NBA

Before Basketball, Larry Bird Drove a Garbage Truck

Jan 17, 1990; Orlando, FL, USA; FILE PHOTO; Boston Celtics forward Larry Bird (33) prior to a game against the Orlando Magic at the Orlando Arena.
USA TODAY Sports

Larry Bird is one of the greatest players of all time. In his 13 seasons in the NBA, he won three championships and three MVPs. But what if none of that ever happened? What if Bird chose a completely different career path early in his life, and his basketball stardom simply…didn’t exist?

If Larry Bird didn’t pursue basketball, the trajectory of the NBA would have been drastically different. The Celtics probably would not have won those titles in the 80s, allowing the Lakers to dominate the league. Those classic Bird versus Magic matchups would be erased from existence. Perhaps most importantly, the NBA would lose an essential icon and a player that would ultimately move the game forward into what it is today. But what would happen to Larry Bird himself? What would he become? What would he do for a living?

Life for Bird Before the NBA

Mar 26, 1979; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; FILE PHOTO; Indiana State Sycamores forward Larry Bird (33) on the sideline against the Michigan State Spartans during the 1979 NCAA Men's Final Four at the Special Events Center. The Spartans defeated the Sycamores 75-64
Malcolm Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Larry Bird and his five siblings grew up in French Lick, Indiana. The town was one of the poorest in the state. When Bird’s father, Joe, and his mother, Georgia, divorced when Larry was in high school, Bird’s mother supported the family, working multiple jobs. When it seemed like nothing more could go wrong, Joe Bird killed himself. Larry was 18 at the time. Times were extremely tough for the Bird family. However, Larry did not let these difficult circumstances affect his play in the court.

In high school, Bird averaged a ridiculous 30.6 points and 20 rebounds per game. Due to his brilliant play, he received many offers from several high profile schools. Ultimately, he would stay local as he chose to play for Indiana State University. But, overwhelmed by the size of the school, he decided to return home after 24 days on campus. He proceeded to go to junior college for a brief period.

Alternate Path

At that time, he was also married. Unfortunately, he and his wife were not happy together, so they divorced. After the marriage, Bird was the one who took in the only child they had. With no money, Larry had to find some way to support him and his daughter. Therefore, he dropped out of junior college and worked for the city of Indiana as a garbage man.

Later in his life, Bird admitted that he actually enjoyed working as a garbage man.

“I loved that job,” he said. “It was outdoors, you were around your friends. Picking up brush, cleaning it up. I felt like I was really accomplishing something. How many times are you riding around your town and you say to yourself, Why don’t they fix that? Why don’t they clean the streets up? And here I had the chance to do that. I had the chance to make my community look better.”

Larry seemed content doing this work. However, Bill Hodges, the Indiana State University basketball coach at the time, was determined to get Bird to play at his school. He decided to visit Larry at his mother’s house to try and convince him. Although Bird clearly did not want to play for Hodges before the conversation, one back and forth convinced him otherwise.

Larry mentioned someone he knew that was incredible at basketball, but no one really knew because he never played inc college. Hodges responded: “Yeah, Larry they’re going to say that about you someday.”

Two days later, Bird decided to commit to Indiana State University where he would thrive. He ended up playing three years at the college before going to the NBA where he ultimately became the legend that he is today.

Larry Bird could have easily gone in a different direction. If he declined the opportunity to play college basketball, he might still be driving a garbage truck today.

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