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Published on Jun 23, 2008
The Boston Celtics selected the 6'9", 220-pound Bird 6th overall in the 1978 NBA Draft, even though they were uncertain whether he would enter the NBA or remain at Indiana State to play his senior season. Bird ultimately decided to play his final college season, but the Celtics retained their exclusive right to sign him until the 1979 NBA Draft, because of the NBA's "junior eligible" rule that existed at that time (allowing a collegiate player to be drafted when the player's original "entering" class was graduating and giving them one calendar year to sign them, even if they went back to college). Shortly before that deadline, Bird agreed to sign with the Celtics for a US $650,000 a year contract, making him at the time the highest-paid rookie in the history of the NBA. Shortly afterwards, the NBA draft eligibility rules were changed to prevent teams from drafting players before they were ready to sign. The rule is called the Bird Collegiate Rule.
Larry Bird's impact on the Celtics was immediate. The Celtics were 29--53 during the 1978--79 season, but with Bird the team improved to 61--21 in the 1979--80 season, posting the league's best regular season record. Bird's collegiate rival, Magic Johnson, also had entered the NBA in 1979, joining the Los Angeles Lakers. In 1980, despite a strong rookie season from Johnson, Bird was named the league's Rookie of the Year and was voted onto the Eastern Conference All-Star team (an honor he would receive for each of his 12 full seasons in the NBA). For the 1980 season, Bird led the Celtics in scoring (21.3 points/game), rebounding (10.4 rebounds/game), steals (143), and minutes played (2,955) and was second in assists (4.5 assists/game) and three-pointers (58). Though Boston was beaten by the more athletic Philadelphia 76ers in the Eastern Conference finals that year, Bird's addition to the team had renewed the promise of Celtic glory.