Above is a picture of Larry Bird’s childhood home in French Lick, Indiana. Seeing the picture this afternoon, I was reminded of why I grew up idolizing Larry Bird. First, my moms is originally from Indiana. Growing up there were only 2 instances when she saved the day’s paper, ostensibly for recollection at some later point in her life. She is not a person keen on nostalgia, but for some reason she saved the paper the day Jerry Garcia died (she loved the Dead) and the day Larry Bird retired from playing in the NBA. I actually saw her cry that day, and she’s not even that big a basketball fan. Bird just represented everything she loved about her hometown Hoosier state.
My pops was a Celtics guy, which started in the 50’s and 60’s when he grew up idolizing Russell and Auerbach. His Boston bias meant he instilled in me a love for what Bird did with the Celtics. I always loved hearing him talk about Bird with a reverence he normally only reserved for Bill Russell. Bird was the ultimate shit-talker and a competitor who never gave a crap about anything other than winning (sorta like Tim Duncan and Russell).
It reminded me of one of my favorite memories of Bird as a child. This was way before the Internet and YouTube made these memories so easy to recall. My old man recounted the time he saw Larry Bird win the 1988 3-point contest. You may have read his proclamation before the inaugural 1986 NBA 3-Point Shootout in Dallas’ Reunion Arena. He strolled in the locker-room, looked around at his competitors and said “Man, who’s comin’ in second?” He then went out and destroyed everyone to take the competition’s first trophy. That’s a great story and part of Bird’s mythical status in Boston and around the country, but it’s not the anecdote my pops relayed to me when I was a youngster.
Bird would go on to win the first 2 three-point titles, but in 1988, his back was against the wall against new-comer Dale Ellis in Chicago. In the final round he was struggling and came to the final rack of balls down 1 point. He missed the first 3 balls, then hit the second to last ball to tie. It came down to the final shot with those old, multi-colored ABA balls that count for 2-points in the competition.
This is what my father told me before the Internet and YouTube. He said as he watched, Bird lofted the final shot and before it was even close to the rim, he raised his finger and walked away—already sure it was going in. It did, and he was the 3-time champion.
The audacity to just walk away because he was so sure it was going in, was the lesson the story taught me. My old man was right.
There’s no manual for that type of confidence. It’s not something a coach can teach you, or you can pick up on the schoolyard. You don’t learn confidence; you just have it.
Bird has confidence to an unnaturally high degree. That’s why I’ll always love Larry Bird. That’s why my moms saved the paper the day he retired. That’s why my old man continued to love the Celtics even after Russell and Hondo had all left the team.
Larry motherfuckin’ Bird.
[Pic Via @SI_Vault]