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If there’s one thing we all know about Larry Bird, it’s that his trash-talk is in a class of its own. The Boston Celtics star dominated the NBA for 13 seasons, doing so with a wide array of skills mixed with incredible verbal insults.

That said, a 22-year-old Bird wasn’t exactly boasting about his abilities when he joined the Celtics ahead of the 1979-80 season. The rookie joined training camp as an outsider, with several new teammates doubting his place on the team. But by the end of practice, the Hall of Famer got the last laugh without uttering a single word.

Few knew what to expect when Larry Bird entered the NBA

A native of French Lick, Indiana, Bird burst onto the scene at Indiana State. In 1979, one year after getting drafted sixth overall by the Celtics, he led the Sycamores to their first-ever NCAA Tournament and title game, falling to Magic Johnson’s Michigan State Spartans.

Despite taking little-known Indiana State all the way to the NCAA National Championship, not everyone was sold on Bird. While Celtics president Red Auerbach knew what type of player he could be, several of his new teammates were skeptical.

Cedric Maxwell was one of Boston’s better players at the time of Bird’s arrival. Fresh off of a career-high 19.0 points per game, Ced explained why he and the rest of his teammates doubted The Hick from French Lick.

“He didn’t impress me no more than any White guy I have ever seen play before,” Maxwell once said in an interview (h/t: AllBasketballTV). “I think you would say most Black players at the time were racist in the sense that we did not think you could find a White guy who could play better than any Black guy.”

Along with the color of his skin, Bird’s case to impress his teammates wasn’t helped by the fact he was on a five-year, $3.25 million contract, making him the highest-paid rookie in sports history.

Bird quickly silenced Maxwell and others with his play alone

Boston Celtics stars Larry Bird and Cedric Maxwell.
Larry Bird #33 and Cedric Maxwell #31 of the Boston Celtics. | Focus on Sport via Getty Images

More often than not, rookies came into training camp on the outside looking in. But few faced more skepticism than Bird.

“I walk in the first day of camp. Them guys were on the floor stretching and [saying], ‘Here comes this White savior, here comes this, here comes that,'” Bird once explained. “I sort of enjoyed it. Because I knew I was going to battle them all day.”

As practice moved along and Bird methodically took out each defender, the talented Maxwell finally stepped up to take the rookie down. However, Max was in for a rude awakening (h/t: AllBasketballTV).

“I’m thinking, ‘Oh he’s slow. He can’t get off his shot. He’s not that strong. This is going to be a lay-up.’ … Bam! Knocks down a jump shot. [I’m thinking] OK, maybe that was luck. [He] get’s the ball again. Bam! Knocks down another jump shot. Now I’m thinking, ‘You know what, I’m going to D this guy up.’ 20 feet away, bam! 25 feet away, bam! On my mind constantly was just, ‘Damn, this White guy could play.'”

Cedric Maxwell

By that point, every Celtic knew this Bird kid was something special.

The Boston Celtics returned to championship glory thanks to Larry Bird

It took all of one season for Larry Legend to become an NBA star. The 6-foot-9 forward averaged 21.3 points en route to winning the Rookie of the Year award. By his second season, Bird and Maxwell played a vital role in winning the 1981 NBA Finals over the Houston Rockets, with the latter actually taking home the Finals MVP.

With Bird, the Celtics made five NBA Finals and won three of them. On an individual level, he secured 12 All-Star appearances, 10 All-NBA nods, three All-Defense honors, and three league MVPs. He also finished his outstanding 13-year career with averages of 24.3 points, 10.0 rebounds, and 6.3 assists.

Bird may have entered his first training camp as the only person believing in his superstar abilities. But by the time his career came to a close in 1992, the whole world knew he was one of the league’s all-time great stars.

All statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference.


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