When you think of Larry Bird, you probably remember a singularly talented individual. While the striker was part of incredible squads, the No.33 was more than capable of taking care of business on his own. He could drain long-range jumpers, score with his left hand, and talk trash to the bank. But did you know he might owe some of those skills to his siblings?
Yes, you read correctly. Not only did Larry Legend have older brothers, but they pushed him to do his best through a sort of “George Brett Syndrome.”
Let’s go back to French Lick and explore this reality.
Larry Bird had older brothers, and that helped him get a head start on the basketball court
Whatever career you choose, you will be the product of your journey to that chosen profession. For Larry Bird, that meant taking on the hardwood alongside a few older brothers.
While Larry Legend was in the middle of the Bird herd, he had three older siblings: brothers Mike and Mark and sister Linda. Predictably, the boys were always keen to hit the hardwood whenever they could.
“Larry became the tallest boy in his freshman class and was always trying to keep up with his athletic older brothers,” Dan Shaughnessy explained in his 2021 book, Wish It Lasted Forever: Life with the Larry Bird Celtics. “Younger brothers often make the best ball players. Ask the youth sports coaches. Children who grow up chasing their older siblings “play,” and that’s an advantage when they start playing against kids their own age. Call it the George Brett Syndrome (the Hall of Fame third baseman had three ball-playing brothers). Larry Bird was a classic case. He played ball because his older brothers played ball. Mark and Mike made him tough and better than most kids his age.
And beyond that, the future NBA star has also picked up a habit that will carry him through his career.
“[Mark and Mike] had a ritual of wiping their hands on the soles of their sneakers for better ground traction, which Larry did instinctively until the day he retired,” Shaughnessy added.
Although having siblings may seem insignificant, Bird’s career has been defined by tenacity.
If you’re feeling particularly cynical, you might think having older siblings was insignificant to Larry Bird’s success. The striker, after all, was incredibly talented; this natural ability had no relation to his brothers.
That may be true, but it overlooks a key element of the Larry Legend story: tenacity.
He was the same player who, as a young man, learned basketball and trash talk playing against grown men. Bird also bounced back from having a disappointing time in Indiana and working as a garbage collector — it would have been easy to play it safe and stay in a job he loved — to become a star at Indiana State. And at the NBA level, the famed forward has overcome a variety of challenges, from physical pain to lack of privacy, without wasting a moment.
Could he have learned and internalized the ability to grit his teeth and push through it later? Sure, but there’s something to be said for starting this as a foundation. It’s also worth remembering that the Birds didn’t live in luxury, so Larry and his siblings knew a thing or two to get ahead despite the challenges.
Without those early lessons, Bird might never have made it to the pros. Perhaps he would have made it into the Association, but lacked the confidence to be anything other than a role player. Or maybe his back injury would have ended his career even sooner.
At this point, however, it’s unclear how this timeline would have played out. Luckily, the Larry Bird that made it to the NBA stadium was pretty special.
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