2/1/10 - larry bird

In today's excerpt - Larry Bird, one of the greatest basketball players in NBA history was so demoralized by his own poverty as a college freshman at Indiana University that he abandoned school and took jobs collecting garbage and unplugging sewers:

" 'For the most part, everything was cool,' Larry Bird said [describing his first days at college]. 'I just didn't have any money. At night, if the guys wanted to go get something to eat, I had no money to do it. I couldn't buy a pair of pants or a shirt. [My friend] Jimmy Wisman was pretty nice. He let me wear whatever I wanted of his. But it started to get to me, just never having any money.'

"Two weeks into school Bird started to rethink his strategy. Maybe he should withdraw from Indiana University get a job then try again when he had some financial security. He didn't share his concerns with any of his new friends on campus or his parents back home. The few times he called, [his mother] Georgia could sense he was homesick, but she encouraged him to study hard and stick with it. Bird's interaction with [Coach Bob] Knight was minimal, particularly since the team's workouts had not yet officially begun. He occasionally bumped into Knight at the gym, but the coach was an intimidating figure, and Bird was not one to initiate a conversation. Bird might have made it if not for the night he broke his toe during a pickup game on the outdoor courts after another player landed on his foot. The injury was painful and left Bird limping all over campus. He got up 40 minutes earlier in the morning so he'd make it to his first class on time, but was consistently late getting to the next one.

"I'm sitting there saying to myself,  'I'm hurt, I can't work, I'm going to be in trouble for being late to class, I don't have any money, and they won't let me play in any of the games,' Bird said. 'Time to go home.' After 24 days on campus, Bird packed up his duffel bag, closed his dormitory room door, and hitchhiked back to [his hometown of] French Lick. He did not tell anyone of his plans—not even the coach who had recruited him. When Larry walked into his house, his mother, who had just finished her waitress shift, was washing dishes at the sink.

" 'What are you doing home?' asked Georgia Bird. 'I'm done. I'm not going back,' her son answered. 'I'm going to work.' Georgia Bird's voice cracked. She was a strong, proud woman, but this news crushed her. 'I thought you were going to be the first one to graduate college,' she said. 'This was a great opportunity for you. Don't you understand? I'm so disappointed.' ... Bird's mother said nothing more. She did not speak to Larry for nearly a month and a half. Bird moved in with his grandmother Lizzie Kerns and avoided Georgia completely. By then his parents were divorced, and while [his father] Joe Bird was not happy with his son's decision either, He advised him, 'If you are leaving school to work, then you better get on that job—now.' ... He took a job working for the town of French Lick cutting trees, painting street signs, sweeping the roads, collecting garbage, and unplugging the sewers. He later worked for a company delivering mobile homes."


Larry Bird and Earvin Magic Johnson with Jackie McMullin


When the Game Was Ours


Magic Johnson Enterprises


Copyright 2009 Magic Johnson Enterprises


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