The following comes from an older article written by Mark Montieth for IndyStar.com:
Larry Bird's Hall of Fame basketball career began when he was about 5 years old, living in a modest house on a hill near French Lick. A rim had been nailed to the garage, with no backboard, but Bird didn't have a ball to throw at it.
That changed one Christmas, but the ball was a cheap one that grew lumps when it was brought inside from the cold and laid next to the potbellied stove.
"It just broke my heart," Bird recalled. "But my dad said, 'Dribble with it. It'll improve your ballhandling.' "
Such was the foundation of a career that made Bird a lasting icon for all hard-working players with limited resources. Whether it was a shoddy rim, a ball that wouldn't bounce right, limited quickness or a gravity-laden vertical jump, Bird made the best of what he had.
Early on, Bird played just to play. If not at his house, then on cold winter days at a wooden court in a friend's barn loft or, later, on the outdoor courts at school. His grandmother, Lizzie Kerns, lived across the street from the school, which enabled Bird to hear the siren call of his future.
"Every time I heard a ball bounce, I was out that door," he said.
Gradually, he fell in love with the game. There was a summer recreation program for the grade school kids and then in the sixth grade, finally, there were games against other schools that made his heart pound in anticipation.
"We had to go right by that court," he said. "They'd yell stuff like, 'Oh, you're too good to play with us today?' So we'd stop and play again. It was crazy. You just wanted to get home and get something to eat, and here you are, playing for two or three more hours out there."
In the summers, kids from other counties would migrate for pickup games in the school gym. It got so crowded that if you lost, you had to sit out three or four games before getting back on the court. That was another lesson -- every game means something -- a lesson Bird took to heart.
The moments alone were great, too.
Places like the Boys Club offered a welcome sanctuary, and Bird would practice four hours at a time. He didn't just shoot. He invented drills to work on his ballhandling and passing. He'd pick out a brick on the wall and try to hit it, over and over again, with all sorts of passes.
His imagination and the hours and hours of labor gave him a special feel for the ball and a sense of calm that stayed with him for the rest of his career.
When he won those three consecutive 3-point shooting contests over the NBA's All-Star weekend from 1986-88, he merely recaptured the sensation of shooting at the Boys Club. It was the same for crucial free throws.
"I used to shoot a lot of free throws," he said. "I wouldn't leave until I made a hundred in a row. When I went to the line in the pros, I'd just remember the feeling of the ball coming off my fingers. I'd never go up there thinking, 'Oh, I'm going to miss this.' I'd just go back to being on the court in the summer and shooting all those free throws, and trying to remember the rhythm."
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