Along with the likes of Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Kobe Bryant, and Bill Russell – Larry Bird is considered one of the greatest basketball players ever to play.
The Indiana native won three NBA Titles, was voted league MVP twice, and throughout his NBA career, averaged over 24 points per game. His list of records is even longer.
Though Larry Bird became one of the greatest, he actually had no plans for becoming a basketball player when he was young. Instead, he had another thing in mind for his future, but his talent for the game was obvious.
Today, Bird is busy enjoying all that comes with being a retired star athlete. Yet despite the 65-year-old’s fame and legendary status all over the US, he has never been one for spending money.
Bird has been married to his beloved wife, Dinah Mattingly, for more than 30 years, though not much is known about his private life.
Larry Bird was born on December 7, 1956, in West Baden, Indiana, a small village outside the larger town of French Lick, Indiana. The fourth of Joe and Georgia Bird’s six children, his family couldn’t afford a car and lived a simple lifestyle. Larry and his siblings spent most of the day at home making the most of what they had – and therefore, sport became a central source of entertainment.
Larry Bird – childhood, early life
The Bird brothers were interested in sports from a very young age. They played plenty of baseball and softball – no, basketball wasn’t Bird’s main interest from the get go. However, in high school, he realized basketball was the sport he had the most talent in.
As a young kid, Larry used to play pickup basketball with men who worked at a nearby hotel.
“Back then I would just try to develop my skills as a young player, and I got in games around there. But these guys were older. When you’re 9, 10, 11, you see somebody 20, you think they’re old. But it was a number of guys who would show up every day. In between games they’d smoke their Kool cigarettes and drink their beer, but great guys,” Larry recalled in an interview with Landscape.
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“What was really great for me and made me happy is 30 years ago I ran into Slim, who was down in Atlanta out there cooking at one of the hotels we stayed in. And he’d come up and say, ‘Remember me?’ And I knew I’d seen that face before, but I didn’t know where. He was a little bit older. But he said he was so proud of how I turned out.”
Bird soon realized that he might actually have a future in basketball. He began practicing daily, with his brothers cheering him on. Even though Larry was ready to quit many nights, he knew that eventually the hard work would pay off.
“I played when I was cold and my body was aching and I was so tired,” he told Sports Illustrated. “I don’t know why, I just kept playing and playing, I guess I always wanted to make the most out of it.”
Larry Bird – high school, team, records
Larry Bird attended Springs Valley High School in French Lick. He did well as a guard, but even at 6 feet 3 inches, he wasn’t one of the tallest players on the team. Moreover, although he was considered “alright,” he didn’t show any extraordinary abilities. That soon changed – his skills developed fast and he had grown four inches by the beginning of his senior year.
In total, Larry scored 1,125 career points and earned an Indiana All-Star berth in 1974. He averaged 30.6 points and 20.5 rebounds as a senior, becoming the Springs Valley High School’s all-time leading scorer in his senior year.
His excellent performances earned Larry Bird a scholarship to Indiana University, where he played for the Indiana Hoosiers. It was a significant step forward, but he didn’t stay long. Only a month later, Bird left and moved back to French Lick, where he got employment as a sanitation worker. At 18, his father ended his own life; an incredibly tragic event.
Bird enrolled at Northwood institute Junior college and was persuaded to play basketball at Indiana State instead. There, the legend of his fantastic basketball career started.
Even then, though, Bird was still not sure about basketball being his true calling.
Speaking with the Boston Globe, he explained that he had no plans to pursue a career in the sport.
“I thought I’d wind up being a construction worker”
He didn’t think he had what it took to make it to the NBA. Instead, Larry planned to become a construction worker.
“When I was at [Indiana] State, finishing to get my degree, they had me teaching special needs kids in a high school. That was tough. It gave me a lot of respect for people who do that,” Bird said.
“I thought I’d wind up being a construction worker, pouring concrete. I wasn’t very good at shop in school, but I’d been around construction. As far as basketball goes, I just wanted to be the best player on my high school team.”
At Indiana State, Bird averaged 30.3 points, 13.3 rebounds, 4.6 assists, and 2.6 steals per game. It brought the team to the No.1 ranking in the US – and the final in the NCAA Tournament. There, unfortunately, they lost to Michigan State, led by Magic Johnson. That, of course, wasn’t the last time Bird and Magic would meet throughout their careers.
In the 1978 NBA draft, Larry was selected 6th overall by the Boston Celtics. He was still a junior, and so decided to stay in Indiana for his senior year before joining the legendary NBA franchise.
It quickly became evident that it wasn’t just NBA scouts who were realizing the enormity of Bird’s.
No, it was around this time that Larry himself began to digest the reality of his talent.
Larry Bird – NBA career, matches, points, stats, awards
“Once I got out of college, I came to the pros, and well, ‘How’s he gonna do? He won’t be able to get his jumpshot off in the pros, or he won’t be quick enough, or he won’t be able to rebound.'” Bird recalled.
