Indiana-born NBA star, Larry Bird – nicknamed ‘Larry Legend’, and ‘The Hick from French Lick’ – is one of the sport’s all-time greats. As one of the most successful players in the history of basketball, Bird’s impressive sporting accomplishments are well-documented, but it’s often the little things that fans tend to forget over time.
Bird’s heroic antics, in which he single-handedly demolished opposing teams with both his right and left hand, are what have made the player such an elite athlete and lasting NBA personality. The award-winning star, who exclusively played for the Boston Celtics through the 80s and early 90s, enjoyed a brilliant playing career that was studded with amazing stories.
The Legendary “Lefty Game”
Bird – who won the NBA on three separate occasions during the 80s – is famed for his exploits in tons of games, but there was one game that would see the ‘The Hick from French Lick’ cement his place in NBA folklore for good – the “Lefty Game”.
The year was 1986 and it was the day of love, Valentine’s Day. The Celtics were up against the Portland Trail Blazers, and Bird was looking to extend his side’s astonishing run of 14 wins out of 15 games.
As is usually true for all sporting folklore, Bird’s “Lefty Game” – that would see Bird scoring 20 points solely using his left-hand – is dotted with inaccuracies and mistruths. While many believe the game saw Bird only use his left hand, the truth is that he used his right for much of the game.
One article states: “Despite playing most of the game with his left-hand, Bird scored 47 points, secured 14 rebounds, and dished out 11 assists. Bird was 100% from three-point land, not missing a beat.”
Writing in The Athletic, reflecting on the infamous game, Jay King writes: “Bird took the majority of his shot attempts with his right hand. Though he hit almost half of his shots left-handed, many of them were relatively simple layups at the rim. They showed skill and touch but not enough level of difficulty to live up to the oversized mythology. Bird was atypically careless with the ball that night, especially early in the game”.
King continues: “Over a span of just five possessions, Bird made three consecutive preposterous lefty shots. Most NBA players would never dream of trying a left-handed floater in transition, but Bird casually faked one defender, avoided another and lobbed a shot off the glass… That put the Celtics up by six points in the fourth quarter”.
Regardless of all the ins-and-outs of that fateful Valentine’s Day, Bird’s heroics went down in history, and when asked by the media why he decided to take so many shots with his left hand, Bird had the perfect answer: “I’m saving my right hand for the Lakers”.
A Decorated Athlete
It’s fair to say that Bird is one of the most highly decorated players in NBA history. In fact, he is the only person ever to be named Rookie of the Year, Most Valuable Player, NBA Finals MVP, All-Star MVP, Coach of the Year, and Executive of the Year.
Coming from a poor background in the town of West Baden Springs, it’s said that Bird saw basketball as an escape from family troubles and the grind of everyday life. And, it is very possible that this unique outlook on the game is what helped propel Bird to NBA glory.
In 1978, following success in college basketball, the Celtics selected the young man, and not long after, Bird signed a professional five-year contract said to be worth $3.25 million, making him the most highly paid rookie in sports history. Prior to signing his name on the highly-sought-after dotted line, Bird also graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in physical education.
During his professional playing career, Bird was consistently awarded for his sporting exploits and contribution to basketball. In addition to his biggest achievements, Bird was also included in the All-NBA First Team from 1980 all the way through to 1988.
In recognition of Bird’s success, his cherished number 33 jersey was retired by both the Celtics and the Indiana State Sycamores.
Following his incredible playing career and the announcement of his retirement, Bird then became a coach and took charge of Indiana Pacers in 1997. His short-lived managerial career ended in 2000, and Bird became the President of Basketball Operations for the Pacers.