“Bird’s a cornerman; that’s all he is” – Red Auerbach did not anticipate Larry Bird to be the starting center for the Celtics.

Bird also didn’t believe he could change Boston’s course on his own.

Larry Bird became the highest-paid rookie in NBA history when he signed a five-year, $3.25 million contract with the Boston Celtics. Despite his exceptional performance even during his college years, Red Auerbach and the organization were reluctant to provide the Indiana State University product such a large contract.

During an interesting and contentious process of discussions between Red and Larry’s agent, Bob Woolf, the president of the Celtics voiced doubts about the possible impact Bird may have on the team.

 

“Larry Bird isn’t a franchise, but he can help. Really, you need to maintain your dignity. He can’t play by himself, after all,” Red remarked. “… Bird is little more than a cornerman. Thus, out of the three key positions (center, fast guard, and corner), he is the least significant.

 

Bird was doubtful as well.

Bob then denied those reports, claiming that Woolf’s asking price of $1.2 million a year for Larry was only an exaggerated counter-offer to Red’s lowballing attempt.

 

Following months of talks, the parties settled on a $650,000 salary, and Bird signed his deal just a few weeks before the 1979 Draft, which would have resulted in the Celtics losing their rights to him.

 

Larry claimed, “I should have told Mr. Auerbach I would have played for nothing,” following the signing of his first professional contract.

In 1978, Auerbach selected Bird third overall. Still, a year passed before the renowned forward signed with the team. Though picked by Boston, the Indiana native vowed to his mother to finish his last year of college. Before bringing his skills to the NBA, he fulfilled his promise and guided the Sycamores to the 1979 NCAA championship game.

 

In 1978, Auerbach selected Bird third overall. Still, a year passed before the renowned forward signed with the team. Though picked by Boston, the Indiana native vowed to his mother to finish his last year of college. Before bringing his skills to the NBA, he fulfilled his promise and guided the Sycamores to the 1979 NCAA championship game.

After breaking his finger while playing softball in the summer before his rookie season, there was once again some doubt about Bird joining the Celtics. But Larry himself wasn’t really concerned about it.

 

Bird stated, “The Celtics will call if they want me.” “They won’t call if they don’t want me. Mr. Woolf, get plenty of sleep and look after yourself. I’m go out fishing.”

 

Having an immediate effect

Since Bill Russell, Larry has been the Celtics’ most significant rookie. He was also someone the supporters believed would help the team return to prominence after a two-year playoff hiatus, three years after their previous NBA championship. But even Bird was not entirely sure he wanted to be that person for the C’s.

I’m not one of the very few people who can turn around a team by themselves,” he remarked.

 

Fortunately for the fans of the Celtics, Larry turned out to be one of those individuals. In his rookie season, the team improved from a 29-win campaign to 61 wins, making it one of the biggest one-season turnarounds in NBA history.

Sadly, the Celtics’ run was cut short as they were defeated by the Philadelphia 76ers in the second round, preventing them from winning a championship. But that was just the start of Larry’s historic tenure in Boston; during the course of his 13-year NBA career, the Hall of Famer guided the team to three titles.

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