Larry Bird: The Early Years

On his 56th birthday, let's take a look back at Larry Bird's rookie year.

larry-birdPhoto by Lev Radin /

Over the last three decades, no Boston athlete has been written about more than Larry Bird. The man, who turns 56 today, was even the subject of a Broadway play. There isn’t much left for the world to discover about him.

At least that’s what I thought until about a month ago, when I came across Justin Barrasso’s “Bird’s Rookie Year” project. The Lynn elementary school teacher/massive Celtics fan—who I happened to go to Hebrew school with when we were kids—is spending the winter revisiting Bird’s first year in the NBA. Barrasso isn’t just mining Basketball Reference for information. Last summer, he went on eBay and bought the entire set of score sheets from the 1979-80 season. Barrasso scans the box scores, examines each one, and recaps every game. (The posts appear on Bruce Allen’s Boston Sports Media site.)

The score sheets look like a high school team manager hastily put them together, but they’re amazing artifacts. Here’s the one from November 14, 1979:

larry bird stats

A few things here immediately jumped out at me. First, Bird notched his first career triple-double in this game. Second, look at the names of the officials. One was Dick Bavetta! That was 33 years ago. He’s about to turn 73 and still working NBA games. Scary.

Barrasso doesn’t want to stop with recaps. He’s hoping to interview former Celtics coach Bill Fitch and underrated Bird teammate Cedric Maxwell, who, as Barrasso pointed out to me, led the NBA in field goal percentage (.609) in 1979-80.

“Larry Bird to me is a myth,” Barrasso said. “He retired when we were 9. This helps connect us to him.”