The 1977-78 Boston Celtics were coming off a 32-50 season and owned the sixth and eighth pick of the 1978 draft. Red Auerbach had a fascination with a shooting forward from Indiana State named Larry Bird.
Back in those days, the NBA had the ‘junior eligibility’ rule. A basketball club could draft a player who was a junior, with the collegiate player still having the option to go back for his senior year. Yet, he would be the property of that team until the following draft.
In 1978, Auerbach played that game. He drafted Bird sixth overall but Bird decided to go back for his senior season. His reasoning was to prove to his critics that he could lead his Indiana St. Sycamores to the NCAA tournament.
Bird led Indiana St to a 33-0 record before losing to Magic Johnson and the Michigan St. Spartans in the NCAA Championship game.
But, Red Auerbach knew he had something special in Larry Bird. So special that he allowed the 1978-79 Celtics to completely flop. That team finished 29-53 which at the time was the worst record in franchise history.
Was the wait worth it for Auerbach and the Celtics?
Bird came in during the 1979-80 season and led, at that time, the greatest turn around season in NBA history with a 61-21 record, first place in the Atlantic division and NBA Rookie of the Year.
From there, Bird led the Celtics to a playoff appearance in each of his 13 seasons as a Boston Celtic.
Five times his ball club went to the NBA Finals.
Three times the Celtics won the NBA championship (1981, 1984, 1986) with Bird. He was an NBA Finals MVP for the 1984 and 1986 titles.
Bird won NBA MVP three straight years from 1984-1986. He was a 12-time All-Star and a nine-time All-NBA.
By the time Bird retired, he and Magic Johnson revitalized the NBA and put the sport back on the map.
Larry Bird made the 50 Greatest NBA Players of All time and of course became a Hall of Famer.
Red Auerbach, once again, out-foxed the rest of the NBA.
Was Bird worth the wait? Absolutely.