Red Auerbach Underestimated Larry Bird, Dubbing Him Merely a 'Cornerman' for Celtics

Negotiations Heat Up in Historic Rookie Deal Talks.

by Nouman Rasool
Red Auerbach Underestimated Larry Bird, Dubbing Him Merely a 'Cornerman' for Celtics
© Stacy Revere/Getty Images

In a historic move that set the NBA abuzz, Larry Bird inked a groundbreaking five-year, $3.25 million contract with the Boston Celtics, rendering him the highest-paid rookie the league had ever seen. Despite Bird's undeniable prowess on the court, exemplified through his stellar collegiate career at Indiana State University, the Celtics' brass, led by the indomitable Red Auerbach, harbored reservations about committing such a significant financial sum to the young prospect.

The tense negotiation process between Auerbach and Bird's agent, Bob Woolf, was marred by hatred and skepticism. The Celtics' stalwart president Auerbach vocally questioned Bird's potential impact on the team's future. "Larry Bird can help, but he's not a franchise.

Geez, you have to keep your self-respect. After all, he can't play alone," Auerbach notoriously remarked. He further minimized Bird's role by labeling him merely a "cornerman," suggesting he was the least critical among the significant basketball positions.

Bird's Contract Clash

Amidst this backdrop of doubt, Woolf's initial salary demands for Bird purportedly soared to $1.2 million annually a figure Woolf later contested, clarifying it as an exaggerated counter to Auerbach's initial low offer.

After prolonged negotiations, an agreement was finally reached with Bird securing a $650,000 annual salary, just weeks shy of the 1979 Draft deadline, which would have otherwise cost the Celtics their rights to him. Reflecting on the ordeal, Bird modestly commented, "I should have told Mr.

Auerbach I would have played for nothing." Selected third overall by the Celtics in 1978, Bird delayed his NBA debut to honor a promise to his mother to complete his senior year in college. Despite this delay and a subsequent injury playing softball, Bird's confidence never wavered.

"If the Celtics want me, they'll call," he stated nonchalantly, undisturbed by the prospect of his career's beginning. Upon joining the Celtics, Bird immediately proved his mettle, dismissing any previous doubts about his value to the team.

He spearheaded one of the most remarkable single-season turnarounds in NBA history, transforming a 29-win team into a 61-win powerhouse. Although the Celtics fell short of a championship in his rookie year, losing to the Philadelphia 76ers in the playoffs, Bird's inaugural season marked the dawn of a legendary career.

Over 13 years, Bird led Boston to three NBA championships, forever cementing his legacy as one of the game's all-time greats and demonstrating that he was, indeed, the franchise player Auerbach had initially doubted.

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