On this day 63 years ago, Larry Bird was born in West Baden Springs, Indiana.
Bird spent his childhood one town over in French Lick, which later earned him one of his many nicknames, “The Hick from French Lick.” His family struggled growing up, with finances and marital problems striking the Bird clan. His father, Joe, had a penchant for drinking, and it placed some lasting images in Larry’s mind.
“I remember one time, I was 13 or 14 maybe, and my father came home with an ankle all black and blue and red – out to here,” Bird told Frank Deford of Sports Illustrated in 1988, holding up his hands almost a foot apart. “He needed me and my brother just to get his boots off, and he was in awful pain, but the next morning, we got the boot back on, and he went to work. That really made an impression on me.”
His parents divorced when he was a junior at Springs Valley High School, and the player used basketball as an escape from the difficulties surrounding him. His hard work paid off, and he earned a basketball scholarship at Indiana to play for Bob Knight.
Bloomington didn’t work out for Bird, though, as the massive campus and culture shock was too overwhelming to handle. In 1974, he moved into the college town, and less than one month later before preseason practices even began, Bird was gone and back in French Lick. Then, within the year, his father committed suicide as he felt trapped beneath alcohol and creditors. Georgia, Larry’s mother, was forced to carry the financial and emotional burden of raising and caring for their six children.
For the first 18 years of his life, Bird was never more than 40 miles away from French Lick for more than a weekend.
In 1975, Bird got a second chance at college basketball. He found a home in Terre Haute at Indiana State, mainly through help from one of the team’s assistants, Bill Hodges. Hodges would later become the head coach of the program for Bird’s senior season.
“If it wasn’t for Coach Hodges, who knows what I’d be doing today?” Bird said to John Papanek of Sports Illustrated in 1981.
Bird would go on to lead the Sycamores to the 1979 National Championship Game, falling to Michigan State and Magic Johnson in the opening chapter of what later became one of the most iconic personal rivalries in all of sports. A year before, he was selected with the No. 6 overall pick in the 1978 NBA Draft by the Boston Celtics and joined them after completing his college career.
Now years after his playing days have ended, Bird is one of the most recognizable athletes, let alone basketball players, in America. His list of accomplishments is longer than the mullet he used to rock, and after he retired from dribbling and shooting, he took up roles coaching and general managing in the NBA. Now a Hall of Famer, Larry Bird continues to be a fantastic character for the sport of basketball and someone the game will never forget.