Larry Bird has long been established as one of the league’s best players of all time. However, he wasn’t always thought of in that way. When he first entered the league, there were some doubts regarding his talents and his full dedication to playing in the league.
How Did Larry Bird Get Drafted? Larry Bird was the sixth overall draft pick in the first round by the Boston Celtics in the year 1978. However, he didn’t enter the NBA straight away and instead decided to stay in college one more season and play for Indiana State University. After that season, the Celtics held onto his rights. Bird would enter the league in 1979 and immediately make an impact averaging 21-10-5 for a Celtics team that was in need of a star to lead them. He would win Rookie of the year for 1980, ahead of his college rival and friend Magic Johnson.
There is a bit more to the story regarding his final season in college after being drafted, along with some other information regarding the reason that the Celtics wanted him in the draft.
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How Was Bird’s Extra College Season?
It wasn’t at all surprising for Bird to stay one more season in college after the Celtics drafted him. They understood the loophole in the rulebooks that allowed him to do so and knew that he was thinking about returning before the draft even started. During the season he played in college before moving onto the pros, he dominated everybody that stepped in front of him.
The Hoosiers would finish with a strong record of 33-1 on the season and Bird was a large factor in that. He averaged 28.6 points, 14.9 rebounds, and 5.5 assists per game. Nope, those aren’t made-up numbers, but Birds recorded stats for the year. He shot a blistering 53.2 percent from the field as well. After an undefeated regular season and a strong postseason run, the team entered into the National Championship game against Michigan State, a team that featured Magic Johnson.
Johnson may have gotten the last laugh in this particular matchup, but the game kicked off what turned out to be a career-long rivalry between two of the greatest basketball players of all time. Finally, we have to give you a bigger picture of how vital Bird was to his college squad in this final season. The team averaged 86.8 points per game, which was the eighth-highest average in the nation for that year. Bird averaged 28.6 points to himself a night, but only one other player on the roster averaged over 10. That happened to be Carl Nicks, who poured in 19.3 points a night. Everybody else averaged less than 10, which goes to show how impressive Bird was, as both a scorer and creator for others. He took a team that may not have even been championship contenders and helped them go undefeated up until the very end, where they’d lose to Magic Johnson-led Spartans.
Why Did the Celtics Want Bird So Badly?
The Celtics wanted Larry Bird so badly because of the audience he brought in and the attitude that he had on the court. When your team is severely struggling the way that Boston was during this time, it makes sense to look for a franchise-altering player to give your fans hope again. That was what they found in Bird. When he was playing at Indiana State, the games averaged around 3,100 people a night. He was packing the house almost every single night when he played for this small school and even TV stations were showing the school’s games because of his unbelievable talent. This went way back to high school as well. When Bird played in high school, games that he was playing in averaged 1,600 people a night. He became a local celebrity growing up and fans would always offer to give his parents a ride because they couldn’t afford a car of their own. Now imagine how enticing all of that sounds to a team that just finished 32-50 on the season and held a high draft pick. This was the worst record that Boston had finished with since the 1949-50 season and they needed a change fast. Understanding that Bird would play another year in college, they thought that he was worth the wait. During the year-long wait, Boston dipped down to 29-53 record-wise, even worse than their previous season. This allowed them, along with some trades, to acquire Bob Mcadoo from the New York Knicks for the price of 3 first round picks who they would eventually turn into Robert Parish and Kevin Mchale. After Bird arrived, the team quickly shot up to 61-21 and looked like a completely different team with a ridiculous amount of media attention thanks to Bird. A dynasty was being constructed.
Why Wasn’t Bird Drafted Earlier?
Teams were incredibly afraid of what could happen to Bird the year that he was drafted by the Boston Celtics. Bird was in that loophole of the NBA rule book to where he was technically in the draft, but could also return to college. Most teams didn’t want to draft him, wait a full year for him to arrive in the league, then have him refuse to sign a contract and head back into the draft pool the following season. The teams that were ahead of Boston didn’t feel as though they were in a position to do that so they instead opted to draft somebody that they felt would contribute straight away to help them win. Almost all of Boston’s staff members at the time felt comfortable taking the risk on Bird, and their general manager had full confidence that if he took him right there, he would eventually stay with the team when he arrived in the league, which was exactly what transpired. However, Boston had a leg up on the rest of the competition when it comes to this specific draft. That is because they had the privilege of owning both the number six pick and the number eight pick in the first round. Even if management struck out on Bird with that sixth pick, they had another pick right after so that they can instantly nab another high level player (Freeman Williams) to step in and contribute right away. It felt like the perfect storm and no other teams ahead of them were comfortable enough to pull the trigger there.
Bird’s entry into the NBA was far from conventional. However it wasn’t unusual at a time when College Basketball was seen as more than just a stepping stone to the Professional Leagues.