By Josh Staph
Hall of Famer Larry Bird has come a long way from French Lick, Ind., where he used to shoot a rubber ball into a coffee can as a child. Once too poor and intimidated to venture out of his home town, Bird became one of the most incredible players in basketball history.
An outstanding high school career earned Bird a highly coveted full ride to play hoops for Bob Knight at Indiana University in 1974. Within a month of his arrival in Bloomington, however, Bird’s bags were packed again, and he returned to French Lick. Problems with the fiery Knight or difficult academic standards weren’t the reason; instead, Bird was overwhelmed by the size of IU. The school had 33,000 students—31,000 more than the entire population of French Lick.
Back home, Bird spent his days driving a garbage truck and hunting mushrooms for pay. When he wasn’t elbow-deep in trash and brush, he had the rock in his hands to prevent his game from getting rusty. When 1975 rolled around, Bird decided to give college another shot, but this time at the significantly smaller Indiana State.
After sitting out his first year due to transfer rules, the 6’9” forward soon achieved superstardom. “The Hick from French Lick” single-handedly resurrected ISU’s basketball program, leading the undefeated Sycamores to the 1979 NCAA Finals, winning the John Wooden Award as the best collegiate basketball player, and earning multiple All-American honors. During his college career, Bird averaged an amazing 30.0 ppg. Drafted by the Celtics, he was named 1980 NBA Rookie of the Year and never looked back. In a 13-year NBA career, “Larry Legend” chalked up 21,791 points, 8,974 rebounds, 5,695 assists and 1,556 steals, while leading the Celtics to three NBA Championships. In 1997, Bird returned to his native Indiana to coach the Pacers, where he currently serves as president of basketball operations.