Throwback Thursday: Celtics Draft Larry Bird Sixth Overall
The Boston Celtics are expected to have an eventful draft tonight, with rumors swirling over guard Marcus Smart’s future with the team. General manager Danny Ainge may deal Smart to move up higher in what’s considered to be a weaker draft, or snag Croatian sensation Mario Hezonja or Kentucky’s Willie Cauley-Stein at No. 16.
Leading up to the 1978 NBA Draft, Celtics legend Larry Bird was still an unknown. After enrolling at Indiana University in 1974, dropping out, and briefly attending Northwood Institute before settling in at Indiana State, Bird still had a fifth year of college eligibility. The Indiana Pacers had expressed interest in taking Bird with their first overall pick, but Bird told Pacer GM Bob “Slick” Leonard he wished to graduate college first to appease his mother.
Celtics president and GM Red Auerbach saw something in the 6-foot-9 “Hick from French Lick,” and didn’t mind waiting another year for his arrival. With the sixth overall pick, Boston selected Bird and put him on layaway. Returning for his last year at Indiana State, Bird led the Sycamores to the NCAA Championship, coming up short against Earvin “Magic” Johnson and Michigan State.
On June 8, 1979, Bird finally signed with the Celtics, inking a five-year, $3.25 million deal. Bird would spend his professional career dueling with Johnson, never quite getting past the 75–64 defeat Magic handed him in what was then the most watched college basketball game in history. Auerbach and Boston would be rewarded for their patience, as their first-round pick would help them hoist three championship banners to the Garden rafters.