Larry Bird’s Unselfishness Hit a Peak in 1992 When He Surrendered Millions to the Boston Celtics
Larry Bird was the ultimate team player. On a team full of stars, he didn’t have to be the one who shined the brightest, although he most often did. He made everyone around him better, and the Boston Celtics legend didn’t care who stole the statistics spotlight as long as the team won.
Bird’s unselfishness traveled beyond the basketball court. That became evident in August 1992 when he walked into the office of CEO Dave Gavitt and politely denied Gavitt’s plea.
Larry Bird wasted no time making a name for himself with the Boston Celtics
Red Auerbach had to be patient with Larry Bird. He drafted the Indiana State star as a junior, but Bird elected to play out his senior year of college, forcing the Celtics to wait a year before getting his services. Bird, of course, guided the Sycamores into the 1979 NCAA title game, where he squared off against Magic Johnson and the Michigan State Spartans.
After some heated negotiations that went down to the wire, the Celtics inked Bird to the richest rookie contract in NBA history. He didn’t disappoint.
Bird took a Celtics team that won 29 games in the 1978-89 season and turned it into one that led the NBA in victories with 61. He captured Rookie of the Year honors after averaging 21.3 points and 10.4 rebounds.
In his second season, aided by a one-sided trade with the Golden State Warriors that brought back Robert Parish and Kevin McHale, Bird led the Celtics to the first of their three championships of the decade. In 1984, he won the first of three MVPs, becoming only the third player in NBA history (Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain) to do so.
Bird also led the Celtics to four consecutive berths in the NBA Finals from 1984 to 1987. Boston won championships in 1984 and 1986.
Bird declined a hefty payday from the Celtics
At the end of the 1991-92 season, a year in which he played 45 games and suffered through a painful back injury, Bird played joined the Olympic team in Barcelona, Spain. The Dream Team was a collection of the NBA’s top stars and cruised its way to a gold medal. Many believe that team is the greatest squad ever assembled.
Shortly after returning home, Bird made the decision to retire from the NBA. He played 13 seasons, but the injuries were piling up, and he felt he couldn’t be the player he once was.
According to Jackie MacMullan’s book When the Game Was Ours, Bird walked into Gavitt’s office to break the news.
“Dave, I’m done. I’m retiring,” he said.
Although Gavitt knew Bird was physically beaten up, he tried to keep him around at least for a few more weeks.
“Larry, are you sure?” Gavitt asked. “I think you should take a few weeks to think it over a little longer.”
According to MacMullan, Gavitt hoped Bird would delay his announcement. Had Bird waited two more weeks, his contract for the next two seasons at $5 million each would’ve kicked in, and the Celtics would’ve had to pay him even if he retired. Gavitt’s level of respect for Bird showed as he hoped Bird would delay his decision and collect some serious money.
“I know what you are doing,” Bird said, “and I don’t want the money. I didn’t earn it, and I won’t take it. Let’s just get this over with.”