While it’s been almost 30 years since Larry Bird last hit the NBA hardwood, no basketball fan can forget the Boston Celtics star. The forward was more than just a knock-down shooter; he was a pure scorer, deadly trash-talker, and a relentless winner. And, behind the scenes, he was apparently a pretty nice guy.
Yes, you read that correctly. While it’s easy to remember Larry Bird as the player who roasted Craig Hodges ahead of the Three-Point Contest and talked trash to an entire team at once, the legendary forward actually had a softer side once he stepped off the floor.
Larry Bird’s legendary basketball career
Since he’s literally nicknamed ‘Legend,’ it’s not exactly groundbreaking to say that Larry Bird was great at basketball. His decorated career, however, almost ended prematurely.
After high school, Bird headed to the University of Indiana to join Bobby Knight’s Hoosiers. The Bloomington campus, however, overwhelmed the Hick from French Lick; Bird headed back home and started working as a garbage man until Indiana State University basketball coach Bill Hodges paid him a visit.
Bird agreed to give college basketball another chance and joined the Sycamores. He promptly grew into a star, averaging 30.3 points per game for his NCAA career, claiming 1979 National Player of the Year honors, and leading Indiana State to the NCAA Tournament Finals, only to fall at the hands of Magic Johnson and Michigan State.
When the 1978 NBA draft rolled around, the Boson Celtics snagged Bird with the sixth-overall pick; while it briefly looked like he wouldn’t join the team, he eventually signed on the dotted line, changing the course of franchise history. He spent 13 seasons in Boston, averaging 24.3 points, 10 rebounds, and 6.3 assists per game for his career. Bird also won three consecutive NBA MVP titles and lifted three Larry O’Brien Trophies as an NBA champion, establishing himself as a living legend.
Trash-talking with the best of them
Larry Bird was more than just a relentless winner and pure scorer, though. He could also talk trash as well as anyone else in the league.
While it’s not clear what Bird actually said—some episodes have probably grown into sports legends over time—there are plenty of stories about Larry Legend’s verbal exploits. According to reports, once asked Craig Ehlo if his mother was watching the game to see him get embarrassed. On another occasion, he claimed that no one was guarding him after scoring over Dennis Rodman.
Even Michael Jordan, a legendary trash-talker in his own right, saluted Bird’s skills. MJ called Larry Legend the best trash-talker he ever faced, saying, “He talks a lot of trash. Good trash, though, not dirty trash.”
Behind the scenes, though Larry Bird was apparently a pretty nice guy
Given those trash-talking stories, it would be understandable if you thought Larry Bird was a mean—or at least cold—character. Behind the scenes, though, the forward was apparently a pretty nice guy.
“When the Celtics won the title in 1984, Bird approached Auerbach and said, ‘I’d like to buy a [championship] ring for Walter,’ Frank Deford wrote in an old Sports Illustrated story. “Walter Randall was an old equipment man and sometime trainer who died in ’85. ‘No other player ever thought of that,’ Auerbach says. Rick Shaw, the team manager at Indiana State, went up to Bird on the sad flight back from the Sycamores’ Final Four defeat at the hands of Michigan State in 1979 and handed him a team pennant to sign. Bird didn’t just autograph it. He wrote, ‘Thank you for all the things you’ve done for me. Love, Larry.”
Bill Walton, who spent a few seasons with the Celtics at the end of his career, offered the best perspective on Bird’s personality.
“So much of it—playing, in the locker room, away from basketball—has to do with how much he cares,” Walton explained. “Larry cares about every element of everything he’s involved in. With some people, the sphere of their life is so very small. The sphere of Larry’s life is just huge.”