training camp.
“I thought that the third day of [Celtics] training camp,” Bird told Marc J. Spears of The Undefeated. “When we started and I got drafted, we went to a place called Marshfield [Massachusetts], and that’s where we held our camp. If you can believe this, the first practice was outdoors. And at night, we would go to the gymnasium and play. But a lot of the veterans would come down there and I’d played against them. So, in my mind, I was thinking, Well, they are out of shape and not ready to go. And I’m having some success. But once we got into training camp and we got going four or five days, I thought, I know they just won 48 or 49 games last year, but I know I’m better than these guys.”
Based on his Boston Celtics career, Larry Bird was right
In a vacuum, a rookie showing up and proclaiming himself the best player on the team after a few days of training camp would seem like incredible arrogance. For Larry Bird, however, it was a pretty straightforward statement.
As a rookie, Bird averaged 21.3 points per game, cruising to the Rookie of the Year title; he immediately turned the struggling Celtics into contenders. The forward didn’t stop there, though. During his time in Boston, he developed into a legitimate star. By the time he called it a career, Larry Legend was 24.3 points, 10 rebounds, and 6.3 assists per outing; he also claimed three MVP awards and, perhaps more centrally to his legacy, won three NBA titles.
“I didn’t know how it was going to translate when we started playing in real games,” Bird told Spears. “We ended up winning 60 games, 61 games that year. But I knew early that I was going to be all right in this league.”
In retrospect, “all right” was a bit of an understatement.