Basketball would never look the same following the rise of Larry Bird. After his exceptional career at Indiana State University, Bird became one of the game’s greatest players in the NBA, elevating the game from its troubled past and into a promising future and exciting entertainment brand.
Before he would change the NBA forever due to his rivalry and friendship with Magic Johnson, Bird was just an exciting basketball player at Indiana State. Bird had recently played through a successful sophomore year with the Sycamores, averaging nearly 33 points per game and 13 rebounds per game.
Sports Illustrated decided he would be the perfect fit for the cover of their college basketball preview issue. Bird was only 20 at the time but was more than willing to join them for his first Sports Illustrated cover appearance. 2017 marks the 40th anniversary of the notorious magazine cover.
The cover depicted Bird standing with his hands on his hips as two cheerleaders “shh” the reader with an index finger over their lips. Although only one image made the cover, Sports Illustrated recently released a few of the outtake images to commemorate the anniversary of the shoot.
The iconic issue received a second wind of popularity following a 2014 photoshoot for the March Madness preview issue. On it, Creighton University’s star Doug McDermott posed similarly to Bird with his hands on his hips and two cheerleaders by his side. McDermott now plays for the New York Knicks.
Sports Illustrated placed Indiana State at number 17 in their preseason rankings, mainly due to Bird’s influence.
Greg Sanders, a Sports Illustrated writer, wrote about the young Bird, “Because of Bird’s instant orientation and unerring touch around the basket and his flair for offensive rebounding, most opponents have tried to force him outside. There he merely banged away with the same jump shot he developed in his backyard as a kid: head cocked slightly to one side like Jack Nicklaus as he prepares to hit a long drive, easy motion over the top, plenty of rotation on the ball upon release.”