When you think of Larry Bird, you probably think of an extraordinarily talented individual. While the forward has been part of some incredible teams, No. 33 has been more than capable of handling business on his own. He could parry long-range jumps, score with his offhand, and talk nonsense all the way to the bank. But did you know that he may owe some of those skills to his siblings?
Yes, you read that correctly. Larry Legend not only had a few older brothers, they also pushed him to peak performance through a kind of “George Brett Syndrome”.
Let’s travel back to French Lick and explore that reality.
Larry Bird had older brothers and that gave him an edge on the basketball court
No matter what profession you choose, you will be the result of your path to that chosen profession. For Larry Bird, that meant taking on the hardwood along with a few older brothers.
While Larry Legend was in the midst of flock of birds, he had three older siblings: brothers Mike and Mark and sister Linda. As you’d expect, the boys always strived to hit the hardwood whenever they could.
“Larry grew to be the tallest boy in his first grade and was always trying to keep up with his sports-loving older brothers,” explained Dan Shaughnessy in his 2021 book: Wish It Lasted Forever: Life With The Larry Bird Celtics. “Younger brothers are often the best ball players. Ask youth sports coaches. Children who grow up chasing older siblings “play up,” and it’s beneficial if they start playing against their peers. Let’s call it George Brett Syndrome (the third baseman in the Hall of Fame 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.”
What’s more, the future NBA star has developed a habit that would stick with him throughout his career.
“[Mark and Mike] “They had a ritual of wiping their hands on the soles of their sneakers for better traction, which Larry did instinctively until his retirement,” Shaughnessy added.
Though having siblings may seem insignificant, Bird’s career has been one of toughness
If you’re feeling particularly cynical, you might think that having older siblings was irrelevant to Larry Bird’s success. After all, the forward was incredibly talented; This natural ability had nothing to do with his brothers.
That may be true, but it overlooks an important part of Larry Legend’s story: toughness.
This was the same player who learned about basketball and trash talk as a young man by playing against adult males. Bird, too, rebounded after a disappointing stint in Indiana working as a garbage man — it would have been easy to play it safe and stay in a job he enjoyed — to become a star at Indiana State . And at the NBA level, the famous forward overcame a variety of challenges ranging from physical pain to a lack of privacy without missing a beat.
Could he later have learned and internalized the ability to grit his teeth and assert himself? Of course, but there’s a good reason to use that as a basis. It’s also worth remembering that the Birds didn’t live in luxury, so Larry and his siblings knew how to thrive despite the challenges.
Without those early lessons, Bird might never have made it to the pros. He might have made it into the federation, but he would have lacked the confidence to be anything more than a role player. Or maybe his back injury would have ended his career even sooner.
At this point in time, however, it is not possible to predict how this schedule would have developed. Luckily, the Larry Bird who made it into the NBA was something very special.
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