Larry Bird is an NBA legend and one of the greatest players of all time, but surprisingly, he was taken sixth in the 1978 NBA draft behind Mychal Thompson.
The Celtics legend has a list of accolades that would make any NBA star drool. He’s part of the NBA Top 75 team, and he’s regularly discussed as a top 10 player of all time.
Bird owns the Indiana Pacers currently, and he’s enjoying his retirement. After all, he dominated the 1980s alongside Magic Johnson. Their rivalry is perhaps the greatest player rivalry in all of NBA history.
Bird’s legacy lives on in the mind of every NBA fan, but it’s still a shocker that such a legendary player was picked so far back in the draft. The 1978 draft saw Mychal Thompson go number one overall, and former Pacers owner Nancy Leonard admitted that they may have let Bird go.
Larry Bird passing ability 😳 pic.twitter.com/uQuNoccPJ9
— Jaycob Ammerman (@Jammer2233) June 18, 2022
Why did the Pacers not draft Bird?
So, how did such a debacle happen for the Pacers to have let a legend slip through their hands? Well, the Pacers firstly traded back in the draft, going from the first pick to the third, and despite Bird still being on the board, they didn’t take him.
“It was a disaster,” Nancy Leonard would later reveal. “I will never forget one second of that draft and this is something I haven’t really talked publicly about.” It must be very difficult to live down, especially as she was the assistant GM of the team at the time.
The wild thing is the Pacers had scouted Bird before the draft and were wildly impressed. “Even for me to see it, I couldn’t believe his talent,” Nancy would say back then. “He was just perfect.”
Then, Nancy explained why the Pacers couldn’t take Bird.
“I thought they would all understand,” she explained.
“We’ve really checked out everybody in the United States,” she told the board. “Bob knew what Bird would mean for the team. We would have a person who would really lift the team up. We want Larry Bird.”
Nancy will never forget the response she got.
“They said, ‘Well, we can’t do that,'” Nancy recalls. “I said, ‘Why?’
“We’ll never be able to get the money and we’ll lose him,” the board answered back.
Larry Bird vs. Mychal Thompson stats
For his career, Bird averaged 24.3 points per game, 10 rebounds per game, and 6.3 assists per game. Thompson, meanwhile, averaged 13.7, 7.4, and 2.3.
He also had this kind of a career:
Give me 9 other guys to have these kind of stats and then ask again why Larry Bird is on that list pic.twitter.com/NtSsYEEdXb
— CeltiC5-27 (@CeltiC527) June 18, 2022
So, yeah, there’s a clear disparity between the two, and it must be haunting for Pacers fans to know they were so close to having one of the best NBA players of all time.