“And I think it took me probably 3 days after rookie camp, I found out, this league is nothing. I could play in this league and I would dominate this league.”
Larry made his NBA debut in the 1979-1980 season. Just three years later, Bird secured his first championship – and in the three seasons that followed, from 1984 to 1986, the Indiana native became the League MVP.
Larry said that he would “dominate the NBA,” and he did just that. All told, he was a 12-time All-Star, a two-time NBA Finals MVP, and became a member of the All-NBA First Team nine times. Most importantly, however, he, alongside the likes of Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan, helped to bring basketball – and interest in the NBA – to a whole new level.
The rivalry between the Celtics and the Bulls in the 1980s became legendary, and is still discussed today. In reality, however, it was mostly a showoff between Jordan and Bird, a cross-roads in history that saw the passing of the torch from one great to another. Larry was widely regarded as one of the best trash talkers in the game, which Michael Jordan himself recognized.
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“Larry Bird is the greatest trash talker and mind-game player of all time. He taught me everything I know about getting in folks’ heads,” Jordan once said.
Bird played a total of 897 games for the Boston Celtics over 13 seasons. In 1992, he retired, and a year later, in February 1993, the Boston Celtics raised his No. 33 jersey to the rafters at the Boston Garden, retiring Bird’s number forever.
Larry Bird – net worth, private life
As per reports, Bird made around $24 million over the course of his career. As of today, his net worth is around $75 million.
But even though one might expect that he, a superstar, would live a high life of splashing cash every day, that wasn’t at all the case with Larry. He never forgot his roots or where he came from, and would reportedly never spend much money on expensive watches, cars, or other luxurious things.
“When I’m home in Boston, I want to go out and eat, pay my bill, and get the hell out. Back in French Lick, I don’t have those problems, and that’s why I go back there. It’s the same with nice cars, Mercedes and all that,” Bird said.
“I can’t see putting $50,000 or $60,000 into a car when our house growing up was worth $10,000, I just can’t buy that. And clothes never did catch my eye, I never really enjoyed ’em. I always wore what I felt comfortable in. I’ll wear pretty much anything if I get it for free.”
Outside of the NBA, little is known about Bird’s private life. He’s never been keen on talking about his life off the court – when he was playing in the NBA, he even told reporters not to ask any personal questions.
“My private life is nobody’s business,” Bird once said. “Besides, it ain’t interesting.”
Larry Bird – family, wife Dinah Mattingly, children
In 1975, Larry Bird wed his first wife, Janet Condra. Their marriage only lasted one year, but they later reconciled and had a child, Corrie Bird.
In 1989, in the middle of his legendary career, Larry wed his second wife, Dinah Mattingly. But, just as Bird told reporters, his private life was separate from his NBA star life, and even when they tied the knot, Bird kept it very secret.
A 1989 article in The Kokomo Tribune said that Bird had married “a former Indianapolis woman.” The wedding itself, meanwhile, was not a big spectacle at all.
According to the article in question, the couple wed at the home of Larry Bird’s partner, Max Gibson, at a Terre Haute hotel and restaurant complex called Larry Bird’s Boston Connection.
Bird and Mattingly had dinner after the wedding, with no friends or family members except for Gibson, his wife Jackie, and the Superior Court judge who performed the ceremony. The couple then had dinner and went back to Boston.
Another friend of Bird, Glen Ankney, said: “They just had a nice dinner in the hotel and left … It was a very private ceremony.”
Soon after marrying, the couple adopted two children, Connor and Mariah.
Dinah Mattingly wife cried when he retired
Not much is known about the marriage between Bird and Mattingly. The couple were reportedly high school sweethearts, and both studied at Indiana State University. They later fell in love, and still, to this day, are happily married. She was with him for his entire career, accompanying him to his first rookie match at Camp Millbrook in 1979.
Like any marriage, Larry and Dinah’s had its ups and downs. When he was set to retire, Bird even sent his wife back to their home in Indiana since he feared she would have a tough time getting over it, according to Peter May’s book The Big Three.
She had wanted him to end his career one year before, as he was injured. When he announced that he was quitting, Dinah was reportedly getting her hair done back in Indiana – and broke down in tears.
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Larry went on to become the coach of the Indiana Pacers after his playing days were over. He led his team to the Eastern Conference finals in 1998 and 1999. The season after, the Pacers lost to the Los Angeles Lakers in the finals.
After that, Larry decided to step down as coach but continued working within the organization. He left his role as president of basketball operations in 2017.
As of today, Bird is not working actively in basketball. But according to the Pacers president of basketball operations, Kevin Pritchard, the 64-year-old legend is always welcome back.
“At any time we need help, we know where to look. He’s always available,” Pritchard said.
Larry Bird is a true basketball legend, and time will tell if we’ll ever get to see another player like him on the court.
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