NBA Legend Larry Bird Never Forgot His Poor Beginnings

Although salaries varied slightly in the 1980s, the best NBA players will always get the highest pay. Few players were as talented as Larry Bird in his peak. And because of that, the Boston Celtics forward earned slightly over $24 million in in-game checks throughout his career.

A portrait of Larry Bird.
Photo by Bettmann/Getty Images

Although he eventually rose to fame in the NBA and amassed millions of dollars, Bird never lost sight of what it was like to live in poverty as a child in French Lick, Indiana. Here is the account of how, despite being a millionaire, he returned to his humble beginnings.

Larry Bird’s Incredible Rise to Basketball Stardom

Although he’s considered a legend, Larry Bird almost left the hardwood for good. After becoming popular in high school, Bird went to the University of Indiana to play college ball. Unfortunately, he withdrew and returned to French Lick, where he began working as a sanitation worker.

Larry Bird goes to the basket during an Indiana State game.
Photo by Rich Clarkson/NCAA Photos/Getty Images

Bill Hodges, the then Indiana State University coach, didn’t give up on him and persuaded him to play for the Sycamores. The forward brought his A-game every night and won the 1979 National Player of the Year award. He averaged 30.3 points/game in three seasons at Indiana State.

He Became a Star With the Boston Celtics

Following a stellar junior season, the Boston Celtics selected Larry Bird with the sixth pick in the 1978 NBA Draft. He didn’t sign immediately and played out his final season at Indiana State. After moving to Beantown, Bird averaged 21.3 points per game in his first year.

Larry Bird poses with the NBA Championship Trophy.
Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images

And he won the Rookie of the Year. Although injuries eventually slowed Bird down, he averaged 24.3 points, ten rebounds, and 6.3 assists in the NBA. He won three NBA championships and three NBA MVP awards and made over $24 million in salary, according to Spotrac’s financial data.

Bird Never Forgot His Roots

Although $24 million in 13 seasons may seem small by today’s standards, it was huge for a former sanitation worker. The forward’s family grew up poor in French Lick, Indiana. In a 1988 Sports Illustrated, Frank Deford shows that the Birds sometimes struggled to keep warm at night.

Larry Bird shoots to the basket.
Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images

Bird’s mother, Georgia, worked hundred hours weekly as a waitress and only made $100. According to Larry, she went to the store “and had to buy $120 worth of food.” But despite her struggles, she put her kids first and still got them shoes whenever they needed them.

Bird’s Childhood Continues to Motivate Him

Although she has passed, Larry Bird remembers how much her mother owed the bank just because she wanted to get them the basic amenities. It got so tough that he had to move in with his grandmother, Lizzie Kerns. Bird has never forgotten his experiences as a boy.

Larry Bird acknowledges the crowd from the sidelines during the second half of a game.
Photo by Christopher Evans/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald/Getty Images

His childhood experiences motivate him even today, despite retiring about 30 years ago. It’s safe to say that was a pretty strong motivation based on his on-court performances and total career earnings. His current net worth is around $55 million.