Larry Bird Won a New Car in 1986 but Gladly Would Have Traded It Away for a Single Basketball

In case you still didn’t know, Larry Bird wasn’t big on material possessions. The Boston Celtics star aimed to live a simple life despite earning $24 million over his 13-year playing career. So when Bird was awarded a brand new car for his heroic efforts in the 1986 NBA Finals, he was immediately hoping to trade it away for something much simpler … a single basketball.

Larry Bird took home MVP honors in the 1986 NBA Finals

From 1984-86, no player dominated the sport like Larry Legend.

Bird capped off his first MVP season in 1984 by beating the rival Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA Finals and earning Final MVP. The following year, Boston fell short and lost in six to LA. However, the Hick from French Lick still won his second regular-season MVP in a row.

In 1986, Bird took home his third and final MVP award. The former Indiana State star averaged 25.8 points to go with 9.8 rebounds and a career-best 6.8 assists. He also helped guide Boston to a 67-15 campaign, its third straight 60-win season and second-best record in franchise history.

Bird took a powerhouse Celtics team to the NBA Finals, where they matched up against Hakeem Olajuwon, Ralph Sampson, and the 51-31 Houston Rockets. However, Olajuwon and company weren’t able to stop the Green and White. The Celtics defeated the Rockets in six games to claim their second championship in three years.

To no surprise, Bird spearheaded the charge. Larry Legend nearly averaged a triple-double with 24.0 points, 9.7 rebounds, and 9.5 assists. He also added 2.7 steals per game to claim his second Finals MVP.

Bird wanted to trade his brand new car for a basketball

Boston Celtics players, including Larry Bird, celebrate with the Larry O'Brien Trophy.
(L-R) Boston Celtics’ Danny Ainge, Rick Carlisle, Larry Bird, and Bill Walton celebrate with the championship trophy during the Boston Celtics NBA Championship victory parade in 1986. | Bill Greene/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

After extinguishing the Rockets and capturing his third title, Bird became the proud owner of a couple of new trophies. The Hall of Famer was also rewarded with a brand new car.

To no surprise, Bird had very little interest in his new ride. Instead, he coveted a possession that was one in a million — the basketball from the series-clinching Game 6.

Larry touched on the specific ball in his book Bird Watching: On Playing and Coaching the Game I Love, co-written with Sports Illustrated’s Jackie MacMullan in 1999 (transcribed by The New York Times).

”The only ball I ever really wanted was in 1986 because we won that championship by beating [former Rockets coach] Bill Fitch and his Houston team, and to me that really meant something,” Bird wrote. ”When the game ended, our backup center Greg Kite grabbed the ball, because he was on the court and the closest one to it.”

Bird then explained how he gladly would have parted with his free vehicle if it meant keeping the prized ball instead.

“‘I was named the MVP of the playoffs and I won a car for it, and I was thinking about trading Kite the car I won for the ball. But the more I thought about it, the more I felt Greg should have just given it to me outright. I had just finished playing a great series, and made sure he was going to have a ring. Greg knew how much I wanted to beat Bill Fitch, because I respected Fitch so much, and I feel he should have offered me that ball. I never told him, but that’s how I felt.”

Larry Bird

For what it’s worth, Kite saw about 30 minutes of playing time in the Finals and scored six points to go with 10 fouls. So perhaps he of all people shouldn’t have been the one to keep the historic piece of memorabilia.

The Game 6 basketball wound up with neither Bird nor Kite

It’s not surprising that Bird was too proud to ask Kite for the ball. But if he did, he may have received his wish.

“I probably would’ve taken a car for the thing,” Kite told the NY Times in 1999. “My wife would. I know that. It’s a great memento, but I’m not that deeply attached to it.”

However, even if Kite wanted to gift Bird with the rock, it was too little, too late. With no inkling that his star teammate even wanted the ball, Kite wound up giving it to someone else.

“I had no idea he was that interested in it,” said Kite. “In fact, I loaned it to [former Celtic] Dave Cowens about six years ago before he got back into coaching. He was working as the curator of this sports museum and said he wanted it for display. I don’t know where it is now. It’s probably on e-Bay getting auctioned off or deflated in the back of someone’s closet.”

Eventually, the Times found the new whereabouts of the ball (as of 1999). The Sports Museum of New England was holding onto the relic and displaying it in the Fleet Center branch of the museum. It’s unknown whether the ball is still at the museum, which is now located within TD Garden in Boston.

“It’s a loan item, so we intend to eventually give it back,” museum curator Richard Johnson told the Times over 20 years ago. “But we’re not trading a car for it, no matter how much Larry wants it.”

All statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference.

RELATED: Larry Bird’s Former Coach Once Shared the Not-so-Secret Reason for the Legend’s Success